Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmas)

4.95 from 73 votes
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This is a simple recipe for vegetarian stuffed grape leaves (dolmas). Filled with a stuffing made up of rice, mixed herbs, and spices, these little parcels can be eaten as an appetizer, part of a mezze, or warm as a main meal. These dolmas are vegetarian, vegan, healthy, hearty, and filling!

Stuffed Vine Leaves with green grape leaves

It’s taken me a long time to get around to making my own stuffed grape leaves (also called stuffed vine leaves), but I’m so glad I finally have. Having seen family members making them as I grew up, I was always worried that they’d be tough to make – especially with the amount of time spent making them. However, that just isn’t the case – making this dolma recipe is extremely simple – only not for anyone who’s in a rush. 

As it is, I’ve spent so much time in my kitchen recently, trying out DIY after DIY, so it felt nice to actually “take a pause” and spend some time rolling up these vine leaves. The process isn’t complicated at all – just time-consuming and repetitive. But once you take a bit of these perfectly cooked vegetable, herb, and rice stuffed parcels – you’ll surely agree that it’s worth it.

Showing a grape leave on a grape vine

Having said all that, you can make a massive batch in one go and leave all the leftovers in the freezer, ready for whenever you want some. That way, this one recipe can last you weeks, or even months. Now that’s what I call good meal prep!

What Is Dolma?

No matter what I’m eating or making, I love to know its origins so I can properly appreciate them and make you aware, too. However, there are some items (in fact- many) that have variations across multiple countries and even sometimes continents. 

A grape vine with lots of leaves and grapes

These stuffed grape leaves are a bit like that. According to good old Wiki, Dolma can be found in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Balkans, and South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan). Depending on the region, this dish is also referred to with different names; dolmades, dolmadakia, dolma, warak enab, etc. – all of which vary slightly in terms of filling. 

Some versions contain meat, whereas others are vegetarian. Some include currents and nuts with rice, whereas others are a simple combination of herbs and spices. There are also versions that are cooked in different sauces.

Stack of Stuffed Vine Leaves

The word dolma (as far as I’m aware) comes from the Turkish word “dolmak” and basically means ‘to be filled’ or ‘stuffed thing’ and actually refers to a number of different stuffed dishes. As a Lebanese woman, I really don’t know enough about each version to talk too much about them – all I know is the way that I watched family members make them as I grew up and what I’ve come to know as my perfect vegetarian stuffed grape leaves dish. 

Depending on the filling and technique, these little parcels can be served as an appetizer, part of a mezze spread, or served warm as part of the main meal. 

green grape leaves

Why Make Your Own

Stuffed grape leaves are often available, ready-made jarred or canned. You can get them preserved in oil or fresh from specific Middle-Eastern food grocery stores/markets. 

However, I’m not sure about other countries, but in the UK, at least, these store-bought versions can work out relatively expensive. Not to mention that, as always, making them homemade is just so much more delicious than any version I’ve tried from a store. 

When making dolma at home, you’ll find that the recipe is not only incredibly cost-effective, but you also get to avoid all the preservatives and other nasties in many commercially-made versions. Not to mention that you’re able to be 100% in control of the filling – making it super customizable to your tastes. 

Preserved vs green Stuffed Vine Leaf

Using Fresh Vs. Preserved Vine Leaves/Grape Leaves

First, I think it’s important to note that vine leaves and grape leaves are one and the same. The leaves come from a grapevine and can be called grape leaf and vine leaf interchangeably.

For the majority of us, it may not always be easy to source fresh leaves. In that case, luckily, there are jarred versions ready for us that still taste great.

If you are able to source the fresh leaves, though, then I’d definitely suggest making the dolma this way. Using the fresh leaves, of course, leads to a ‘fresher’ flavor that I love. However, they do also add extra time and steps to the recipe. 

Preserved vs green vine leaves

Jarred leaves come pre-blanched and marinated, meaning that they are ready to use straight from the jar. Meanwhile, fresh leaves will need to be washed and blanched for a minute or two in boiling water to soften them and make them easier to roll. 

After blanching, place in a colander or sieve and leave to cool entirely, then follow through with the recipe below, as written. For even softer leaves, then leave the blanched leaves to soak for a few days in some high-quality olive oil before using. 

Note: If using fresh leaves, I also suggest cutting off the thickest part of the middle stem going through the leaf. 

Bonus Tip: You can actually learn to preserve these vine leaves at home, too. That way, they will have time to slowly marinate and become soft and pliable for when you next want to make a batch of the stuffed vine leaves.

