Meat & Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves
I’m feeling so Mediterranean today…
Except, I’m cold. Really cold. I had this naive dream that I would come back from Florida and NYC would have embraced the Spring weather just to welcome me… Instead, I came back to a snow storm and freezing temperatures. Damn you, NYC!
And then there was the Daylight Savings that took one hour of my precious sleep. But wait… isn’t Daylight Savings supposed to start in the Spring? It’s still cold outside! Get a grip nature! Or give me my hour back. (Now imagine me walking to my room, slamming the door shut and hiding my face in a pillow!)
But, other than feeling cold and tired because of my lost hour of sleep, I’m indeed feeling Mediterranean. Why? Oh well, because of these delicious Meat & Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves!
Stuffed Grape Leaves are popular in several Mediterranean countries and in the Middle East. It has different names depending on the region. The Greek call it dolmathes and the Egyptian and the Lebanese call it Mahshi Wara’ inab. But you can call it… stuffed grape leaves! It’s okay! lol
Here in NYC this dish is usually attributed to the Greek cuisine. However, I grew up eating the Lebanese version, as the Lebanese culture is really strong in my home country (Brazil).
According to the Greek, they were the ones that brought the Stuffed Grape Leaves to the other regions. They will say that the origin of this dish goes back to the time when Alexander the Great besieged Thebes. Food became so scarce that the Thebans cut what meat they had into little bits and rolled it in grape leaves.
However, you will often meet Turks that are adamant they were the ones that ‘invented the dolma’. They even call it their national dish. Honestly, I have no idea who is right. I could engage in a massive anthropologic research to find out, but, honestly, who cares?!? I prefer to watch the Turks and the Greek fight while eating some of these delicious Meat & Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves. I suggest you do the same… Nothing good will come from fighting Mediterranean blood!
If you ate this dish before, but never made it, you are probably a little intimidated by it. I know I was… But it turns out it is a pretty simple recipe. The only time consuming part is rolling the leaves. It usually takes me one hour to roll them all up! But I highly recommend you make a party out of it and invite some family and friends to help you. Just make sure you wine them for their services! :)
I like to serve my stuffed grape leaves hot. My family always served it with tomato sauce and more rice on the side. (Brazilians love their rice, deal with it!) Also, whenever the grape leaves weren’t available, my grandmother would make Stuffed Cabbage Leaves, but I guess that’s a subject for another post!
You will find many varieties of this dish. The Greek fill it with lamb, rice and sometimes crushed mint, fennel, parsley leaves, garlic, dill or currants, and they often serve it with a sauce called avgolemono. The Lebanese and the Egyptian use beef. In Turkey and Iran their basis is more rice than meat. I’ve also seen versions with raisins, walnuts, pine nuts, tomatoes and vegetarian versions where they omit the meat and fill the leaves only with rice and spices.
Many people serve this dish as an appetizer, as part of the mezes that precede the main course. It is then served cold or at room temperature, daubed with olive oil. Some yogurt based sauce (like tzatziki) and some pita bread on the side and you’re all set to impress!
Rolling the leaves gets easier with practice. By the time you’d be rolling the 5th one you will be a pro! I took some step by step pictures to help you master the art of rolling grape leaves. If you ever win a championship or anything, don’t forget to thank me! ;-)
A few considerations about this recipe:
1) Don’t forget to cut the center stem. Nobody wants to bite into an unpleasant surprise when eating stuffed grape leaves.
2) You can use fresh grape leaves, if you can find them in your grocery store, or the ones that come in jars. Most big grocery stores carry it. If you can’t find it, Amazon sells it here!
3) You can either serve this with tomato sauce as main course or as an appetizer (warm, cold or room temperature) with pita bread and yogurt sauce (just mix greek yogurt with lemon juice, olive oil and salt & pepper).
4) Make sure you don’t roll the leaves too tight cause the rice will expand as it cooks and you don’t want the stuffed leaves to burst.
5) If you’re a vegetarian, just omit the meat. You’ll probably need less grape leaves then. You can also add more spices and even some raisins if that fancies you!
I hope you guys enjoy it! Nothing brings me more pleasure than experiencing other cultures from the comfort of my kitchen. :)
Meat & Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves
- 50 to 60 grape leaves (fresh or jarred)
- 6 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
- 1.5 lbs ground beef
- 1 cup white basmati rice
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 large onion, cut into large rings
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1/2 tsp all spice
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- a pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
If you can't find grape leaves, cabbage leaves work as well!
