Stuffed Grape Leaves is a very popular Romanian recipe for vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice. The usual stuffing is beef and pork, but you can also make them with beef and lamb, or just vegetarian.
This article also includes a recipe for making vegetarian stuffed grape leaves.
What are stuffed grape leaves also known as Dolmas or Dolmades?
Dolma/Sarma is a stuffed vine leaf. Traditional to many countries, like Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Armenia, Iran, Israel, just to name a few of them, this dish is versatile and easy to make.
Based on the geographical areas, traditions or religious limitations, these dolmades can be stuffed with a mixture of minced/ground pork, beef, or lamb, rice, onion and different spices.
Dill, lemon, sometimes parsley are popular ingredients, but there are countries who make them vegetarian and replace the meat with mushrooms, grains, different types of nuts, raisins, currants, etc.
Romanian stuffed grape leaves are also cooked in different ways, based on the part of the country where the recipe comes from.
The most popular one uses a tomato sauce to thicken the sauce, but if you go to the west of the country, the sauce is made with sour cream/yogurt, dill and lemon juice.
However, if you never had them before, you are here for a treat. Stuffed grape leaves are part of a big family of stuffed vegetables, and you will see on my blog some other recipes, like Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, or Stuffed Peppers.
The recipe is great for Easter, and it also feeds a crowd. We make them once in a while and eat them for a few days in a row, as we love leftovers.
Most countries in the Middle East eat these stuffed grape leaves as appetizers. Romanians eat them as the main dish. I never had them as appetizers, unless I ate them in a Turkish or Middle East restaurant.
Where to find grape/vine leaves and how to prepare them for stuffing:
I usually buy my grape leaves (affiliate link) in a jar, from the specialty stores around Minneapolis, or I order them online. ( I wish to have my own grapevines in the backyard, but I don’t).
There are many brands on the market and all of them are good.
When you take them out of the jar, they look like this:
How I prepare the grape leaves for stuffing:
I usually give them a rinse under cold water, drain them and remove the stems. You need a smooth leaf surface to work with.
Grab the stem and fold the leaf in half. Cut the stem and any tough part around it.
Bam! Now you have a beautiful leaf to work with. Not too bad, right? Repeat the operation until you finish all the leaves you need.
Note: For a pound of meat, I used only half of the leaves in the jar, but if you cook for a crowd and want to use them all, double the amount of meat filling. If you have leftover leaves, put them in a ziplock bag and freeze them for later use.
What other ingredients go into this recipe:
Ground/minced pork, or beef or a combination of both
It is important to know what kind of stuffed grape leaves you want. If you will use ground meat with a higher amount of fat in it, the dolmas will be fluffier inside and tender. If you will use lean meat, they are going to be more compact inside.
My preference is to use meat with more fat, as fat makes everything better.
Rice– while most Middle East recipes will use long grain rice, I like to use short grain as it is more starchy and works better as a binder in the filling. However, it is just a matter of preference, so use what you have.
Onions– I used chopped yellow onion. It doesn’t have to be chopped super small, because it will kind of “melt” inside the filling while cooking and will provide some texture.
Dill– Fresh is always better that dried, but if you are like me, a jar with dried or salted dill is always available in my pantry.
Thyme– I always have dried thyme in the pantry and this is what I used.
Water or chicken/beef stock to cover the stuffed grape leaves in the pot
How to make the stuffed grape leaves:
In a large bowl, mix the ingredients for the filling together. You will need minced meat (pork or beef, a mixture of both), chopped onions, rice, dill.
I used this clay pot originally from Bulgaria, but any deep pot would do the same job. Make sure it works for the oven, and it has a cover. You can also use a crockpot.
Before you place the rolls into the cooking pot, spread 3-4 leaves on the bottom of it, the rolls are not going to stick to the bottom when you cook them.
Take a leaf and spread it flat on your work surface. Place a teaspoon of meat mixture on the leaf but on the other side of the stem.
Fold the end of the leaf over the meat once. Then fold over the left and right side of the leaf.
