Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

It’s finally here – the Mother of Middle-Eastern Mains – Dolma. This post was originally intended to be published right before Thanksgiving as Dolma is always present right along side our Turkey. However, as we mentioned in our last post, we were grieving the loss of our beloved Nana (our Mother’s mother) at that time. So instead, we share this recipe now as a tribute to her. Dolma is a dish that always did what Nana loved, bring many people together to celebrate life, and enjoy good food and company. I can still hear her on the other end of the phone inviting me over for an impromptu dinner just because she made Dolma and the whole family was coming to enjoy.


Of course in making such an invitation, Nana made it sound so effortless, like she just whipped up Dolma last-minute. But let me tell you, it takes time and effort. Having never made dolma on my own before, I solicited the help of my wonderful Mother to re-create the dish and refine the recipe for this post. We spent the good part of a day making Dolma and the experience was magical. Nana was there with us every step of the way. Literally, ever other sentence out of my Mom’s mouth started with “Well Nana always said to…” or “Nana always did it like this”.

After several hours of hard work, we were finally able to marvel at the result: a generous, piping hot assembly of tightly and neatly packed stuffed grape leaves, onions, zucchini, and peppers. It was just as Nana had lovingly made and presented on her dinner table so many times before.

And how did it taste, you ask? Delicious, of course! It’s warm, filling and well-seasoned, making it the ultimate Middle-Eastern comfort food.

The making of this dish and post was extremely cathartic and we hope we’ve done Nana proud in recreating it and sharing it with all of you. She has been, and will continue to be, with us every step of the Three Teas Kitchen journey and beyond.


The Three Ts

Looking for a vegetarian version? Check out this recipe!


Grape leaves, onions, zucchini and peppers stuffed with a seasoned beef and rice mixture that is stewed in a lemony, tomato broth.
Prep Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Arabic, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern


  • 6 or 8 quart pot
  • zucchini corer or vegetable peeler


  • 1.5 lbs Ground Beef 85/15% is recommended
  • 1.5 cups basmati white rice (dry)
  • 3 oz tomato paste
  • 4 yellow onion small to medium sized
  • 2 zucchini small to medium sized
  • 1 16 oz jar grape leaves Orlando brand is best
  • 11.5 oz V8 can use tomato sauce instead if preferred
  • 6 mini bell peppers
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice fresh squeezed is best (approx. 1 lemon)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic around 8 cloves
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp tamarind sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 tbsp Iraqi bahar (allspice)


Prep the Vegetables for stuffing

  • Grape Leaves – carefully take the grape leaves out of the jar so that they don't rip, place them in colander and lightly rinse. Then lay leaves out in a bowl with moist paper towel on top so they don't dry out.
  • Onion – cut both ends of onion and remove peel and outer layer. then make one cut in the onion lengthwise. Place onions in pot and cover with water. Bring water to a boil and boil for 5-7 minutes until onions are soft (all dente). Drain water and allow onions to cool for 5 minutes, then gently separate layers without ripping. Layers are more easily separated when warm, so do not let onions cool completely before separating layers.
  • Zucchini – cut zucchini in half crosswise and cut stem off stem end. Then, core middle of each piece but leave "bottom" of each piece intact. See video.
  • Peppers – slice top of pepper (about 3/4 of the way) to remove seeds. Try not to slice top all the way off so that it can act as a "cap" once the body of pepper is stuffed.

Make the Filling

  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, add dry rice, ground beef, tomato paste, minced garlic (1 tsp), salt (1/2 tsp), and bahar. Mix together so that all ingredients are evenly distributed throughout mixture.

Make the Sauce

  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix V8, minced garlic (1 tsp), lemon juice, tamarind sauce, water, tomato sauce, salt (1/2 tsp)

Stuff the vegetables with filling

  • Fill all vegetables (except grape leaves) about 7/8's of the way filled. This allows room for rice to expand.
  • Once all other vegetables are filled, use the remaining filing to stuff grape leaves.
  • Stuff and roll the grape leaves: Fully open leaf and lay flat on your prep surface, trim off the stem using knife or scissor. Add about a teaspoon of filling to the middle of the leaf and shape mixture into a line width-wise across the leaf. Bring edge of right side of leaf to the middle of the leaf, then repeat with left side then roll leaf from bottom to the top, keeping filling inside. See video.
  • Do not use leaves with tears that would allow filling to seap through. Save any torn leaves for later (see assembly instructions).

Assemble the pot of dolma

  • Add oil to pot and use brush to coat bottom and sides of pot with oil. Remove any excess oil
  • Line bottom of pot with opened grape leaves (use ones with tears in them that were not able to stuff)
  • Add stuffed onion layer first then stuffed zucchini and pepper around edges (both zucchini and peppers are placed on their sides) and fill with stuffed grape leaves. stuff tightly so there aren't significant gaps. Try to face open ends of zucchini towards each other so they trap filling to minimize leakage. See Video

Cook Dolma

  • Once all stuffed vegetables are put in pot, pour sauce over the top so that it reaches the level of the top layer dolma in the pot. If there is not enough sauce, add a bit more water until sauce reaches top layer of dolma. Sauce should not fully cover the dolma.
  • Put a small plate, face-down, on top of dolma to weigh down dolma. Then cover pot. Cook over medium heat until sauce starts to bubble, then reduce to low/simmer for 60 minutes. After 60 minutes, if you want to make sure its done to your taste, take one stuffed grape leaf from the top of the pot and taste it. If the rice is not soft enough, cook on simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Take off heat and let cool for 8-10 minutes before flipping and serving. To flip, put serving platter face-down over the pot. Place one hand under the pot and one hand over the serving plate and flip. Once flipped do not not take pot off until ready to serve. See Video for big reveal.


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