Just omit the meat for a vegetarian option!
You can also omit the grains and make this paleo friendly.
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44 Comments on “Meat & Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves”
These are traditional in Romania for Christmas and Easter. We call them sarmale and they truly are delicious, especially topped with a dollop of sour cream. They are time consuming, but oh so worth it. We also use the same filling for stuffed cabbage leaves which are just as good ;)
Oana, that’s so cool. I love hearing (reading!) those pieces of information. I also grew up eating stuffed cabbage leaves, mostly because the grape leaves weren’t that easy to find. :)
Just steam an serve with fresh squeezed lemon juice.
The one thing I would add is tomato sauce for added moisture. We Greeks add tomato sauce. I like the recipe you have and the flavors.
This stuffed grapes leaves reminds me “charuto”!!! Eu amo as suas fotos!!! Você deveria ter uma coluna no blog de tips para fotografia!!! Eu vou ser a sua leitora mais fiel!!! kkk
Awwnnn obrigada! :) Quem sabe um dia… Ainda estou aprendendo. E as suas também são ótimas! :)
This is a delicious recipe. It is easy to follow. What I love the most about your recipe are these 3 really important tips: 1- Cooking time ensures rice is cooked just right (soft but firm) 2- sautéing the onions & garlic first (which is not the ubiquitous approach) brings up the fragrance a notch. 3- The combination of cumin (instead of cinnamon) & all spice gives this a personal touch, while still tasting authentic Greek. Thank you for sharing!
Grape leaves are my absolute favorite food! I’ve always used a tomato sauce to cook them in but chicken broth sounds so good.I can’t wait to try your version!
I grew up eating it with tomato sauce too! But here in the US I often find it served with some kind of yogurt sauce and pita bread. :)
Doma is an entree meal served cold with warm hot chunky peeled tomato sauce before the main meal and it taste better with chunky peeled tomato sauce. You can eat it as a main meal if the grape leaves are soft but you can make Dolma wrapped with spinach also because it is softer. Dolma can also be served with yogurt on top but not with the sauce because it doesn’t go.
Olivia!! I want to make all your recipes, each one is more special than the other! Stuffed grape leaves are simply delightful with yoghurt sauce (or tomato, or more rice) and flatbread… what a feast! Please come to Tasmania to cook for me :-)
LOL! Don’t say it twice or I’ll start looking for plane tickets! :P Thanks, my friend.
Made these this weekend. Outstanding!?
My Lebanese mother in law makes a vegetarian version for me and she uses soaked lentils with the rice. Very yummy. She also uses sliced raw potatoes in the bottom of the pan to make sure that none of the grape leaves stick to the bottom. As a bonus, the cook gets to eat whatever potato slices can be salvaged from the bottom. Thank you for the photos of how to roll the leaves. I wanted to surprise my mother-in-law by attempting to make my own and I was looking for info on how to prepare the leaves properly. My first attempt, I forgot to blanch the leaves first and they were very tough! Now that I know what I was doing wrong, I’m going to give it another shot. Thanks!
These were really good, however, I had a mess in my pot! The rolls all came apart and I had a plate on top of them. What did I do wrong???
Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that. I usually put them with the seam facing down and try to arrange them really close to each other, to prevent them from opening. I always have a few that open, but most stay intact!
They were probably rolled too tightly. The rice needs room to expand. So next time try to roll them a little looser and that should help.
You can find this in Romania , Serbia , Greece , Turkey !
I’m wondering why our recipes are different. I come from Lebanese bloodline and we have made grapeleaves for generations. I am proud to say that mine are loved by even my pickiest uncle 8). However, ours consist of meat, rice, allspice, cinnamon, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and chicken bouillon (sprinkled at the top of the pot). I set a heat proof medium sized bowl at the bottom of the pot, so the leaves stack diagonally. Then a plate on top of the leaves to keep them secure. We dont include any other meats, fruits, veggies, etc in the pot. Though I know lamb is tradition in Lebanon. Your version reminds me of the Greek variety, and sounds so very tasty. I’ll have to broaden my horizons to them one day! Thanks for spreading the grapeleave love!
Dolma means Filling in English. If you type Dolma in the Google Language Translator it will show the word Filling.
