Saturday, December 8, 2012

#15 I wrap my heart with grape leaves: Dolmas or Warak Dawali

When I was first introduced to stuffed grape leaves, I was surprised that the leaves can be cooked! Well, back home, a few people planted grapes and eating the leaves is unheard of. Once I tried it, I instantly loved it! It was very good. I loved it so much that when I went to Zanotto's grocery store in Willow Glen, I was so happy when I found cooked stuffed grape leaves. However, once I tasted it, I was very was disgusting! Then, I realized that there are many variations. And I am lucky that I first tried it from the kitchen of a great cook, Aola. She inspired me to attempt to make stuffed grape leaves as great as hers. She told me how to make it, but I forgot all the details by the end of the dinner that she hosted last year. I investigated and looked up many many recipes. I wanted to learn how to make it so bad, because it is just delicious and it was something new to me. After several months of trying different recipes, I found what I just needed: simple, quick and delicious.

Like me, you must be wondering where the stuffed grape leaves originated. It has many names, to mention just a few: dolmas, wara' einab, dawali (as what my Palestinian friends call it), dolmeh. This dish is very common in the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. It may have other names that I do not know of. In a 1983 NY times article by Fred Ferreti, the following was written about the origin of stuffed grape leaves:

"As a matter of fact, some Greeks will tell you that the origin of stuffed vine leaves goes back to the time when Alexander the Great besieged Thebes. Food became so scarce that the Thebans cut what meat they had into little bits and rolled it in grape leaves."  read more 

We chose to talk about Greece the night we made this dish. We read online and discussed about Greek Mythology, she was amazed! She heard about Greek Gods before, but she learned more about it that night. It all sounded magical to her. The whole experience was fun for me of course, although the rolling part can be tiresome after a long day :) This dish is mostly cooked with lamb.  I stuffed mine with beef.


1/2 medium onion, minced
1/4 cup uncooked rice ( I used California Rose)
16 ounces ground beef
1 garlic minced
3 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tbsp. coriander
4 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 tbsps. lemon juice
grape leaves ( I used Orlando jarred grape leaves)
3 cups chicken stock
1 lemon, cut into small wedges

  1. Remove the grape leaves from jar and rinse.
  2. In a bowl, combine, beef, garlic, parsley, lemon zest, coriander, 1 tbsp. olive oil, salt, pepper, coriander. Mix well. Add uncooked rice. Mix.  It is best if you use your hands.
  3. Dry grape leaves with papertowels. Place leaves shiny side down. Add 1 tbsp of mixed meat, spices and rice. Roll.
  4. In a large saucepan or dutch oven, place them side by side in circular layers.
  5. Place lemon on top. Then put a weight on top of the last layer. (I used a smaller pot cover, others use a ceramic plate). This will prevent the stuffed leaves from moving around during cooking. Fill pot with the chicken stock, covering the leaves. Add the remaining oil. Depending on what you use to cook the stuffed leaves in, you might need to add a cup or two of the chicken broth.
  6. Simmer for 30 minutes on low until the rice is very tender. Then remove from pot and serve. 

We fell in love with this dish. Serve with yogurt sauce, it's delicious. It takes time to finish rolling each one, but it is totally worth it.

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