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Dolmades/ Stuffed Grape Leaves Help!

Hi All,

I'm a little confused on how to make dolmades-- some recipes call for uncooked meat and others have cooked. Which one is correct?

Thanks for any insight.

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  1. For ones stuffed with meat, I've always used uncooked. Cook with some liquid over low heat until the meat is cooked, about an hour.

    For ones stuffed with rice, likewise I've never cooked the rice first.

    1. luckyfatima recommended this lady's good cooking: http://www.geocities.com/umhajar/dolm...

      this is her dolmas recipe.
      this, too: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/423775
      caroline1 also knows this region, too.

      1. Second Ziggy's post. I would add that rice doubles [at least] in volume as it cooks, so don't over stuff the leaves so you don't loose any of that wonderful goodness.

        1. I make stuffed grapeleaves with a combination of ground lamb and rice - I have posted the recipe before -if you can;t find it and want it I will re-post. I mix the filling and roll it uncooked in the leaves. Then cook in lemon juice,butter and boiling water. I use the broth to make egg- lemon sauce. Yum.

          1. i use uncooked ground beef or lamb and raw rice. this gets you the perfect texture and when the meat and rice cook together the flavors go well and they expand nicely together.

            1. Not to be contrary, but the recipe I use Yalantzi Dolmathes from the Time Life Cookbook series, uses cooked rice. There is no meat and also has pine nuts and dried currants. They are fantastic. I also just checked my Silver Palate Good Times and their recipe uses both cooked ground meat and rice.

              8 Replies
              1. re: sarah galvin

                Yalantzi is driven from Turkish "yalanci" which means fake. The term implies that not having meat is inferior (I would disagree). Yalantzi dolma(de)s are meant to be made without meat and served at room temp. This is popular in the coastal regions of pan Ottoman cultures where cold olive oil dishes are consumed daily, while meat versions are frequently prepared/consumed in inlands. Meat ones are also usually served hot, with yogurt (and sometimes with sauce).

                For the original question, either way (raw ingredients or cooked) seem to be OK. I checked a few cookbooks (Ottoman and Turkish) and couldn't reach a conclusion. If you ask me how I make dolmas, I don't. I am a lazy and spoiled girl, so I ask people who love me to make some. That thing is frigging labor intensive and until I travel to Turkey and get meself a dolma rolling device, I am not going to attempt making some.

                1. re: emerilcantcook

                  I bought a dolma rolling device in Turkey and the %&$*# thing doesn't work at all. I've tried it with cooked and uncooked filling and it squishes the dolmas too tight. The guy in the market who was selling them was making dolmas perfectly but I just can't get anywhere with that thing. Grrr.

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    Will this help?

                    http://cafefernando.com/stuffed-vine-...

                    (To the chowhound team: not my blog, so don't delete this silvuple)

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      And if emrilcancook's reference doesn't help, here's a demonstration that watching may help.:
                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3boyo...
                      I've never seen nor heard of the machines before, but if it's possible to make them work as well as this guy does, I want one! I'm not sure it's your problem, but my guess is the secret to using the machine successfully is by using a small portion of filling. The sound on my computer is currently not working -- something came unplugged and it's mounted in a cabinet that does not have easy access! -- so I wasn't able to listen (I think it's in Turkish, but don't know for sure) but that may be an asset because you watch all the more closely. He seems to use a "scant" teaspoonful of filling each time. But what a marvelous method of size and portion control!

                      As for cook or don't cook, I never cook the rice first, but I rather imagine there are some Turks who do. Sometimes I cook the meat a bit before adding to the uncooked rice, sometimes I don't. Depends on several things ranging from how fat the meat is, in which case I may feel it should be rendered a bit, to what I'm after in the final texture. I don't find all that much flavor difference between par-cooking the meat a bit first and starting with raw meat. The difference comes in the final product in which the parcooked meat will be more distinct and separate from the rice in the final product.

