These Turkish stuffed grape leaves have a relatively simple vegetarian filling of mainly rice, herbs and currants but they are packed with bright, fresh flavor and are wonderfully comforting. They make a great addition to any meze platter.
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Stuffed grape leaves are an appetizer that you'll find in a few countries in the Eastern Mediterranean area. They can have different shapes and fillings and I have to say, I don't think I have found one I don't enjoy.
At the same time, some do stand out as favorites and these simple Turkish-style dolma are definitely one of them.
Where does the name dolma come from?
Dolma, or doleh or dolmades as they are known in other languages, means "stuffed" in Turkish. It's really a broad group of foods that are stuffed so includes things like stuffed peppers, zucchini and tomatoes.
Within that group, "sarma" means "wrapped" in Turkish and so is often what you will see as the name for stuffed grape leaves. That said, this particular version is generally called yalancı dolma.
How are Turkish dolma different from other stuffed grape leaves?
It can be hard to pinpoint differences from one country to another, as you don't really have one individual style in one place. These are definitely a dish that are passed down the generations and so you'll find some variations depending on a family's tradition as much as regions.
However, in general, Turkish dolma tend to be more long and thin than those from other places. Persian dolmeh barge mo are usually relatively short and squared-off, while Greek dolmades tend to be somewhere in the middle.
The vast majority of stuffed grape leaves use rice as the main filling, though some use other grains, with a range of additional ingredients. While Persian dolmeh typically use a lot of herbs, Turkish dolma only use a relatively small amount. The Turkish versions also often include pine nuts, currants and/or tomato in the mix.
You'll find both vegetarian and meat-filled dolma in Turkey. These meatless ones are typically called yalancı dolma - "liar's dolma" or "fake dolma" due to their lack of meat. But they are certainly not lacking in flavor.
In making these, I've tried to draw on traditional styles and ingredients as much as possible, including this In the Kitchen with April recipe. We all loved the end result and hope you will too.
What kind of rice is best, and what else goes in these?
You are best to use a short or medium grain rice for these as the texture works much better. The shorter grains helps the filling be a little more sticky and hold together better.
Other than rice, these include some aromatic herbs (parsley and mint), lemon, currants and onion. You don't have to include pine nuts, but personally I love the little extra contrast in texture and flavor that they give.
One of the other things that makes them a little different is you cook the onion then rice in oil at the beginning. This adds a certain richness to the mixture, as well as flavor. Then the lemon gives a lovely brightness and the currants give a gentle sweetness. The flavors do really all work so well.
Tips for making these
These might seem daunting at first, but you do get in the swing of things as you start rolling, honest! And the end result is well worth it. Some additional tips:
- Lay out a few leaves at a time. It definitely seems to flow more easily if you lay out a few leaves, fill them then roll in small batches.
- Don't add too much stuffing. You really only want a small amount as it does expand as they cook.
- Don't roll them really tight. For the same reason, they are still going to expand a little more so may burst. It should feel a little snug, but not tight.
- Line your pot with additional leaves. Use leaves that are maybe broken, or too small to make rolls with. The layer on the bottom helps save the rolls sticking or burning. Above that, they are fine to stack together.
As I say, you soon get in the swing of rolling them, which is probably the trickiest part, then just be a little more patient as they do their final cook.
One of the great things about these is that you can make them ahead and then refrigerate until needed. You can serve them room temperature or warm, as you prefer.
Turkish stuffed grape leaves may have a relatively simple filling, but it has a wonderful texture and flavor. Yalacı dolma are fresh-tasting from the lemon and herbs, with wonderful little bursts of sweet from the currants. They pair well with a whole range of other small plates and are great for parties, picnics or any excuse to snack on. Be sure to enjoy soon.
Try these other meze dishes:
- Kisir (Turkish bulgar salad)
- Spinach fatayer (small pastries with spinach filling)
- Roasted eggplant with tahini
- Plus get more Turkish recipes and appetizer recipes in the archives.
Turkish stuffed grape leaves (yalancı dolma)
- ½ onion
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup rice short/medium grain
- ½ teaspoon tomato paste (UK: tomato puree)
- ½ cup water
- 3 tablespoon parsley approx, chopped leaf weight/volume
- 2 tablespoon mint approx, chopped leaf weight/volume, or use around ½ volume dried mint
- 1 ½ tablespoon dried currants
- 2 tablespoon pine nuts (optional)
To make grape leaves and to cook
- 30 grape leaves vine leaves, jarred, approx ½ jar
- ½ tablespoon olive oil approx
- ½ lemon juice ie from ½ lemon
- water as needed see below
- Finely dice the onion. Warm the oil over a medium heat in a medium skillet/frying pan and add the onion. Cook for a few minutes until the onion has softened.
- Add the rice and tomato paste and mix so that everything is mixed and the rice becomes well-coated. Cook for a minute then add the ½ cup/120ml water. Once it comes to a simmer, reduce heat slightly and allow it to cook until the liquid is absorbed.
- Meanwhile, finely chop the parsley and mint (if using fresh). Once the water has absorbed, remove from heat and add the parsley, mint, currants and pine nuts and mix everything so that it is well combined. Set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the grape leaves.
- Rinse the grape leaves/vine leaves to get rid of excess brine from the jar then lay a few out flat on a clean surface with the ribs of the leaf facing up and smooth side down. If there are stems left attached, trim these from the leaves.
- Spoon a small amount of the filling mixture - only about 1 teaspoon - ½ tablespoon per leaf - in the centre of each leaf in a thin horizontal line. Fold in the bottom edges, then the sides, then roll from the bottom towards the tip to make a thin roll (see pictures above). Repeat with the rest of the mixture and leaves.
- Use some leftover leaves (eg ones that are torn/too small) and form a layer over the bottom of a pot/pan, ideally wide, heavy based and shallow. Alternatively, lightly oil the pan. Arrange the stuffed grape leaves in a layer across the bottom, packing them in tightly and with the join to the bottom. As needed, make an additional layer or layers on top.
- Drizzle a little oil and squeeze over the juice of ½ lemon over the top of the rolled leaves. Add enough water to just about cover the leaves (around 1 cup/ 240ml but may be more/less). Cover with a plate to hold them down then put the lid on the pot. Place over a medium-low heat and cook for around 25 - 30 mins. Check towards the end that there is still a little liquid and add more lemon and water if need be.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
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