I love cooking together with friends and family, and there is no better way to learn a new technique than by watching someone make a recipe they have made over and over again. I learned to make these stuffed grape leaves from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jessie. She learned it from her mother, and almost certainly her mother learned it from Jessie’s grandmother. I remember her parents preparing this dish at her house as a kid, and the exotic aromas of lamb, tomato, onions, and cinnamon filling the kitchen. Jessie makes these grape leaves in the traditional Armenian style using ground lamb, but you can certainly omit the lamb if you’d like – vegetarian dolmas are equally delightful.
Stuffed Grape Leaves:
*serves 6 – 8 as a main dish*
One 16 oz. jar grape leaves (or 2 small jars)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, small dice
2 tsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 C. dry white wine (optional) or use water
1 C. rice
8 oz. ground lamb
1/4 C. dried currants
1/2 C. pine nuts, toasted in a 350 oven for 7-10 minutes
S & P
In a medium stockpot with a lid, saute the onion in olive oil over medium heat until just starting to brown, 6-8 minutes. Add the tomato paste, cinnamon, and allspice, and stir together thoroughly. Deglaze with the wine, if using, and then immediately add rice and currants, stirring to moisten. Reduce the heat and allow the currants to plump and the rice to cook a little. Once the liquid has disappeared, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly (this is a great time to toast your pine nuts).
Once cool enough to handle, transfer it to a large bowl and stir in the toasted pine nuts and the lamb if using, crumbling it into small pieces. Season to taste with plenty of salt and pepper and mix until well combined.
When you are ready to roll your dolmas, place a large steamer basket into a pot with a tight fitting lid and fill with water to just below the base of the basket.
Remove your grape leaves from the jar and unroll them into a stack (they are not nearly as delicate as they seem). Rinse under cold water to reduce the briny flavor. Roll the stack back up and squeeze them tightly to thoroughly drain the water. Each roll typically has about 35 leaves, but often some of the leaves are torn or weak, so have a second stack as back-up.
Place the leaf stem side up on your work surface and trim the stem off. Place about 1 Tbsp. of filling in the center and roll the leaf up starting from the bottom and then folding in the sides as you go. I made a video showing how to roll the dolmas if you’re nervous!
Stack the dolmas in the pan, seam side down, as you make them. There should be enough filling for 35-45 dolmas, depending on how robustly you fill them.
Steam the dolmas for 50-60 minutes over medium heat, or until the rice is tender (be sure to test it). I always add an extra cup of boiling water about halfway through cooking just to be sure the pot doesn’t run out of liquid and scorch.
Enjoy them right away with a little warmed tomato sauce, or let them chill and enjoy them cold with a squeeze of lemon.
Tip: If storing the dolmas for more than a day, drizzle them with olive oil or tomato sauce to keep them from drying out.