                      And for heaven's sake, DO NOT overcook! Really good yaprak sarma ("stuffed grape leaves" in Turkish, and far more specific than "dolma," which means anything that's stuffed), with or without meat, should have rice that isn't any more overdone than rice you would cook and serve as a side dish. I have totally given up on finding a decent yaprak sarma in a U.S. restaurant because, without exception, the rice is so overcooked it's like biting into a steamed marshmallow!

                      If you really love them and think you'll be making them on a regular basis, it is really worth the effort to plant a grape vine in your back yard (or in a pot, if you don't have a back yard) and grow your own grape leaves. Fantastic! The flavor difference is like, "Hello, Baby! Where have YOU been all my life!" But then I'm a bit of a fresh freak on some things. Used to grow my own fresh escargot too! If you live in an area where anyone has a grapevine, beg, borrow, or steal some. Any variety of grape. Then steam them a bit to soften so they'll roll easily. Fantastic flavor!

                      There are probably as many different recipes for yaprak sarma as there are cooks who make them. Subtle diferences in which the spices you use and how much can make a huge difference in final flavor. There are also regional differences, not only within Turkey, but all around the Mediterannean where stuffed grape leaves are made. I think of those that incude cinnamon or alspice as more Lebanese/Syrian, yet there absolutely are many cooks in Turkey who do use them. There are also Turkish cooks (and recipes) that do not use currants or mint or dill, yet they are my strong preference, with or without meat. I don't recall ever seeing a recipe that doesn't use pine nuts, but there must be some out there.

                      I was taught to make yaprak sarma by my Turkish chef/housekeeper fifty years ago, consequently I don't us a recipe, but when I run across one I read it out of curiosity. I suspect the recipes that cook or even par--cook the rice before stuffing the grape leaves are written by people who may not understand how to properly weigh down the sarma for cooking. If you miss the boat on weighing them down properly, they WILL expand during cooking and make a very disappointing mess!

                      I'd never thought of it before, but as I was writing this an interesting thouht occurred to me. In Lebanon, some people cook a few small whole carrots in with their yaprak sarma, and also serve them together. I wonder if it's all for flavor, or if the carrots are put on top of the weights for the sarma and used as a timer for when he rice is done? hmmmmm... Interesting! I'll have to give it a try.

                      Hope the video solves your problem. Good luck!

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        I am going to try this again. That's exactly the machine I have and, yes, I bought it in Turkey. There were guys around both the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar selling these things. I was so excited that I bought two of them and gave one to a friend. Neither of us could make it work. I'll try it with fresh grape leaves which are rampant right now. Dammit - I'm going to beat this thing.

                      2. re: Nyleve

                        Kind of reminds me of those old cigarette rolling machines. Rolling by hand is easy with a little practice.

                        And to the OP, raw meat and rice. I like to leave one end open to allow the liquid to penetrate but it's not necessary. Stack them up in a big pot add liquid and cover with a plate to keep submerged and tight. I like to invert the pot onto a platter so I don't have to disturb them and risk breaking.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          we too bought the machine in Turkey. tonight we tried to use it. Trouble is one of the cooks did not realize she needed to make a pocket at the lower end, then stuff the grapleaf, then push the handle up and the dolma pops out at the top. really slick.

                          1. re: georwc

                            I'm going to have to try it again. Thanks for the reminder.

                    2. Uncooked, but, please, steam rather than boil!

                      1. in one of the links i posted above
                        http://www.ifood.tv/recipe/stuffed_gr...
                        the cook placed sliced potatoes in the bottom of the cooking pot for the stuffed vine leaves, then the little cigar-shaped packages of goodness on top. iirc (slow to open just now), the potatoes got a nice savory crust.

                        as to the rolling gadget, the photo seemed to show some leaves whose ends were not covered entirely, exposing filling directly to the boiling liquid. those stuffed leaves would be waterlogged, and ruined, no?

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: alkapal

                          You can use the flat steaming trays, or place an upside down plate (hey don't use good china for this) at the bottom of steaming pan to raise the dolmas and prevent them from touching the bottom of the pan and getting waterlogged. Never saw potatoes used for this before, but not a bad idea.

                          As for the exposed dolmas, they not only will get waterlogged, but might also explode and thus make the whole thing "dolma soup".

