Dolma, meaning “stuffed thing”, is quite simply, vegetables stuffed in the Eastern Mediterranean way. With firm origins in Turkey, grape leaves stuffed with grains, vegetables and/or meats are found in many countries with many different names. They are served hot with an egg and lemon sauce or cold stuffed with grains, pulses, nuts and raisins. In some Mediterranean countries the grape leaves are replaced by cabbage leaves and called sarma meaning “rolled thing”. Grape leaves stuffed with grains are all popular throughout the Ottoman Empire, familiar in Greece, the Balkans as well as parts of the Middle East. The Greek version is called Dolmades and is a vegetarian delight.
Most often dolmades are stuffed with short-grain (pudding) white rice, onions, pine nuts, dried currants, dill and mint. White rice has essential vitamins and minerals removed. In the quest to make a healthier version I have substituted sprouted, organic, whole grain brown, red and black rice which has a rich, nutty flavor. Sprouted rice is high in antioxidants, essential amino acid and fiber. Fresh young grape leaves are most desirable but grape leaves in a jar will suffice.
1 cup sprouted brown, red, black rice blend*
1 cup filtered water
½ teaspoon sea salt
55 fresh grape leaves or 1 (16 ounces) jar grape leaves (drained and rinsed)
2 tablespoons kosher salt to 1 gallon water
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 quart onions, finely chopped
6 tablespoons tomato paste
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
1 ½ tablespoon fresh mint, minced
6 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
6 tablespoons dried currants, soaked in hot water, drained
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 small onion, sliced ¼ inch lengthwise
1 cup filtered water
1. Bring rice, one cup of water and one-half teaspoon sea salt to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the water is absorbed, about ten minutes. Reserve.
2. If using fresh grape leaves roll them in stacks of ten and tie with butcher’s twine. Bring the gallon of water and kosher salt to a boil. Add the fresh grape leaves and simmer for ten minutes before draining and cooling in an ice water bath. If using grape leaves in a jar, boil for two minutes, drain and cool in an ice water bath. Gently squeeze the leaves dry. Reserve.
3. Heat the oil in a large cast iron pan. Add the onions and sauté until golden brown, stirring often.
4. Mix the tomato paste into the onions and cook for two or three minutes. Add the rice, lemon juice, lemon zest, dill, mint, pine nuts, currants and one teaspoon of sea salt. Mix and heat thoroughly. Remove from the heat.
5. Preheat oven to 350⁰F.
6. Place the sliced onion in the bottom of a non-reactive Dutch oven to prevent scorching the dolmades.
7. Lay the shiny side of a grape leaf down on a cutting board. Place one scant tablespoon of the rice mixture in a cylindrical shape mid-way up the leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf inward and over the rice. Roll the leaf and stuffing toward the tip of the leaf, packing fairly tight. Trim any excess leaf and reserve.
8. Place each one tip side down on the onions. Pack them close together in one or two layers. Cover with the excess leaves.
9. Weigh the dolmades down with an oven-proof plate. Pour one cup of water over the top.
10. Place the pan over medium high heat and bring to a simmer. Wrap the top with foil but do not allow to touch the dolmades.
11. Place in the oven for one-and-a-half hours. Remove from the oven and let stand for an hour before uncovering. Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate the rest and serve within the next three days or freeze up to a month. Always bring to room temperature before serving.
*I use Trader Joe’s sprouted brown, red and black rice blend.