For months I’ve been meaning to make stuffed grape leaves; it’s been in the back of my mind ever since I saw Leslie’s delicious creations on her blog. If I’d made them then, it’d have looked like I was copying! So, I waited a respectable length of time and finally got down to work and made them this weekend.
I had never made stuffed grape leaves before, and what I do when I’m making something for the first time is research, research, research, let the research settle into my brain, and then do whatever the hell I want, hoping that the research will keep me out of too much trouble. I checked a few blogs (like this one and this one) to make sure I understood the rolling technique and the important physics behind grape leaves–rice swells as it cooks, so don’t roll them too tightly or it’ll burst right through the leaf–and then I decided what I wanted to put into my leaves and got to work.
And it is a lot of work! I sat down at the kitchen table at around 4:30 to begin rolling, but my rolls weren’t ready to go onto the stove until 6:00. Of course, I did pause often to take the photos that you’ll see below. But be warned that rolling the leaves, while not difficult, is time consuming. That’s to be expected for a recipe that makes 45-50 stuffed grape leaves.
One thing nobody on any blog or any cookbook told me: how to get the leaves out of the jar without tearing them the #&%$ up! I finally resorted to working them part way out of the jar and then grabbing them firmly in one hand and rocking them back and forth, inserting a finger every now and then to let a little air in and break the vacuum. It took a while, but most of them were usable.
Grape Leaves Stuffed with Lentils and Rice
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup chopped parsley (measured after chopping)
1/2 cup minced mint (measured after mincing)
1/2 cup finely minced green onions
1 cup diced tomatoes (canned, drained of juice)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. garam masala or blend of coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon
1 1/4 cups of medium or short-grain brown rice
3/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed and checked for impurities
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 1-lb jar grape leaves
4-5 red potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 lemon, sliced
Mix together all ingredients except the grape leaves, potatoes, and lemon slices. Drain the liquid out of the jar of grape leaves, and get the leaves out of the jar in whatever way you can. (If you’re not going to make a whole recipe, save the brine and put the leftover leaves back into it.) Wash them well, and set aside any that have holes in them (don’t throw them away).
To begin rolling the leaves, place a leaf with the veiny part facing up, the shiny side down. Cut off the stem. Place about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the rice mixture in a horizontal line just above the cut stem:
Fold the two bottom sections of the leaf over the filling:
Then fold the sides in:
Roll the bottom of the leaf up, tucking in the sides as you go. You want this to be fairly tight, but not too tight. But if you have to err, err on the side of tightness. You don’t want any gaps or exposed filling, or it will all boil out when cooking. A finished roll looks like this:
Pour yourself a glass of wine, and do this 44 more times, until you run out of filling. If, for some reason, you run out of leaves first, save the filling and cook it with about double its amount of water. (I had leaves left over, not filling.) When you accidentally tear a leaf, wipe it off and set it aside.
When you’re finished, prepare a large sauce pan or Dutch oven by spraying or wiping it with olive oil. Line the bottom with the potato slices (these will keep the delicate grape leaves off of the direct heat).
On top of the potatoes, put a layer of the imperfect leaves that you had set aside. And then arrange your stuffed grape leaves, snuggly. Try to fit them so that there isn’t any space between them. When you’ve fit them all in, put the lemon slices on top:
Gently add water until it reaches about the middle of the top row of grape leaves, and cover the whole thing with more empty grape leaves. Place a heavy plate (I used two, one on top of the other) on top of the grape leaves to weigh them down. Cover the pot tightly, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, turn it down to very low and cook for an hour and 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let the stuffed leaves rest undisturbed in the pan for 20 more minutes.
Serve them (and the potatoes) with the dipping sauce of your choice. I would have liked to make a soy yogurt sauce, but I was all out of homemade yogurt (and the “plain” they sell in the store is actually sweetened) so i made a sort of sweet and sour sauce:
To make the sauce I mixed 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses, 1 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon chopped garlic. It was more sour than sweet, so adjust the proportions to fit your taste.
We will be eating grape leaves for quite a while. Does anyone know if these things freeze?
5/30 edited to add: I just made a Tofu-Yogurt Dipping Sauce that was very good with these. I mixed the following in the blender:
1/3 box (about 4 ounces) silken tofu
1 tbsp. soymilk
1 tbsp lemon juice
pinch dill weed
1/4 tsp. salt (to taste)
Poured it into a bowl and added about 1/3 cup of finely diced, de-seeded cucumber. Refrigerated until chilled. It tastes remarkably like soy yogurt, without the sweetness that some brands have.
SusieJuly 28, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Am to try my hand at dolmades and am in the research phase. (I’m a researcher too!) Did you ever find out if these freeze well?
