Traditional Meatless Greek Dolma (Recipe)

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A friend, Carina Ost, made a new year’s resolution to learn how to make dolma and set up a learning session at Mezes Greek Kitchen. Carina invited a few other blogger friends, including myself, to join her. I was really excited about learning how to make dolma from an authentic Greek chef. Dolma are stuffed grape leaves that are often eaten as appetizers/snacks with tzatziki. They remind me very much of Patra, stuffed taro leaves, that my grandmother would painstakingly make for us. It was a long process of soaking and boiling the leaves, making the tamarind dough-like filling, spreading the filling thinly all over the leaves, rolling the leaves up, steaming the rolled leaves, cutting them into slices, stir-frying them in hot oil with mustard seeds, then finally garnishing the Patra with fresh cilantro and shredded coconut. It was an all day project for my mom and grandma, but my grandma was the real expert. We can never get it just right like she used to… I always wish that Patra was the  one traditional Gujarati dish I learned from her.

Dolma, just like any stuffed dish, have always been a curious food to me. Do you stuff, roll, and boil or do you boil, stuff, and roll? Also, I am not a fan of most dolma at restaurants because they are often slimy and taste too much like vinegar.  Anyway, all of our questions were going to be answered by Mezes, which was voted the best Greek restaurant in 2009 and 2010 by SF Gate and SF Chronicle.

Jimmy Consos, marketing and events coordinator of Mezes, warmly greeted us and made sure we were comfortable. The chef/owner of Mezes, Nikos Maheras, had all of the ingredients laid out for us. The process is quite simple and fun. I can imagine 3 generations of people sitting around the kitchen table, sharing laughter while rolling up the dolma, and then enjoying the fruits of their labor together. As four food bloggers watched and participated in the dolma making process, we snapped pictures of every detail, much to Nikos and Jimmy’s amusement.

Greek food, like most Mediterranean food, is really healthy and balanced. The diet consists of a variety of legumes, fruits, nuts, vegetables, healthy fats, and meat. A true Mediterranean diet is unprocessed and has even proven to aid in weight loss, control diabetes, and lower the risk of heart disease. Therefore, the food at Mezes is completely Club Dine In! approved.

Dolma are the perfect party food but a lot of work for one person to do alone. It’s time consuming to roll up at least 30 dolma for six people. Therefore, a dolma making party would be a great idea! I am thinking about having a Club Dine In! dolma making (and eating) party in the early Spring and invite  chef Nikos to come in as a guest judge!

Ingredients
35-40 grape leaves, for cooking*
4-5 grape leaves, for covering
4 cups long grain white rice
4 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
3 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
3 tablespoons mint, chopped even finer
3 tablespoons green onion, even the white part, finely chopped
1 tablespoon pine nuts (optional)
1 tablespoon golden raisins
Juice of one lemon
2/3 cup good quality olive oil
2 pinches salt
2 pinches black pepper, freshly ground
2 cups warm water

Directions
1.       Completely cover a large saucepan (bottom and sides) with about 4-5 uncooked grape leaves. Cook the remaining grape leaves by adding them in boiling water for about 4 minutes. The cooking removes the acidity from the packaged grape leaves.  Drain the leaves immediately.

2.       In a large mixing bowl¸ toss together uncooked rice, parsley, dill, mint, green onion, onions, pine nuts, raisins, salt and pepper. Add in only half of the lemon juice and only half of the olive oil. Mix well all together with your hands.

3.       On a smooth surface or plate, lay out one blanched grape leaf. The veins should stick up and snip off the stem. Don’t worry too much if your leaf has rips in it, because it will get covered as your roll up. Add one tablespoon of the rice mixture in the center of the leaf. Gently fold the sides of the leaf towards the center and then roll it up from starting at the bottom. As you are rolling, tuck in any parts that stick out. Set aside and do the same for the remaining leaves.

4.       Place the rolled dolma around the circumference of the sauce pan, seam side down. Once the bottom is filled, stack the dolma on top of each other. You should have approximately 3 layers. Pour the remaining lemon juice and olive oil over the dolma layers. Pour the warm water over the dolma just enough to cover them. Cover the dolma with a heavy, heat proof plate, so they do not unravel while cooking.

5.       Cook on a medium heat until it starts to boil, then turn down heat so that it continues to simmer for approximately 1 to 1 ½ hours. Check pot occasionally to make sure that there is enough liquid covering the leaves at all times. If the liquid becomes low during cooking just add enough water to cover the top layer. They are done when the rice is fully cooked. Cool in the pot before serving.

*You can find the grape leaves in any specialty or Middle Eastern store or online.

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8 thoughts on “Traditional Meatless Greek Dolma (Recipe)

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  3. Wow! Thanks to you I believe I am getting closer to the version of Dolma my grandmother use to make. It was meatless and served with some sort of very creamy sauce and butter melted over the cream. A feast for the Gods. I was wondering what the cream sauce, in the picture, is?

  4. Thank you for this recipe! I was so glad to finally find one that didn’t include meat or tomatoes! I am making them currently. The directions say to keep them covered with liquid the entire cooking time and cool them in the pot. I wondered if they should be drained at the end or if the dolmas just soak up all of that water?
    Also, do you remember what herbs are in the yogurt?

    • Hi Jamie,

      The dolmas do soak up most of the water, but you can drain if you have excess water in the end. In some cases, you may have to add a little more water during the cooking process. The purpose of the water is to let the steam cook the dolmas. The yogurt was already made, so I am not sure of the exact herbs. Thyme and dill would be my guesses.

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