Stuffed Grape Leaves

Even if you’ve never eaten Iranian food, many of you have probably eaten stuffed grape leaves in other Middle Eastern restaurants or homes. I always thought these were called simply dolme, dolma, dolmeh – however you want to spell it. But it turns out that the word dolmeh is a general term meaning ‘stuffed’ – which can also be used to describe stuffed tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, whatever. So in Persian, the full name of stuffed grape leaves is actually dolmeh-ye barg-e mo.

Every so often we have a finger food potluck meal at my church, and I decided to make a batch of Persian stuffed grape leaves for our meal today. I was working from two different recipes, and I liked certain features of both so I ended up with my own combo recipe. This recipe is adapted from recipes on the mypersiankitchen blog as well as in the cookbook Persian Cooking: A Table of Exotic Delights, by Nesta Ramazani. Some recipes call for only partially cooking the rice before stuffing the grape leaves, but I’ve always had better luck cooking the rice fully first when I’ve made other stuffed grape leaves. Pine nuts can also be added, and meat can be substituted with yellow split peas or lentils to make it vegetarian.

Dolmeh-ye barg-e mo
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb. ground beef
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cube chicken or beef bouillon, crushed
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 c. basmati rice, cooked
1 large bunch of parsley, chopped finely
1 c. fresh mint leaves, chopped finely
1 tsp. dried tarragon
1/4 c. dried currants
salt and black pepper, to taste

Saute the onion for a few minutes until translucent. Add ground beef and continue to stir and saute until nicely browned. Drain any extra grease from the pan. Add tomato paste, bouillon, sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Then add basmati rice, herbs, currants and season with salt and pepper. This is the filling for the grape leaves.

You can buy canned grape leaves in brine. They can be a little difficult to work with, as they tear easily. They are also different sizes, so you have to adjust the amount of filling based on the size of the leaf. You want to fold it the way you would fold a burrito or spring roll – bring the bottom up, then fold the sides over and roll tightly towards the top. Some leaves are also more segmented than others, so you may want to overlap portions of the leaf to make a solid surface like the example above. Like anything else, it just takes practice!

Pack the grape leaves tightly, seam side down, into a 9×13 casserole dish, starting a second layer as needed. This recipe made about 50 rolls for me. Heat the following ingredients in a small saucepan and pour over the top;

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 c. water

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Add 1/2 c. water if needed, cover again with foil, and continue baking for another 30 minutes. Serve hot as a main dish or room temperature as an appetizer. You can serve them with yogurt or sour cream as a dipping sauce.


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