Vine leaves can be stuffed with both rice or meat. The recipe I will describe here is the rice based version which is eaten cold as an appetizer. In Turkish, vegetarian rice stuffed vine leaves are called yalanci dolma (pronounced «yalandgi dolma»). The word dolma comes from the Turkish verb dolmak meaning to fill or to stuff, and dolma means some type of stuffed vegetable (such as peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, vine leaves, etc.). Yalanci dolma means a fake or false dolma because no meat is used in the stuffing.
Similar Greek and Lebanese recipes do exist. But the ingredients used by the Turkish recipe are quite different from those used by the Greek and Lebanese versions. As someone who has tried many versions of this recipe, I can safely assert that nothing comes even close to the taste and refinement of the original Turkish version. Aside from the main stuffing ingredients (rice and onions) that can be found in all of the various versions of this recipe, it is ingredients such as pine nuts, dried currents, mint, dill, allspice, etc. used only by the original Turkish recipe that make all the difference in taste!
- 16oz (1lb or 454g) of vine leaves preserved in brine
- 1 cup of rice
- 7 large size chopped onions
- 1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh mint
- 1 cup finely chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste or one large tomato chopped
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 3 heaping tablespoons pine nuts
- 3 heaping tablespoon dried currants (note: currants are different from raisins!)
- 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon salt
The preparation of stuffed vine leaves has three parts to it:
1 — Preparing the rice stuffing,
2 — Preparing the vine leaves,
3 — Stuffing the leaves and cooking.
Each stage of the preparation will be described in the next sections.
Preparing the Rice Stuffing
- Let the raw rice stand in warm water for 15 minutes. Wash a couple of times with cold water until the water runs clear. Drain very well.
- In a large pan that has a lid, heat the olive oil and saute on medium heat the onions and pine nuts with the salt until the onions become soft. Stir often and be careful not to burn the onions and the nuts.
- Add the drained rice and saute for about 10 minutes on medium-to-high heat, stirring all the time. If you stop stirring the rice will stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
- Turn the heat to low, and add the dried currants, the tomato paste (or chopped tomato), the sugar, the salt, the finely chopped mint and dill, the allspice, the pepper, the salt and 1 cup of water (note that you could use dried mint and dill, if you don`t have them fresh). Mix well!
- Cover and let it cook on low heat for 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed by the rice. Let the rice mixture sit in the covered pan until it cools down.
The prepared rice mixture is shown in the picture.
Preparing the Vine Leaves
- No matter where or how you bought them, vine leaves usually come in tightly packed bundles preserved in brine. if they came in a jar, remove carefully the vine bundles from the jar, paying attention not to damage them.
- Drop the bundles in boiling water for just 2 minutes to soften them, and drained them right away.
- Because leaves come in tightly packed bundles, they need to be separated from each other. Separate them gently, and wash them well under running water to get rid of the brine.
- Here is a trick to cut down on time and make this task easier: Fill your kitchen sink with clean cold water. Drop the leaf clusters into the water, and let stand for 5 minutes. You will see that most of the leaves will separate from each other, and those that won’t will be easily separated manually. Make sure you wash off the brine from each leaf.
- Cut the short stem from each leaf, and reserve the leaf for stuffing.
- Cover the bottom of a large saucepan with a layer of leaves. You should use damaged or small leaves not suitable for stuffing.
Stuffing the Leaves and Cooking
- To stuff the leaves, place a teaspoonful of the rice mixture onto the «hairy» (not shiny) side of each vine leaf, close to where the stem used to be. Fold first the bottom part of the leaf onto the mixture, then tuck in well the sides of the leaf. Finally, roll up like a cigar, lightly pressing the mixture into the leaves as you roll. It has to be a tight roll. See the sequential pictures below for a step by step pictorial description of the leaf rolling process. Note: If you don’t want to make the rolls manually, you could use the amazing Stuffed Vine Leaves Rolling Machine. See below for further details.
- Place each stuffed vine leaf into the pan, on the vine-leaf bed, with the seam side down. Place them tightly close to each other. When the bottom of the pan is full, start another layer by placing the stuffed vine leaves on the first layer, and so on, until all the vine leaf rolls are in the pan. Again, see the pictures below for a pictorial description.
- Pour one cup of water, and the juice of a lemon over the rolls.
- Place a heat resistant plate on top of the rolls to hold them in place while cooking.
- Cook over low heat for 1 hour. Turn the heat off, but keep the pan covered for another 30 minutes to make sure the water is well absorbed.
- Refrigerate well before serving. This dish is usually served as an appetizer.