What are Dolmas?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Dolmas are grape leaves traditionally stuffed with a mixture of rice and lamb, and they are made all over the Middle East and in parts of the Mediterranean region. The English speaking world associates Greek culture with the food, and has also adopted the Greek word dolmas to refer to stuffed grape leaves. If you would like to impress guests at your next party with your Greek knowledge, it is dolmas in the singular and dolmades in the plural. Dolmas are found all over Greece in a variety of styles, including a more rare version using a cabbage leaf. They are also popular at deli counters in the rest of the world, and are a fun picnic and snack food.

It is probable that dolmas are a very old food. The method of preparation is simple, but also ideal for packaging food to take on long trips. The name originates from an Arabic word which means “to stuff,” and it is likely that some form of dolmas has been eaten for centuries in the Middle East. The Turks clearly adopted both the food and the word, and it quickly spread to Greece as well.


Basic dolmas starts with assembling a sauteed filling of chopped onions, lemon zest, mint, pine nuts, rice, and lamb. The filling is rolled up into grape leaves, and then the dolmas are steamed in a large, heavy skillet for one hour. After being taken out of the skillet, lemon juice is squeezed over the dolmas and they are refrigerated or served hot. Dolmas frequently appear at buffets or with the appetizers, and in a more traditional Greek meal might be served with an assortment of olives, bread, and cheese.

Many cooks make a vegetarian version which is also delicious. Vegetarian dolmas are often served with dipping sauces in addition to the traditional lemon wedges. Several Middle Eastern nations have a long tradition of vegetarian dolmas stuffed with a variety of interesting things including pomegranate seeds, grapes, currants, peas, sweet peppers, or eggplant.

Making dolmas at home is relatively easy, although time consuming. All of the ingredients are readily available in most markets, including grape leaves. Grape leaves often come in cans or jars, and should be soaked in several changes of warm water before used to remove tannins from the leaves which could make them bitter. Make sure to use whole grape leaves, discarding specimens that are torn or otherwise damaged.


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Post 5

I like a lot of Greek foods, like souvlaki and gyros, but I have to admit that it took me a while to warm up to dolmades. I think my American palate wasn't used to the idea of eating grape leaves. There seemed to be an inherent bitterness that I couldn't get over the first few times I tried them. The filling itself was really good, but the grape leaves affected the flavor too much.

I suspect that whoever prepared those dolmades didn't prepare the leaves right. I was at a Greek restaurant the other day and a friend offered me a piece of dolmas from his plate. It was much better than I remembered. The bitterness was still there, but it wasn't an unpleasant thing.

Post 4

Dolma is a Turkish word, and means "stuffed". It is not Arabic, and it is not Greek. Dolma is the greeks' favorite stolen Turkish food so far. Maybe they love it more than Turkish baklava.

Post 3

My favorite Middle Eastern restaurant has a lovely platter filled with dolmas, tabouleh, hummus, falafel and pita bread. It is very good and I love their dolmas, it's so fresh. I don't think I could ever make them though. I think it must require some precise handwork to place the stuffing and roll it up without the rice spilling out. I really don't know how they do it, but they do a great job!

Post 2

When I went to Turkey, I noticed that the Turks used a different word for stuffed grape leaves. I believe it was "sarma" which means "rolled" instead of "stuffed." They use dolma for other stuffed foods like stuffed peppers, stuffed eggplants or zucchini. The stuffing is basically the same for all of these foods. But since the grape leaves are actually rolled and not really stuffed like green peppers, for example, they use different names for them.

I also did not see much lamb used in Turkish dolmas. I think Arabic and Greek dolmas use lamb more. I did have a vegetarian dolma with pine nuts and tiny raisins though. The stuffing had a yellow color, it might have been from saffron and had a light sweet taste. I think that was my favorite kind of dolma.

Post 1

I make dolma stuffing with a mix of broken rice and wheat, along with tomato paste, cooked ground beef, dry mint, salt and pepper. Putting broken wheat into it increases the fiber content of the dolma and makes for a more healthy snack or meal. I love dolma and have it very often. So I wanted to make something with less rice and I came up with broken wheat. I still put some rice in it so that it doesn't lose the original flavor. But you could make it just with broken wheat or even couscous if you want.

I make the vegetarian version a lot too, I just leave out the ground beef from the recipe. I also love having dolma with plain yogurt or plain yogurt with garlic. It's very good, I recommend it!

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