Wilkpedia states it comes from the Turkish Ottoman Empire and Iran but also Doldurmaq in Azerbaijan means the same word as the Turks say it meaning ”To Fill”. So Dolma could come from one of these countries. The Turks came from Mongolia but Mongolians do not make Dolma but Mongolians invented Sour Cream.
Olivia I want to make these from fresh grape leaves. You don’t specify how to make it from scratch and I don’t find it in any recepie. Do I have to boil the leaves? Or how do I soften them like the jared ones? Thanks!
The rice and meat are all raw when you stuff the leaves?
When you mean drain and rinse the leaves that’s from the jarred ones? For fresh should I boil them first?
Have you or your readers heard of stuffed grape leaves layered with dried apricots and chicken broth with lemon juice? My ex mother in law made it with similar seasonings to your recipe. Pleas let me know.
I’m abut to make your recipe today. Wish me luck.
Aprendi a comer y preparar con una persona venezolana y me facinan quisiera siempre comer tambien los e preparados de col aqui les llaman Niño Envueltos,tambien ricos,gracias por compartir
I’ve been making stuffed vine leaves for my Lebanese hubby for many years now and on the odd occasion there are leftovers, I have frozen them successfully….however this tune time I would like to know if anyone has frozen the before they are cooked. Appreciate your replies…thank you ?
Yes! I make them a couple of weeks in advance. I stack them in the pot and freeze the whole pot. I take them out in the morning of the day you want to serve them. I bring the liquid to a boil first and pour it over the frozen stuffed grape leaves and then just cook them like normal. A great timesaver. This method also tenderizes the leaves a bit more.
I pick leaves and freeze them using my Food Saver. They stay fresh this way for a year or more! I thaw them and wilt them in boiling water before stuffing and rolling them. Thompson Seedless grapevines put out nice, tender leaves. Hope this helps!
I normally stuff mine with just beef mincemeat and rice. I make a sauce to cook them together, which is Chicken stock, tomato purée, lots of lemon juice from bottle and lots of dried mint and garlic (optional).
Once I have laid them in pot, I pour the juice over them, just covering them, and simmer for around 45 mins. We are this as a main course but we love the juice flavour, , and eat this with yoghurt.
I have never seen grape leaves in a local store. However, I have one lonely grape vine randomly growing on my property. Could I use those leaves?
Hi Caroline, I have never used fresh grape leaves, always store bought ones. A quick Google research shows that it’d be fine, but you might want to check with someone more knowledgeable. :)
So if you use the jarred grape leaves, you still have to boil them for 10 minutes? Seems like that would cause them to get really fragile and fall apart, maybe even before you roll them. Some other recipes for this recommend rinsing them in clear water, even soaking them, but not boiling them. This is my first time making them and I don’t want to mess it up. Thank you for your help.
We use the spices from your recipe. We use jarred grape leaves but we don’t cook them in any broth we use ground, Lamb. We cook the rice them brown the Lamb drain add garlic.onion.cook till tender add spices let cool then add rice. Rinse leaves roll put in the oven at 250 degrees for 30 minutes. Make cucumber and yogurt and dill dipping sauce.
Can I use basic white rice as a substitute?
Yes, you can! :)
Olivia, do I use raw ground beef and uncooked rice or do I cook these first?
Hi Dionne! Yes, you use uncooked rice and raw ground beef! :)
I recently tasted in a restaurant and loved it. Tried looking for recipe online and found your awesome recipe. Can you please guide me on where to find the grape leaves as I have never used it before?
Sorry for the comment on a 4 year old post, but in bullet number 4 do you mean “take the stems off” versus “take the stems of”? That’s the only part that confused me otherwise I can wait to try this!
Hi there!! Do you make the rice ahead of time or do you roll in uncooked rice? I dont want the rice to be soggy once it’s dont cooking.
Directions say “Take the stems of every grape leaf and blanch them in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and reserve” which makes it seem that the stems should be blanched and reserved.
Should say Take the stems OFF every grape leaf and blanch them “
i made rice and chopped meat stuffed grape leaves (as I’ve done many times before.yesterday.
My problem : the rice is still hard once we bite in to them….. Is there any way to say all the work I put into making them? please say yes…..
Place them back in the pot with broth and cook them longer!
Has anyone ever tried these with either ground lamb or ground turkey. I have a family member that can’t eat beef due to pancreatic trouble.
Should work with either! 😊