Friday, November 13, 2009

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Minced Meat

First I stuffed the grape leaves. Then I stuffed my face.
When I was in Istanbul, I took a wonderful Turkish cooking class called Cooking Alaturka. We made five dishes, and these beef and lamb stuffed grape leaves were one of the five highlights (don’t make me choose a favorite!). While I don’t eat red meat very often and am not a lamb fan, these were very good. With lamb being so prevalent in Turkey, I ended up eating it several times. Hey, when in the former Roman Empire…

I have some original ideas for vegetarian dolma fillings that I plan to experiment with, but I wanted to share this authentic Turkish recipe from Eveline Zoutendijk.


These stuffed vine leaves are often spiked with some hot pepper and tomato in parts of central and southeast Anatolia, but in Istanbul they are served like this, with yogurt on the side. Unlike the zeytinyagli dolma, which are rolled into long elegant fingers and served cold, these are short and stubby, more like a thumb, and served hot in some of the cooking liquid.

25–30 preserved vine leaves, soaked in a few washes of water for a few hours, or if you use fresh ones, blanched for a few minutes to soften.


12 oz minced lamb or beef or a mixture of both

2 onions, finely chopped

4 oz long-grain rice, washed, soaked and drained

Bunch of dill, parsley and mint, finely chopped

1 TBSP tomato paste

1 TBSP bell pepper paste (optional)

1 TBSP olive oil

1–2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped (keep the seeds and chop)

½ carrot, ½ onion to line the pan

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cooking liquid

¼ pint water

Juice of ½ lemon (optional)

2 TBSP olive oil

Mix all ingredients for the filling in a bowl, except for the rice. Add (part of) the tomato seeds to the mixture for extra moisture (you want the moisture to be moist but not too wet). Fold in the rice carefully. Lay the leaves on a flat surface (always with the shiny side on the outside), and place a little of the meat mixture on the top of each leaf. Shape the mixture into your desired dolma shape to ease the rolling process. Fold the sides over (no need to close them—this is when you decide the length of your dolma and you want them to all be the same length), and roll the leaf up into a tight package (start pressing gently but surely from the very beginning).

In a wide saucepan, prepare a bed of sliced carrot, onion and garlic, the stems of all the herbs used in the stuffing, the stems of the leaves, some peppercorns, and if you have any, some meat bones. This serves both for aromatic purposes and so that the dolmas won’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cover with a layer of (broken or small) vine leaves and place the ready dolmas on top with their opening, facing downwards. They need to be tightly packed together so that they won’t open while cooking. Pour some olive oil, and if needed, some salt over them and pour the tomato cubes over them, then cover with another sheet of leaves and lots of plates or other weights, to hold everything down. Now pour the water (and lemon if wanted) over the vine leaves (if you do this before the plates are on top, you risk the dolma floating to the surface and opening). Cover with a lid, and cook gently for 40-45 minutes. Serve hot in a bit of their cooking liquid. Decorate with the tomato cubes. Serve some yogurt on the side.

Serves 4


  1. Hi Adair, new around here. Another blogger(DeRosaWorld) sent me your way as he knows I love food blogs. I spent a year or so in Cyprus with both the Greeks and the Turks(they are not good friends BTW) and grew up in a neighborhood full of Greeks. The little Greek grandmother next door made a version of dolmades(Greek for Dolma)using dried apricots, raisins and walnuts or almonds instead of the meat. The Greeks serve them with a sauce called avgolemeno which is an egg and lemon mixture though you do see them with yogurt but mostly when served cold as a snack. If you try some vegan versions you might try the fruit and nuts. You mostly find the lamb and rice version in Greece but occasionally the fruity ones show up.

    I have also seen them with mushrooms instead of meat...probably porcini or shiitake would do the job.

    BTW looks like a nice place for a cook to hang out so I'll be back.

  2. Nice to hear from you, Fallenmonk. I think shitakes with rice and herbs would be good and sun-dried tomato, olives and feta would be good also. Do you think the world is ready for a dolma franchise that sells all different flavors of dolmas?

  3. Probably not Adair. Way too healthy for the typical American. I like the olives and feta idea but then I would eat cardboard with olives and feta.