Every year, our couple grape plants get longer and longer vines covered with beautiful leaves that we end up pruning down after the season is over. So we started to collect young leaves to make dolmas. You have to steam them but it is worth the time and effort because you can make all sorts of stuffing to fill them. Before we used to buy jars of grape leaves in brine in European or health food stores.
What are dolmas?
If you have ever eaten in a Middle Eastern restaurant, you will most likely have eaten some as it is always included in the meze (appetizer combo plate with falafel, tahini, tabouli etc.) Stuffed grape leaves are a Mediterranean classic!
Are grape leaves safe to eat?
Totally! And if you have a grapevine you also know that the leaves have not been sprayed with chemicals. It is best to harvest them in either late Spring or early summer because they are still tender. I often marvel at parts of food that we typically discard because we don’t know that something good and different could be made with them. Take for instance beet greens, radish tops, broccoli leaves, the green part of leeks, just to name a few. When you have a vegetable garden you cannot help but trying new things! One year, we used a little too much worm tea from our worm composting bin and we ended up with giant broccoli leaves and no flowers! That’s what happens when you use too much nitrogen! So we decided to give them a try. We rolled them like cigars and stirfried them and they were sooo good! So now we eat the leaves and the broccoli florets! You can only do that when you grow it! Maybe something similar happened in Greece and Turkey when they discovered that grape leaves could be eaten and made the best wrapper for yummy stuffing!
It turns out that they are very nutritious and are loaded with antioxidants.
How nutritious? They contain iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, E, K, potassium, and magnesium.
Dolmas versus dolmades
Turkish dolmas usually include some tomato sauce and in the filling, whereas Greek dolmades mostly have lots of herbs like green onions, parsley, and dill.
Dolmas and dolmades are usually made with short-grain white rice but you can also use bulgur, orzo, or other grains too. The grain is combined with a combination of fresh herbs, a touch of sweetness with raisin or currants, and some pine nuts for added texture and healthy fat.
How to prepare fresh grape leaves
This process requires removing the stem and blanching the leaves then cooling them down in an ice bath to stop the cooking. You should make a whole bunch at once, then you will have lots to play with.
Should dolmas be eaten hot or cold?
Traditionally dolmas that are filled with meat are served warm and dolmas with rice and herbs are eaten cold with a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil.
- 1 16 oz jar of grape leaves in brine
- 1.5 cup short-grain rice
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 large onion minced
- 2 spring onion minced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tbsp raisin or currants
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup minced parsley (flat-leave)
- 1 Tbsp dill
- 1/2 cup minced mint
- 2 tbsp pine nuts (optional)
Wash and soak the rice in water for 20 minutes. Drain.
- Pan-fry the diced onion and garlic in some olive oil until translucent.
- Add the rice and broth and simmer for 10 minutes until partially cooked.
- In a large bowl, combine the rice, cumin, dill, parsley, mint, raisin or currants, pine nuts and mix well. Set aside to let it cool down.
Prepare the fresh grape leaves
- Fill a large bowl with 3 cups of ice cubes and water.
- If using fresh grape leaves, make sure to remove any bit of stem. You will need to blanch them first in water for 1 minute with 1/4 cup of salt.
- Dip each blanched leave into the cold bath to stop the cooking.
- Set each leaf aside on a plate lined with a paper towel until they are all done.
Assemble the dolmas
- Place a tsp of stuffing in the middle of the leaf. Fold the sides and roll like a cigar
Cook the dolmas
- In a large pot, place a plate upside down to line it and protect the dolmas when steaming.
- You can also line the pot with grape leaves if you have extra ones.
- Lay all the dolmas on top of the plate in a circular pattern.
- Pour water until it reaches the first layer of dolmas.
- Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
- Check to make sure you have enough water to steam the dolmas until they are completely cooked.