Stuffed Grape Leaves
These Stuffed Grape Leaves are incredibly delicious and hearty, and are filled with ground beef, lemon, herbs, rice, and other flavorful ingredients. They are a great alongside Marinated Olives or a Tabbouleh bowl.
Every time I make stuffed grape leaves I hope that I will grow tired of them.
But despite being a slightly high maintenance recipe, I can never stop making these because they are TOO DARNED GOOD!!!
Saffron Rice is one of my absolute favorite side dishes on earth, and this has the same flavors but with even more wonderful ingredients added.
What Is a Dolma?
Stuffed grape leaves are a cold appetizer made with a mixture of cooked rice, ground beef, herbs, and spices, all wrapped in a grape leaf. They are sometimes called Dolmas or Dolmades. They are most often thought of as part of Greek cuisine and Turkish cuisine, though have been a part of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine for centuries.
If you’ve never had dolmas before, I know they certainly aren’t winning any beauty contests as a food. But once you’ve tasted one, you’ll know that they are a total flavor explosion and wildly delicious to eat. They are easily one of the best foods from the Mediterranean countries.
Each bite is lemony, filled with aromatic herbs like dill and fresh parsley, with meat, white rice, and nuts too. Oh, and saffron…and onion…
If you don’t cook with saffron much, you may notice that it’s pricy, but you only need a little bit. It’s incredibly potent and gives a great flavor here.
Tips for Best Results
Boil the grape leaves for 5 minutes – This will soften the leaf and make the dolmas easier to roll.
Use the freshest of ingredients – Fresh herbs lose their flavor as they age, so try to buy the freshest ingredients possible. Dolmas should be very flavorful.
Don’t skip the beef – Sometimes you’ll find vegetarian versions of this dish, but I think dolmas are WAY better with some ground meat. Ground beef is my choice, but you could also try ground lamb. Feel free to experiment with different variations.
Have a helper – There is nothing difficult about this recipe, but it does take time to individually roll each piece. It’s a great opportunity to enlist help from family and friends. I will usually invite a few friends over to chat and make a ton of these together, then everyone gets to go home with some!
Step by Step Guide
In a large pot, soften chopped yellow onion in olive oil for about 10 minutes over medium heat, then add chopped walnuts, fresh dill, lemon zest, and saffron.
If you’re willing to splurge, sometimes I will add pine nuts in addition to the walnuts, for an incredible flavor.
Next, turn the stove setting up to medium-high heat, then add the ground beef along with some kosher salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the beef has browned and cooked throughly fully.
Then add chopped parsley and uncooked rice.
Add water and more salt, then bring to a simmer.
Cook for about 20 minutes, until the rice plumps up and soaks up the water.
Now, place little scoops of the rice mixture onto boiled grape leaves one at a time, and roll it up just like a burrito by bringing up the bottom stem end, folding in the sides of the leaf, and rolling. It’s easiest to do this on a cutting board or flat surface.
Also, the hot water from the boiling process should have made the grape leaves very pliable for this step. Roll as tightly as you can.
Roll it up like this:
Notice that I did not put an excessive amount of filling into the leaf. This prevents the filling from spilling out later on.
Nestle all of your rolled dolmas together tightly back into the bottom of the pot, in a single layer, then pour freshly squeezed lemon juice all over them.
Simmering in lemon juice as the cooking liquid, instead of cold water, really balances out the heaviness of the meat and rice. Lots of herbs and lemon really make these dolmades great!
How to Serve Them
You can serve this delicious appetizer warm, at room temperature, or cold, perhaps with a few lemon wedges on the side. I love them at all temperatures, but it’s most traditional to serve them cold. They are great alongside Marinated Olives and a batch of Baba Ganoush.
FAQ and Tips
Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Yes, in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before serving again.
This is not recommended, as it has a very different cook time requirement and the texture is very different.
These are perfect for making ahead because they are usually served cold. Feel free to make 2 days ahead of time.
In most grocery stores, you will find jarred grape leaves in the same aisle as jarred olives and jarred roasted red peppers. If you can find fresh grape leaves (only in specialty stores), you may use those as well, but boil them first to soften. Look for whole leaves.
For a vegetarian version, simply leave out the meat.
Did you enjoy the recipe? Please leave a 5-star rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
- 1 lb jar of grape leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pine nuts
- 1/2 cup packed chopped dill
- zest of 1 lemon
- about 20 threads of saffron no need to count it exactly
- 1 lb 80/20 ground beef
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1 cup rice rinsed under running water for 1 minute
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Boil the grape leaves for 5 minutes, then drain. This softens the grape leaves and make them easier to roll. Set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat, and add the onions with 1/4 tsp of salt. Cook for 10 minutes to soften.
- Add the walnuts, dill, lemon zest, and saffron. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the beef with 1/2 tsp salt. Cook the beef for 5 minutes until fully browned and cooked through.
- Add the chopped parsley, rice, water, and another 1/2 tsp salt. Cover the pot with a lid and cook for about 20 minutes until the water has been absorbed. The rice should be al dente but not completely cooked. Remove the pot from the heat.
- Place a spoonful of filling into each grape leaf, and roll it up by bringing up the bottom, folding over the sides, and rolling it like a burrito. Place each finished piece into the bottom of a large 12" pot. Repeat with the remaining filling and pack the grape leaves snugly together in a single layer. It's okay if the pot fills up and you need to do a second layer, just try to keep them tightly together so they don’t roll open during the final cooking.
- Pour over the freshly squeezed lemon juice and simmer on low heat, covered, for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the pot from the heat, and ideally let the stuffed grape leaves sit for about 30 minutes to an hour. This allows the flavors to meld and the brightness of the lemon to soften.
- Do not let the dolmas sit out for more than a couple hours. Store in the fridge.
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.
Post updated in April 2022. Originally published September 2013.