Stuffed Vine Leaf open

Top Tips

  • DON’T overstuff the vine leaves. You may be tempted to spoon in as much as you can, but remember that the rice will expand as it cooks. If you overstuff the leaves, then this can lead to ripped leaves and an overflowing mess. 
  • DO roll the leaves securely but not too tight. The aim is to make sure that they don’t come unstuck while cooking, but still have the space they need to expand with the filling inside, as they cook. Fold in the corners well, but roll reasonably loosely. 
  • DON’T place the dolmades directly onto the bottom of the pan. If you do, they may stick to the bottom, fall apart, or burn. Instead, use any broken/unused leaves or a layer of vegetables such as thinly sliced potatoes, etc. as a ‘barrier.’ 
  • DO pack the pan tightly with the dolmades, making sure that they are placed seam-side down. This will help to keep them together while cooking. You can layer the pot in a two or three-layered stack. Place more vine leaves between the layers, if preferred, but this may not be necessary. 
  • DON’T boil the water when cooking the dolma, as this can cause the dolma to split apart. Just have it at a consistent simmering level. 
  • DO make sure to weight the stuffed leaves with an inverted plate. This will keep the dolmas securely in place while cooking, so they don’t come apart before they have soaked in the water. The plate is removed once enough of the liquid has been absorbed. 

Bonus Note: If you’re craving this delicious dish repeatedly but can’t stand the thought of all the leaf rolling, then you can actually buy a dolma rolling machine! 

green vine leaf

The Method

As I’ve mentioned already, making these dolmas is actually very easy. Probably even easier than you think. In fact, this recipe is made up of just three steps – prepare the filling, roll the dolma, and cook them.

Ingredients

A stack of grape leaves
  • Vine/grape leaves – fresh or preserved (canned/jarred)
Stuffed Grape Leaves Ingredients
  • Rice
  • Tomatoes, fresh mint, fresh parsley, onion, lemon
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon
  • Water
  • Potato – to lay on the bottom of the pot. You could also use any broken/ un-used vine leaves too. 

For the full ingredient quantities, read the full recipe in the recipe card below. 

The Steps

For this recipe, you can use either fresh grape leaves or preserved vine leaves. If using fresh vine leaves, wash very well, and blanch with boiling water for 1-3 minutes to soften, then rinse and allow to cool completely.

Preparing vine leaf wraps

Rinse the rice thoroughly until the water is clear. Usually, it takes 3-4 rinses. This will remove the starch and keep it from becoming ‘gummy’.

Next, finely chop all the veggies and add them to a large bowl. You can do this by hand or use a food processor for a finer chop. 

Chopped Veggies for Stuffed Vine Leaves

Add all of the stuffing ingredients to a large bowl and mix well to thoroughly combine. 

Chopped Veggies for Stuffed Vine Leaves

Time To Assemble And Roll

Stuffing for Stuffed Vine Leaves

Lay your leaves out with the leaf ‘bottom’ side up (where you can feel all the leaf veins), with the shiny side down. And spoon one teaspoon of the rice mixture onto each leaf. Be careful not to overfill, as the rice will need space to expand while cooking. 

Mine may look quite ‘full’- but it’s important to remember that the herbs will wilt as the rice grows, too. 

To roll the leaves is fairly simple. Bring the two sides in and then roll to close – similarly to rolling spring rolls. Roll tightly, while still allowing space for the rice to expand as it cooks (Watch my video to see how I did it).Steps for wrapping vine leaf

If you can manage to get your family in on the task, then it’ll go by quickly. And it only takes a few leaves to build your method and get in the groove. Six stuffed vine leaves

Once rolled, you can freeze any leftovers that you know you don’t want to cook immediately (the cooked leaves can also be frozen if there are any leftovers).Stuffed Vine Leaves in a freezer container

Time To Cook

Mix the water, olive oil, and lemon juice in a bowl or a jug.Dressing for Stuffed Vine Leaves

Place the potato slices at the bottom of a large or medium pan (depending on how many stuffed grape leaves you are cooking). Alternatively, you can use any broken and un-used leaves to lay on the bottom of the pan. 

Place the stuffed vine leaves in the pan, seam side down. Make sure they are tightly packed into the pan. This will stop them from moving and falling apart while cooking. 

Pour the lemony mix on top of the stuffed vine leaves (there should be enough to cover them).

Place an inverted plate or pan on top of the vine leaves to hold them in place and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, with the lid on.Steps for cooking vine leaves

You can remove the plate once the vine leaves have soaked up the majority of the water, and then continue to cook or leave it on for the entirety of the cooking.

