Now that’s the good stuff: Homemade dolma recipe
Dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves, have a long and rich history throughout the Mediterranean region. The word itself means “something stuffed” in Turkish.
During the Ottoman period, they were served in the Topkapi palace as a treat for the sultan and others who had the privilege of dining there. In time, they spread throughout the general populace of the empire.
Versatile: Along with vine leaves, cabbage and collards also were used as wrappers. We usually think of dolmas being stuffed with rice, but meat, vegetables and fruit were also used as fillings. With the addition of herbs and spices, ordinary ingredients were turned into a delicacy. Anything stuffable was stuffed.
I also have a long history with dolmas. I made them successfully for years until one day I got the brilliant idea of using fresh grape leaves. That must have been during my foraging period. Why use leaves from a jar when fresh ones were more natural, and more importantly, free.
I harvested some leaves from a friend’s grape arbor, and set to work. I prepared the stuffing, rolled, and put them in the pot to cook. After an hour, the dolmas were so tough it was impossible to chew them.
Stick to the jars: I later learned that the grape leaves had to be picked in late spring or early summer. I picked mine in September. They also required some preparation before using. I had only given them a brief rinse. Chastened, I gratefully went back to using the prepared leaves in jars.
Below is a traditional recipe for dolmas. Feel free to add or subtract ingredients in the stuffing mixture.
- 1 jar grape leaves
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs such as parsley or dill
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- A few grindings of pepper
- 3 cups vegetable broth or water, divided
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons currants
- Juice from 1/2 lemon
Carefully remove the grape leaves from the jar, as they are packed very tightly. Rinse well. Place in a colander to drain.
Heat the olive oil in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Add the onions, cumin and allspice. Cook until the onions are softened and have begun to caramelize. Add the chopped herbs, salt, pepper and rice, and stir to combine. Saute to lightly coat the grains of rice, about 2 minutes.
Add in 1½ cups broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat, cover, and cook until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is barely al dente, about 10 minutes. Stir in the toasted pine nuts and currants. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
To assemble the dolmas, lay each grape leaf flat with the stem end facing you. Place a horizontal spoonful of the rice mixture at the lower third of the leaf. Fold both the left and right edges over the filling, then roll from bottom to top, taking care to keep things tight.
Line a large, deep skillet or wide pot with a bit of olive oil and a layer of grape leaves. (I usually reserve the broken or torn leaves for this.) Place the rolls seam side down in the pot.
When the skillet is full, drizzle the assembled dolmas with olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice, then top with the remaining broth. Bring to a simmer over low heat, cover, and let cook for 50 minutes. Add more broth or water if the tops of the dolmas begin to dry out.
Gently remove dolmas with tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer to a serving plate. Drizzle with more olive oil and lemon juice as desired, and serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.