By the way, these look delicious! This is first I’ve seen of the potato tip. It’s been duly noted. 🙂
eatmoreapplesJune 14, 2020 at 4:34 pm
Yes, you can freeze them. I have been doing that for years!
MerriJuly 31, 2010 at 10:23 am
I have a question……. do you need to precook the rice or lentils?
SusanVJuly 31, 2010 at 11:08 am
No. Both the rice and the lentils are uncooked.
Maria FitzpatrickJanuary 9, 2011 at 10:05 am
I am of Lebanese decent and my mother and Aunts made stuffed grape leaves with lentils and rice. I make them too. They do freeze well. You can also use mashed chick peas instead of lentils and I use brown rice or a brown and wild rice mix in mine. We do not use garlic . The spices we use are cinnamon, and nutmeg and the herbs we use are mint and parsley.
Maria FitzpatrickJanuary 9, 2011 at 10:11 am
I forgot to add that I also use toasted pine nuts in mine. as a dipping sauce I use hummus
Radhika SarohiaAugust 14, 2012 at 11:10 pm
Made this today (I’m on a low-carb diet so I just replaced the rice)
It came out great, thanks so much for the recipe, I’ll be making it again
TonyJune 22, 2021 at 3:04 pm
Low carb diet is a health risk to the misinformed.
Radhika SarohiaJanuary 16, 2013 at 2:05 am
Tried making a very quick raw and low-carb version of these today, with cauliflower for the rice (and no cooking obviously.) They came out okay! Kind of a nice cool snack. Unfortunately I’d run out of parsley though I didn’t realize till I had already riced my cauliflower, and I also accidentally added too much clove powder. Will try making these again once I have my ingredients together 🙂
Vegan Radhika SArohiaJanuary 19, 2013 at 12:54 am
I bought parsley and made these again (the raw version) and this time I threw in some cucumber and dried cranberry for some extra crunch and flavor…they came out awesome!
I think the spice mix in this recipe is terrific, I just leave out the cloves because they seem to be too strong somehow
HaviApril 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm
I made these last night. They certainly are time consuming, but worth it. Instead of lentils, I used mashed chickpeas as was suggested in another post. I added about 1/3 cup chopped pine nuts as well. I ate one as soon as they were done, and it was DELICIOUS. After refrigerating them overnight, the flavors had infused and they were even better. Made the tofu-yogurt sauce, went very well with them.
The only thing I would do differently is have a friend or two with me to help expedite the rolling process 🙂 Thank you for a wonderful recipe. I love this site.
JenniferMarch 17, 2014 at 3:42 pm
Would I need to cook them if I am using leftover rice and lentils?
MaggieJuly 16, 2014 at 10:38 am
How long will these last in the fridge?
Efi CallifatidiNovember 2, 2014 at 7:59 am
I am Greek and dolmades are my favourite dish, I use to roll a big jar of leaves every time -that is around 120 leaves. I stuff them only with rice and lots of herbs. That is, for 120 dolmades I use 6 or more onions -the bigger the better -what makes a dolma delicious is the onion, and a bit more than half a kilo of rice. Then it’s the herbs, parsley, dill, mint (both dry and fresh), lots of them. Simply salt and black pepper. I don’t use lemon during cooking because the leaves are already sour enough, if it’s needed one can always put it afterwards. I place lettuce leaves on the bottom of the pot, not wanting to squander the leaves. The few broken leaves that may be left I place them on top under the have plate. Don’t forget to pour olive oil over them before you put them on the oven. If there’s some filling left try and make stuffed lettuce leave, they’re not as good but they’re OK. Of course there’s also the minced meat-rice recipe but I prefer the simple rice one -yalantzi dolma (fake roll in Turkish). Oh and the best dip is tzatziki (strained yoghurt, garlic, cucumber, dill, oil, a bit of vinegar, salt and pepper). Bon appetit!
Efi CallifatidiNovember 2, 2014 at 8:19 am
I could talk about dolmades all evening, I’m an addict. A dolma junkie! What I wanted to add is that it’s good to have a friend or a child and roll them together, while gossiping. My daughter -another addict -keeps insisting to sit down and roll together. Last time, there was also her boyfriend -an Italian addict of dolmades -and he also learned to roll because he wants to make them in Italy, where it’s a bit hard to find vine leaves and dill, but I can always send them from here. Oh, the rice can be slightly cooked, that is, you brown the mountain of chopped onions, pour in the rice, leave it a bit while stirring and then add one glass of water and the herbs (parsley doesn’t add much, it’s the mint and dill that do the trick). If it’s slightly cooked, the vine leaves don’t split. You can also gather your own vine leaves in April-May and keep them in the freezer.