Continue to fold the leaf pushing the edges inside so the meat doesn’t come out during cooking.
Place the roll on the bottom of the pot and continue wrapping the stuffed grape leaves until you finish the meat mixture.
Add the juice of one lemon into your pot. Add the water or chicken/beef stock to cover the rolls. Add some salt and pepper to the liquid.
If you do not have a pot like mine with a lid, use aluminum foil to cover it. You can also use a crockpot for cooking them.
Put the pot in the oven for and hour and half at 350F or until the rolls are tender and the rice is cooked inside.
The juice of the lemon together will make this dish a special delicate one. It goes perfectly with a glass of white light wine.
NOTE: If you want to make these stuffed grape leaves vegetarian/vegan, you can find the detailed recipe at the bottom of the post.
How to make the vegetarian version of stuffed grape leaves:
The best way and the most delicious vegetarian/vegan stuffed grape leaves are with mushrooms and rice. You can also replace the mushrooms with raisins and walnuts.
For the filling, use a food processor to grind the mushrooms. Mix the mushrooms with the dry thyme.
Chop the onion. In a pan, heat some oil and toss the chopped onion until translucent. Mix the rice with cooked onion and mushrooms.
Taste for salt and pepper. Then follow the same steps as above for the recipe that uses meat.
Instead of making a sauce with lemon juice, use tomato paste and water to boil the stuffed grape leaves. Enjoy!
If you liked this recipe, you might be also interested in Stuffed cabbage rolls.
- 1 jar (aprox. 16 ounces) grape leaves
- 16 ounces ground pork or beef(or a combination of both)
- 1/4 cup rice
- 1 diced onion
- salt and pepper to your taste
- 1 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh dill
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 lemon(we will use the juice)
- 2 cups water or chicken/beef stock or enough to cover the stuffed grape leaves in the pot
- For serving: Sour cream or yogurt
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Prepare the grape leaves: Take the leaves out of the jar and rinse them.
- Note: For a pound of meat, I used only half of the leaves in the jar, but if you cook for a crowd and want to use them all, double the amount of meat, rice, and everything else.
- If you have leftover leaves, put them in a ziplock bag and freeze them for later use.
- Remove the stems so you can have a smooth leaf surface to work with.
- Make the stuffing:
- Put all the ingredients, meat, onions, rice, and spices, in a bowl. Mix everything well to combine.
- Grab a leaf and spread it flat on your work surface.
- Place a teaspoon of meat mixture on the leaf but on the other side of the stem.
- Fold the end of the leaf over the meat once.
- Then fold over the left and right sides of the leaf.
- Continue to fold the leaf-like you would roll a cigar by pushing the edges inside so the meat doesn't come out.
- Before you start placing the rolls into your cooking pot, spread 3-4 leaves on its bottom. This will prevent the rolls from sticking to the bottom.
- Start adding the rolls.
- Continue wrapping the stuffed grape leaves until you finish the meat mixture.
- Add the juice of one lemon into your pot and the water/stock, just to cover the stuffed grape leaves.
- Use aluminum foil to cover the pot if you don't have a lid.
- Place the pot inside the oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes at 350F or until the rolls are tender and the rice is cooked inside.
- The juice of the lemon together will make this dish a special delicate one.
- Note: Serve it with a nice glass of light white wine, a good slice of bread, and some sour cream.
- How to make vegetarian/vegan stuffed grape leaves:
- Use a food processor to grind the mushrooms.
- Mix the mushrooms with dried thyme.
- Chop the onion.
- Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the chopped onion until translucent.
- Mix the rice with cooked onion and mushrooms.
- Taste for salt and pepper.
- Follow the same steps as above for the recipe that uses meat.
- Instead of making a sauce with lemon juice and mint, use tomato paste and water to boil the stuffed grape leaves.
- Serve with sour cream on top.
For the vegetarian/vegan version of the filling:
8 ounces mushrooms
1/4 cup rice
Two tablespoons of tomato paste
Two tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 211Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 61mgSodium: 157mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 18g