                          I also remembered that in Southeastern regions of Turkey where bulgur is more commonly used than rice, they mix thin bulgur and meat to stuff the leaves. When my grandma first ate dolmas with rice, she hated them and deemed them "improperly made".

                          As for the video Caroline1 posted, it is hilarious because this is actually a promotional video from the manufacturer. Certain tips are given:

                          1. Lightly brush the band at the bottom of the device with oil
                          2. Pick the right setting (top setting is for the thinnest leaves)
                          3. Use 1 teaspoon of fillings for thin dolmas (doesn't specify the measure for the other settings)
                          4. The dude also suggests rolling Tekirdag style meatballs (long and thin with no breadcrumbs) or mercimek kofte (lentil balls/rolls) using the device. I am so getting one!

                          1. re: emerilcantcook

                            Yeah, doesn't that gadget look great? I'm wondering if you could use buttered phyllo in it to make cigara burek? I'm somehow assuming Nyleve's was bought in Turkey. If anyone finds out where to get one by mail order, please share!!! '-)

                            As for lining the pan and how to cook them, the way I was taught (and that works great for me!) is to cover the bottom of the pan with about three layers of grape leaves, if you have any parsley or dill stems left over, spread those around too, then the critical trick is to pack the dolmas tight so they can't turn into dolma soup. When I make them, I do at least four layers in a heavy pan. Then more grape leaves spread over the top (if you're lucky enough to have found fresh grape leaves, these don't have to be steamed), a heavy flat plate, face down, and enough water to come about a half inch or so above the plate. Slowly bring to a simmer. Never bring to a full boil. I do use good china (well, not hand painted, or with gold), and sometimes I use two plates to be sure there is adequate weight to prevent dolma soup. Depends on how many layers I have in the pan. (If I can find one of those roller thingies, I may need to use five plates!<g>) Tight packing and adequate weight are the key. Putting the plate face down instead of face up also helps because it allows everything to swell evenly while face up allows the dolma around the sides of the pan to swell too much, maybe turn soupy. I also use filtered or bottled water to cook mine, which may make the plates easier to clean.

                            And ecc, bulgur dolmas are delicious!

                            I'm also pretty happy with the results I get with freezing, then nuking, because I'm too damn lazy to do them from scratch every time the mood strikes. In fact, this thread made my taste buds itch, so I'm sitting here having yaprak sarma, tabouli. baba gannus, kiyma kababs (aka Adana kebab), and a little cacik for breakfast, all straight from my freezer! If I had a netcam, I'd show you all what stuffed Caroline looks like! Soooooooooooo good! '-)

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              i am envious of that breakfast, for sure! (the only remotely mid-eastern thing i had for breakfast was pistachios. and, well, the two leftover porcupine meatballs with sauerkraut....not so much.)

                          2. re: alkapal

                            I take my word back about potatoes, because I should have remembered it that it is a suggestion given in some of the recipes.

                            I was just going through a yet unpacked box (hey we moved "just" three weeks ago) and came across Sema Temizkan's "Meals of the Byzantine" (published only in Turkish). Her recipe (taken from a Greek in Istanbul) is using the exact same method. 2-3 potatoes, sliced not too thickly (but not "chips" thick), placed at the bottom of the pan.

                            1. re: emerilcantcook

                              Cheaper than grape leaves! I'll have to give it a try. I've been all over the web looking for that dolma rolling machine -- English sites, Turkish sites, Egyptian (well, at least "Arabic") sites -- hoping I could at least find a picture. Nothing. <sigh> I wonder if a cigarette rolling machine would work? '-)

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                I haven't made these, but in looking at step by step, laying the grape leaf flat (stem towards you) is it any different than rolling a stuffed cabbage or summer roll/egg roll? Meaning the method to use the fingers to tuck, and with slight pressure, then roll roll roll and fold.
                                hehe how's that for a demo! Anyway. With a vineyard about 2 blocks away, I'm seriously thinking of dropping by and seeing what they charge for leaves. So any nice big grape leaf right?

