Dolmeh are grape leaves stuffed with a rice/meat mixture. The best grape leaves are found in spring and early summer on wild grapevines which grow at the edges of woods or uncultivated areas. Pick leaves that are the size of your hand, along with some that are smaller. When picking, pluck off the stem of each leaf. Leaves may be blanched (add a stack of leaves to boiling water, boil one minute, drain and cool) and frozen to create a supply for out of season. Leaves from cultivated varieties such as Concord are too tough; make sure you use only wild grape leaves or purchase bottled leaves at a specialty store.
Servings: About 4
Ingredients for dolmeh
30-45 grape leaves
3/4 c. medium grain uncooked rice
1/2 lb. ground chuck
1/2 c. raisins
1 onion, diced
1/4 c. fresh dill, chopped
1/4 c. fresh chives, chopped
2 T. lemon
1 T. sugar
2 t. turmeric
2 t. cinnamon
1 1/2 t. salt
Step 1: Add the rice, unrinsed, to 2 cups boiling l-later. Simmer 6- 8 minutes; the rice should be only half cooked. Drain and rinse the rice in a colander. Fry the ground chuck , onion, salt, turmeric and cinnamon. Remove from heat. Stir in the rice, raisins, herbs, lemon and sugar. Mix well.
Step 2: Take a blanched grape leaf and place it vein-side up in your palm. Place about one tablespoon of the rice mixture in the center of the leaf. Fold the “stem end” over the rice, then tightly fold the sides and top of the leaf, so as to create a tight little bundle. Layer the dolmeh, seam side down in a casserole dish that has been lined with blanched grape leaves (don’t worry if you do not have enough leaves to line the dish; the lining serves only as an aid during the steaming process).
Step 3: Pour 1 cup water over the dolmeh (a little sugar and lemon may be added to this “later for extra flavor). Cover the dish with a tight-fitting lid or foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes; this may also be cooked on the stove top in a heavy, covered saucepan over low heat for 45 minutes.
Variations: Grape leaves are only one type of outer layer for dolmeh. Try stuffing blanched cabbage leaves, small eggplants, large tomatoes, and green or red bell peppers. For the cabbage, boil the leaves for 2 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of the rice mixture per leaf, and proceed as with the grape leaves, except pour tomato juice instead of water over the dolmeh. For the other vegetables, cut off the tops (do not discard), remove the inner pulp, and fill with the rice mixture (do not pack the rice too tightly as it will expand during steaming). Fasten the tops back on, place side by side in a baking dish, pour tomato juice over them, and bake as with the grape leaf dolmeh . Use 4-5 medium sized firm vegetables for this recipe. It should be noted that a grape leaf lining of the baking dish is not necessary for these variations.
Recipe © Nura Amerson 1991
On a walk with my husband after a rainstorm, I harvested grape leaves from vines growing on trees next to the sidewalk. My husband was embarrassed to be seen with a suburban forager, though he did agree to serve as my photographer:
To make the filling, I substituted the ground beef for a vegetarian version made of pea protein. (I almost always substitute veggie ground beef for the real thing since it tastes just as good!) The filling turned out to be quite tasty on its own, rather like biryani.
When making the dolmeh, I realized that my mom’s specification that the leaves should be the size of a hand must be adhered to; any smaller, and it’s almost impossible to get any filling inside and still wrap them up, unless you happen to be some kind of leaf origami specialist. The image above on the right shows an appropriately large leaf in the center.
In all honesty, I had some trepidation about eating wild leaves. How would they taste? Well, after some time bathing in hot lemon water on the stovetop (which I opted for over the oven method), they tasted just fine. The texture was delicate, the flavor mild. And I felt rather proud of my brief role as a neighborhood forager!