Whether for an appetizer or a light lunch, these stuffed grape leaves with meat and pomegranate (Persian Dolmeh) are both delicious and satisfying. Find more of my pomegranate recipes.
What is dolmeh?
Stuffing vegetables is a common theme you find in various cuisines from all over the world. In Persian, dolmeh means “stuffed” and is typically referred to stuffed grape leaves. Greeks call the same dish dolmades and Turkish use dolma. They all refer to the same dish.
I just call these little bundles of joy, INCREDIBLE! We, Persians, like to stuff everything: red peppers, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and every guest’s bellies until they burst!
Fillings for dolmeh
Dolmeh come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The vegetable container that holds the stuffing can vary, as well as the stuffing. This dolmeh recipe is stuffed with ground beef, rice and pomegranate molasses.
You can make almost any kind of stuffing. I even have a vegetarian stuffed grape leaves with raisins. The great thing about dolmeh is that you can stuff it with anything you want.
The key is to not over-stuff (I know it’s tempting!) the grape leaves and to keep the rolls tight as you roll them. It can be a little tricky because the grape leaves can rip if you pull too tightly, which I did, and then you have to discard the torn leaf and use another one.
What kinds of rice to use for dolmeh
Again, there are no set rules for the stuffing of your dolmeh. But there is usually rice stuffed inside. Meat by itself would not only be expensive, but also very dense and heavy.
Typically, basmati rice is the first choice of rice I use when making dolmada. I have also used brown basmati rice, arborio rice and even quinoa for dolmeh.
Pomegranate in dolmeh?
It is very common to find pomegranate molasses used in the stuffing for Persian stuffed grape leaves. Pomegranates are a major ingredient in the middle eastern diet.
What is pomegranate molasses? Well, in a nutshell, it’s pomegranate juice with a bit of sugar reduced down until the water has evaporated and you have a thick syrup-like consistency.
How to assemble your dolma
As I mentioned above, you do not want to overstuff your dolma. About a tablespoon of filling per grape leaf should be enough. Larger leaves can hold more.
If you are using jarred grape leaves, they are soaking in a brine and need a quick rinse in water to remove the excess saltiness. If you are using fresh grape leaves, you will need to clean them and blanch them in boiling water before use.
Either way, your leaves are fragile and can tear easily. You start by spreading your filing in the center of the leaf, vein side up. Think of this rolling a small burrito or egg roll.
Pull the bottom part of the grape leaf and fold it over the stuffing, tucking it in under the stuffing. Fold in both sides of the leaf.
Keep everything tight, but not too tight. You’ll get the hang of it after you have rolled a few. Now start rolling the dolmeh up to the top of the leaf. Ta-dah!
Remember, your dolma will expand slightly while it steams in the pot. If there are any holes in the grape leaves, stuffing will come out and the dolmeh will crack and break.
Place the rolled dolmeh in an oiled pot, seam side down. You roll and roll until you are out of stuffing, layering the dolmeh on top of each other, layer by layer.
The steaming liquid includes lemon juice, as we Persians love that tangy flavor! Place a small plate on top of the pile of dolmeh to keep them from expanding too much while cooking.
This video shows you how to make dolmeh with a vegetarian stuffing made with short grain arborio rice and raisins. But it really shows you how easy it is to stuff and roll those grape leaves:
How to serve Persian dolmeh
Dolmeh is quite delicious on its own and a dipping is definitely not required. But I prefer to serve dolmeh with mast-o khiar, Persian yogurt with cucumbers. But you can serve it alone, with lemon wedges and even plain yogurt, if you like.
You can serve your dolmeh warm or cold. I prefer my dolmeh at around room temperature, just slightly warm. A little garnish of fresh herbs and dried rose petals is totally optional, but certainly adds extra flavor.
- 3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 cup chopped parsley, packed
- 2 TBS chopped mint
- 2 TBS pomegranate concentrate
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 ½ cup cooked basmati rice
- 26 large grape leaves, canned or jarred
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- In an oven-safe large non-stick skillet, over medium-high heat add 1 tsp olive oil and chopped onions.
- When onions start to soften, about 5 minutes, add ground beef. Break down the meat as it cooks.
- When the meat is browned, about 7 minutes, mix in parsley, mint, pomegranate concentrate and lemon juice.
- Cook for 5 minutes, then stir in cooked rice. Continue stirring until mixed in and remove from heat.
- In a 4-quart non-stick pot add 2 tsp olive oil.
- On a flat work surface, remove and pat dry grape leaves.
- Working with one grape leaf at a time, spread a grape leaf flat on your work surface, with the vein side up.
- Add to the center of your grape leaf 1 TBS of rice filling.
- Depending on the size of your grape leaves, the amount of filling can vary.
- Starting with the stem, pull the lower part of the grape leaf over the filling.
- Tuck the tip under the filling.
- Keeping the dolmeh tight, but not pulling so hard that you rip the grape leaf, pull the left flap of the leaf over to the center.
- Repeat with the right flap of the leaf.
- Tightly roll the dolmeh into the top of the grape leaf. See pictures below for more guidance.
- Place dolmeh into the oiled pot.
- Repeat steps 9 through 17 until all the stuffing is used.
- Layer the dolmeh on top of each other.
- Pour water and lemon juice evenly over the dolmeh.
- When done, place a plate on top of the dolmeh. This keeps the dolmeh from expanding and opening up while cooking.
- Cover the pot and cook over low heat for 1 hour.
- Remove plate.
- Dolmeh can be served immediately warm or at room temperature.
- You can also keep the dolmeh refrigerated in an air-tight container for 3 days, then reheat when ready to serve.
Great as an appetizer or a main course. Can't find grape leaves? Blanch and use fresh cabbage leaves. This filling is also great stuffed into bell peppers, tomatoes and onions.
Serving Size:1 dolmeh
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 87Total Fat: 1.7gSaturated Fat: 0.5gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 134mgCarbohydrates: 10.9gFiber: 0.3gSugar: 0.8gProtein: 6.2g