                                1. re: chef chicklet

                                  Get the bigger but younger leaves. The biggest, oldest leaves can be a bit tough (although a bit easier to work with).

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    gotcha. I was on flickr (I'm a visual sorta person) and I noticed you said to steam the dolmades not boil. Several examples shows they place them in a shallow pan, lined with leaves, arrange the dolmades artfully and I noticed a little broth, then they placed several layers of leaves on top, and placed a plate on top of that. Almost a braise? How do you do yours? These sound delicious if done right. And do you serve with a sauce or no?

                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                      I steam mine in a round pot-insert folding-leaf steamer. Add some lime juice in the stock. I usually serve with a not-authentic in any way quick hot sauce of home made yogurt, lime juice, finely chopped chile, pinch of salt.

                                  2. re: chef chicklet

                                    Exact method. But the leaves shouldn't be too big.

                                    It is hard to give an approximate size, but usually if the leaves get much bigger than 6-8 cms wide, they are also usually too ripe and too tough to enjoy.

                                    Also, the size of the dolma is much smaller than an egg roll or stuffed cabbage, which makes the rolling task a little tricky, well unless you are experienced with rolling cigarettes and other things. Folk theories suggest that if a girl wants to get married, she should make them no thicker than her ring finger. Umm, no thanks.

                                    Just read somewhere that in the past people also used linden leaves to stuff/wrap meat dolmas. Being a huge fan of linden flowers, I can't wait to find a way to try this. Now where does one find young linden leaves?

                                    1. re: emerilcantcook

                                      Thanks emc, I will keep that in mind. Me, I'll make them as big as tootsie roll then. I am not familiar with "linden leaves" will you explain this term to this uninformed intern please?

                                      1. re: chef chicklet

                                        They are the leaves of the lime-wood/baswood tree, probably the species Tilia Cordata. I've never ingested the leaves before, but the flower buds are traditionally used in some parts of Europe/Middle East to calm the nerves and suppress coughs.

                              2. re: alkapal

                                Yeah I do that too with the potatoes. The crusty potatoes make an excellent side dish if they make it out of the kitchen.

                              3. Good suggestions re using potatoes for a steaming rack that fits Any pot :-).
                                I've always stuffed the leaves with a meat mixture because my veggie ones usually fall apart.
                                In the U.S., try to find fresh California bottled leaves. Some of the Turkish ones are ancient, look it (very dark colored) and will fall apart when handled.
                                My only tip (repeating many others) is to Not stuff the leaves tightly - use a smaller portion or find a bigger leaf.
                                FWIW here's my recipe: http://life-eos.blogspot.com/2007/11/...

                                1. i read through all 60 comments on some referenced site about dolmas, and the ultimate rolling gadget. http://cafefernando.com/stuffed-vine-...

                                  this is verbatim from the comments section about how to buy one here in the states:

                                  "Belal on May 28th, 2008
                                  I kept looking for that machine on the net and I gave up , then I called a Mediterranean Arabic Syrian store and they have it , I just bought one today its great the name of the store is Al Nouri in Paterson , New Jersey , their phone number is 1-973 -279 2388 and I am sure they will ship it, the cost was $30 ."

                                  i am NOT associated with this store, this blog, or anything to do with the info (other than presenting it here....)

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    I didn't bother putting this info up because they're OUT OF STOCK...!!! They are trying to get more but have no idea when. I've been checking regularly, but they are still waiting for more. They tell me that the biggest hold up is getting the things through customs and onto their shelves. I told them to order a gazillion of them because people all across America are breathlessly waitng for them! I'll post here as soon as I know they have them in stock again.

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      now i'm wondering if all hounds should just call up their local mid-east stores.... (and i was just at one yesterday -- but did not see ant gadget!)

                                  2. I was just about to post my query about how to make dolmas as I've got them on my menu for tonight but have never made them. I'm being lazy, stuffing them with some leftover cooked hulled split wheat and eggplant. I bought some Turkish grape leaves from the store. I'm not worried about rolling them. But, as my filling is precooked, how do I cook them? I have limited cooking implements so steaming them is tough, but perhaps not impossible.