Remove from the heat, once cooked. You can leave them to ‘rest’ for 20-30 minutes, for best results. But, if you can’t wait, then they are ready to eat immediately. Cooked Stuffed Vine Leaves in a white pot

How To Serve

There are multiple ways that you can enjoy these little veggie-stuffed parcels. Eat them hot or cold, as an appetizer, or main, etc. For example:

You can enjoy them as an appetizer drizzled with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, and yogurt. I also like to serve mine with warm homemade pita

You could also serve these as part of a mezze platter along with dishes like: Simple Stuffed Makdous Recipe (cured eggplant), Spinach Fatayer (Lebanese spinach pie)Lebanese Spicy Potatoes Batata Harra, and Traditional Tabbouleh Salad ( Tabouli Salad). Along with dips like Smoky Eggplant Dip (Baba Ganoush)Simple Smoky Eggplant Dip (Moutabal)Gluten-free Muhammara Dip (Roasted Red Pepper Dip) and Simple Spinach Yogurt Dip (Borani)Cooked Stuffed Vine Leaves in a pot

Storage Instructions

These vegetarian stuffed grape leaves will last for between 5-7 days in the fridge, in an airtight container. Alternatively, you can freeze them for up to four months

To freeze, you can lay them out in a single layer on a pan to flash-freeze before moving to another freezer-safe container. That way, they won’t stick together while freezing. 

You can also freeze the prepared uncooked dolma. These will last even longer in the freezer, though I’ve never had any left past three months. 

If thawing the cooked dolma then you can eat them cold or hot. Just note that cooked dolma may be slightly more ‘soggy’ once thawed. 

To Reheat

Reheating the dolma is super simple. Either heat in the microwave until piping hot or place them in a saucepan with a little amount of water (just a few spoonfuls). Cooked Stuffed Vine Leaves

OTHER SIMILAR RECIPES

If you give this recipe a go, then let me know your thoughts and any questions in the comments. Also, feel free to tag me in your recreations @AlphaFoodie.

Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves

4.95 from 73 votes
By: Samira
This is a simple recipe for vegetarian stuffed Grape leaves (dolmas). Filled with a stuffing made up of rice, mixed herbs, and spices, these little parcels can be eaten as an appetizer, part of a mezze, or warm as a main meal. 
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 8

Ingredients 
 

  • 80 vine leaves
  • 1 cup rice long grain
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes
  • 0.7 oz fresh mint
  • 3.5 oz fresh parsley
  • 5 green onions
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon powder
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4 small lemons *
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 small potato

Instructions 

  • For this recipe, you can use either fresh grape leaves or preserved vine leaves. If using fresh vine leaves, wash very well, and blanch with boiling water for 1-3 minutes to soften, then rinse and allow to cool completely.
  • Rinse the rice thoroughly until the water is clear. Usually, it takes 3-4 rinses. This will remove the starch and keep it from becoming ‘gummy’.
  • Next, finely chop all the veggies and add them to a large bowl. You can do this by hand or use a food processor for a finer chop.
  • Add all of the stuffing ingredients to a large bowl and mix well to thoroughly combine.

Time To Assemble And Roll

  • lay your leaves out with the leaf 'bottom' side up (where you can feel all the leaf veins), with the shiny side down. And spoon one teaspoon of the rice mixture onto each leaf. Be careful not to overfill, as the rice will need space to expand while cooking.
  • Mine may look quite ‘full’- but it’s important to remember that the herbs will wilt as the rice grows too.
  • To roll the leaves is fairly simple. Bring the two sides in and then roll to close- similarly to rolling spring rolls. Roll tightly, while still allowing space for the rice to expand as it cooks (Watch my video to see how I did it).
  • If you can manage to get your family in on the task, then it’ll go by quickly. And it only takes a few leaves to build your method and get in the groove.
  • Once rolled, you can freeze any leftovers that you know you don't want to cook immediately (the cooked leaves can also be frozen if there are any leftovers).

Time To Cook

  • Place the potato slices at the bottom of a large or medium pan (depending on how many stuffed grape leaves you are cooking). Alternatively, you can use any broken and un-used leaves to lay on the bottom of the pan.
  • Place the stuffed vine leaves in the pan, seam side down. Make sure they are tightly packed into the pan. This will stop them from moving and falling apart while cooking.
  • Mix the water, olive oil, and lemon juice and pour on top of the stuffed vine leaves (there should be enough to cover them).
  • Place an inverted plate or pan on top of the vine leaves to hold them in place and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, with the lid on.
  • You can remove the plate once the vine leaves have soaked up the majority of the water, and then continue to cook or leave it on for the entirety of the cooking.
  • Remove from the heat, once cooked. You can leave them to ‘rest’ for 20-30 minutes, for best results. But, if you can’t wait, then they are ready to eat immediately.

