This has to be one of my very favorite meals in the world, dolmades is of course the Greek name most people know.
Where I am from they are referred to as warreck which simply means papers.
This is shortened from warreck dawali which translates as vine papers or leaves.
Stuffed vegetables in Middle Eastern cuisine is very common and they are widely eaten.
Pick just about any vegetable or leaf and it’s most likely stuffed with rice and meat.
And I’m so happy it is a thing here because I love it!
This dish signals to the people who are invited to eat it that the person who made it cares a great deal about them.
And that is simply because this is a very time intensive dish.
Lots of stuffing, and lots of rolling that can easily take a few hours.
One of the only drawbacks is that it takes time, however definitely well worth it.
Rolling Grape Leaves in Jerusalem
My grandmother in Jerusalem would make big pots of dolmades for the whole family who would show up at her house for lunch.
In fact the day of the war in Jerusalem in 1967 when I was 4, we had to leave the house in a hurry because of the Israeli invasion.
Luckily my grandmother had just finished making a big pot of grape leaves with lamb, which sustained us for a few days.
That was a scary time, and we did run out of food during the six or so days we were hiding in the basement of a hospital.
Thankfully we came out the other side physically safe and sound, however we did suffer the psychological scars of people who experienced war.
My grandmother taught me how to make grape leaves, and how to roll them just right.
They have to be the size of a bride’s finger she would say, meaning a small slim bride of course.
Keeping the grape leaves small and narrow is a challenge, but like that they are like popcorn in that you can’t stop eating them!
What Are Dolmades?
In Turkey they are known as dolmas, ripieni in Italy, and dorma in India.
Lots of different variations will depend on where the particular dish comes from.
Whatever the name these are essentially grape leaves with various fillings, depending on country, rolled and cooked.
Some have meat and rice and some are vegetarian or vegan, again depending where they are from.
In Arab countries they can be made in all these ways, sometimes cooked in tomato or olive oil.
How to Make Them
The easiest thing to do is to get jarred grape leaves for making this dish.
The leaves are soaking in brine and have already been blanched.
You start by separating the leaves and making sure each grape leaf you use is intact.
Remove the stems one leaf at a time and rinse under cold water.
Make your rice mixture.
Cut the leaves in half if necessary so they are not too big.
With the seam side up, put some filling about a third of the way up the leaf from the bottom.
Take the bottom of the leaf and roll it over the filling, fold over the sides of the leaf and roll tight.
Often times chunks of lamb are cooked along with the grape leaves in the same pot.
The lamb pieces are placed on the bottom of the pot and then the rolled leaves are placed on top.
Don’t let the grape leaves float!
One the pot is full a heat resistant plate is placed on top of the rolled grape leaves so they don’t float when water is added.
Add hot water or stock to cover the grape leaves and cook over medium heat.
You can add 1/2 cup tomato paste with the water if you’d like a tomato flavor.
Once the pot comes to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cover the pot loosely so the steam can escape.
Once the danger of the rolled leaves floating has passed remove the plate holding them down.
This dish can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes to cook.
Depending on the size of your rolls and how tightly they are rolled.
You will know they are done when all the water has evaporated off.
Serve them warm, although they are not bad at room temperature as appetizers.
Some people like to squeeze lemon juice over them and season with salt and pepper.
- Remove stems from grape leaves and any torn leaves. (Most leaves can be cut in half - smaller ones remain whole.)
- Grease the bottom of the pot and put foil in the bottom. Line the bottom of the pot with any discarded grape leaf pieces. Top with tomato slices.
- Lay out a single grape leaf. Place a small amount of filling in the centre. Fold over edges and the roll up grape leaf longways.
- Roll tightly so they don’t come apart but not so tight that they tear.
- Place the rolled grape leaves tightly against each other in layers. Place a plate that is heatproof and slightly smaller than the pot on top of the grape leaves to keep in place during the boiling process.
- Mix the tomato puree into the broth until dissolved. Pour the broth mixture over the grape leaves keeping the plate in place. Bring to a boil.
- Turn down to a simmer and cook like you would rice. Once the water has evaporated below the top layer of grape leaves, remove the plate.
- Cooks for about an hour and a half until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Remove from the heat and allow to rest in the pot for ten minutes.
- Remove the lid and place the serving plate over the pot. Flip pot so grape leaves are transferred to the plate.
- Let the contents settle for a couple of minutes before removing the pot. Serve with yogurt.