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  • Writer's pictureEmma Tierson

Vegetarian Dolmas

I remember the day I tried my first dolma. I was with my best friend at a restaurant I had never even heard of that served Greek food. After my first bite, I was hooked. The details of this dish were so different than anything I had experienced before. Instead of a heavy dumpling, it was wrapped with grape leaves. Instead of meat and cheese, the filling was rice, vegetable, and herb-filled. Rather than dipping in butter, tzatziki was served. Nothing in my experience of American foods could compare to light and delicious dolmas.

I've prepared this dish a few times now. The first time was in high school. My wrapping skills were an outright disaster, but the taste was right. Sometimes I would get the canned version in the supermarket, but freshly cooked food almost always tastes better than a canned supermarket version. Recently, I held a small dinner party for some friends. I had plenty of rice on hand and chickpeas that I was already going to make hummus with, so I decided to give myself another chance on mastering grape leaf wrapping. It took about 20+ tries for me to get the hang of it, but for a novice, they were really well done!

Place all of your dolmas in a baking dish in a single layer. If you want more dolmas than can fit in your dish, grab a second dish, or work in batches. The filling will hold for a few days in the refrigerator and the grape leaves typically come in a resealable jar. So don't feel like you need to make 100 of them at one time.

Now it is time to prepare the dolmas for the oven. The leaves need to be cooked to become nice and tender. To do this, fill the baking dish with water and a good splash of lemon juice until it is halfway up the side of the dolmas (Shown below). The baking process for this dish is steaming it in the oven, so make sure you have either a lid to cover your dish or put aluminum foil tightly over the top.

Place the dolmas in a preheated, 350 degree Fahrenheit oven, cover on and cook for about 30 minutes. When it is done, there should be very little water left in the dish.

I do have to say, I make mine a bit differently than the traditional way. I precook my rice, and then refrigerate it, uncovered, for anywhere from 4-24 hours. The traditional way of making this dish is to soak rice for 30 minutes and then cook the rice in the wraps for 30-40 minutes. I find that depending on the type of rice you use, the traditional method can be a little bit more fickle. Your rice may end up being undercooked or overcooked and the only way of knowing is to break into a dolma and find out. That's why I prefer to precook my rice. I make the entire filling beforehand and let it all come together in the refrigerator. Then the cooking process becomes focused on tenderizing the grape leaves and heating the filling. I haven't had an experience where the rice has been overcooked yet. But if you are concerned, then adjust your water level as needed.

After the dolmas have cooked, let them rest covered for at least 10 minutes. I like to brush them with olive oil after resting to keep the leaves hydrated. Dolmas that are not filled with meat are normally served cold, so cool them down in the refrigerator before eating. Serve with tzatziki, olive oil for drizzling, and lemon slices.


Vegetarian Dolmas


1c Rice (I used basmati)

1 1/5c Water + more for baking dish

1 Onion, finely chopped

4 Cloves of Garlic, minced

1/2 Can of Garbanzo beans, smashed

1/2 Can of Artichoke Hearts, finely chopped

2Tb Lemon Juice + a generous splash for the baking dish



Lemon Pepper

Garlic Powder

Onion Powder

Dill (I think I added 3-5 Tablespoons of dried dill, it was quite a lot..if using fresh ingredients the general rule of thumb is to use less than you would dry)

Parsley (at least 1 Tablespoon dried, fresh can also be used here)


Preparing the filling:

Add the rice and water to a pot and bring it up to a boil. Cover the pot and put the heat on low so that it remains at a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. When the rice is finished cooking fluff (do not violently stir!!!) it with a fork and put it in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl, lightly stir it around, and taste to test the seasoning levels. Let the bowl cool so that it is at least warm-room temperature, then put it in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours.

Making & cooking the wrap:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Set up a clean and flat work station for wrapping the dolmas such as a large cutting board or plate. Oil your baking dish and have it next to your workspace. Working gently with the grape leaves so they do not tear, lay one grape leaf flat on your working surface-A large, very full leaf is easiest for beginners, if you only have small leaves feel free to use two small leaves to extend the wrap-in the middle of the leaf add a spoonful of filling. To wrap, fold the top of the leaf over the filling, then fold in the sides, roll the wrap up tightly and try to keep pressing the filling inwards as you roll-see video for a visual. Put the wrap seam side down in the oiled baking dish. Continue this process until you have a single layer of dolmas in the baking dish. Fill the baking dish with water until it is halfway up the sides of the dolmas. Generously splash some lemon juice in the baking dish. Cover the baking dish and cook the dolmas in the oven for 30 minutes or until almost all of the water has been absorbed. Take the dolmas out of the oven and let sit with the cover still on for at least 5 minutes. Take the cover off and lightly brush the tops of the dolmas with olive oil.

They can be eaten warm or cold, traditionally the rice/vegetable dolmas are eaten cold/room temperature. Serve with tzatziki.

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