Storage Instructions

  • These vegetarian stuffed grape leaves will last for between 5-7 days in the fridge, in an airtight container. Alternatively, you can freeze them for up to four months.
    To freeze, you can lay them out in a single layer on a pan to flash-freeze before moving to another freezer-safe container. That way, they won't stick together while freezing.
    You can also freeze the prepared uncooked dolma. These will last even longer in the freezer, though I've never had any left past three months.
    If thawing the cooked dolma then you can eat them cold or hot. Just note that cooked dolma may be slightly more 'soggy' once thawed.

To Reheat

  • Reheating the dolma is super simple. Either heat in the microwave until piping hot or place them in a saucepan with a little amount of water (just a few spoonfuls).
    It's easy to freeze dolmas. Place them in a freezer bag in one layer and freeze for up to 4 months. To serve, simply heat them in the microwave or place them in a saucepan with just a few tablespoons of water.

Video

Notes

*Using 4 lemons for this recipe makes it taste quite lemony. If you prefer a less lemony taste, use 2 instead of 4.   
  • You can use vegetable stock for cooking the dolma, for infusing them with even more flavor. 
  • If you have the patience, then I suggest leaving the cooked vine leaves to rest in the pan for 20-30 minutes before serving. This will allow them to soak up any remaining liquid and lead to super-soft leaves.
  • Some people have issues with the tough ‘stem’ at the bottom-middle of the leaf being ‘chewy.’ You can remove the thickest bit of stem if you prefer. However, I’ve not found it necessary.
  • Since the filling needs to be finely chopped, you can use a food processor or smaller ‘chopper’ machine to make this task go by in seconds. I did a thicker rough chop with a knife, as I quite like the larger bits, however, a small cut will make sure every flavor is in each bite.
  • Feel free to experiment with the different herbs & veg inside the dolma. Fresh dill, mint, thyme, oregano, parsley, coriander, etc. all would work well. As for veg, different peppers, onions, etc. will work well.
  • You can also swap out the grain (like bulgar, orzo, etc.) – just be aware of how this may change the cooking time. You need to be able to cook the vine leaves for long enough that the leaves are perfectly tender without the grains being ‘mushy.’
  • Avoid long grain rice or any grains that double their size in water. However, you could also leave them to soak in water overnight, where they will begin to soak up water and will take less time to cook (it may take some experimentation to get perfect cook times with different grains).
  • Add in some crushed nuts or pine nuts for additional flavor and texture. 

Read the post for more ‘top tips’ to making perfect dolma every single time!
Course: Appetizer, Main
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Freezer friendly: 4 Months
Shelf life: 1 Week

Nutrition

Serving: 1Serving, Calories: 283kcal, Carbohydrates: 37g, Protein: 5g, Fat: 15g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Sodium: 454mg, Potassium: 471mg, Fiber: 7g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 9749IU, Vitamin C: 60mg, Calcium: 167mg, Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Recipe Rating




83 Comments

  1. 4 stars
    These were very good! I made them for an afternoon gathering and they were gobbled up! One criticism is just that the article is hugely long! It would have taken a third of a page in any cookbook, and I had to scroll forever to get to the recipe.

      1. Thanks so much for your feedback, Paul. Yes, there’s a Jump to Recipe button on all the posts. Glad you enjoyed the dolmas.

  2. 4 stars
    This recipe was so GOOD! I should have gone with two lemons instead of three, but it was still delicious. I bought brined leaves and was surprised at how difficult it was to unravel the leaves without tearing them, so keep that in mind if trying to get them done at a certain time.

    1. Hi Evelyn,
      You can just replace the herbs and quantity in this recipe with your own herbs. I hope this helps!

  3. 5 stars
    i love your recipes, I tried the falafel one as the falafel stand down my road has been shut for a year and it was incred!!!

  4. 5 stars
    I’m going to do it!!! Seems very delicious…. I used to eat them with my Palestinian grandfather but with meat … love the vegetarian way … thanks!

  5. 5 stars
    Amazing! Can’t wait to get home to try to make my own. Thank you for making it so uncomplicated to follow steps.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Deepti.
      It looks like a long process but it’s actually quite easy. And they are delish 😉

    1. Thank you so much, May.
      Yes, I love that I can freeze them. Then I can always have some when I feel like it 🙂

    2. 5 stars
      Hi! It looks perfect, congrats. This dish called “sarma” not dolma, dolma is an another Turkish dish, you can check it out too! Sarma and dolma both Turkish words, sarma means wrap and dolma means fill. Thank you for the recipe, loves!!!!