Dolmadakia – grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs – are one of the most delicious and wholesome Greek meze. Stuffed grape leaves with rice and abundant fresh herbs, rich with extra virgin olive oil, make an excellent vegan meal. Dolmadakia gialantzi (yialantzi) means, in essence, “fake” dolmades, because they’re made without meat.
But in fact, this delicious meze is anything but fake – dolmades without meat are an authentic taste of Greece, and are always everyone’s favorite dish on the table. If you only know dolmadakia from can, then you’re in for quite a surprise. Fresh dolmadakia – fragrant with finely chopped spring onions, dill, mint, and parsley – are a completely different experience.
Table of Contents
How to Make Dolmadakia at Home
The star ingredient in dolma – as they are often called – is fresh grape leaves. These are abundant in the late spring, when vintners remove some of the vine leaves when the grapes are still maturing. Fresh grape leaves appear at Greek farmers’ markets in the late spring and early summer.
Stuffed grape leaves are popular and famous abroad. But Greek dolmadakia are just one item a whole category of wrapped and stuffed delicacies popular throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Dolma are not at all difficult to make, but they do take time. and that is part of their beauty. Although it’s not difficult to wrap a batch of dolmades alone, stuffing grape leaves is fun in a group. And with dolmadakia, the effort shows. Your guests and friends will taste the love that went into making them.
If you can get some fresh vine leaves, then by all means use them. The fresh vine leaves are still delicate and tender, making an ideal wrapping for the rice and herbs. But grape leaves are not just a convenient and available wrapper. They’re packed with tangy flavor. Lemon juice in many dolmadakia recipes underscores this bright, sunny taste. To use fresh grape leaves, you simply wash them, stack them so it is easy to separate each individual grape leaf later on, and immerse them in boiling water. Let them simmer over medium heat for a few minutes, until they turn a khaki green. Plunge them into cold water, then drain. The fresh grape leaves will now be supple and easy to use.
But you don’t need to wait for spring and fresh grape leaves to make fresh dolmadakia at home. Grape leaves are available all year in jars in a flavorful brine. They’re easy to use, and easy to find in any market selling eastern Mediterranean foods.
The other key ingredient for making successful dolmadakia gialantzi are the fresh herbs. These, too, are flourishing in spring and have more vivid flavors. The quantity and variety of herbs separates ordinary dolmadakia from excellent ones. In Greek dolma, herbs are not a just an accent. Huge bunches of finely chopped fresh herbs are actually the bulk of the recipe, their moisture plumping the rice as they flavor the dolma. Every cook and every household has a favorite combination. Parsley, dill, and spring onions are standard. But dolmadakia in our house are not complete without lots of chopped fresh mint in the mixture. Fennel fronds are also a great addition. You can tailor the flavor profile to your own tastes and use whatever looks good to you at the market.
One of the things that makes these meatless dolmadakia particularly flavorful is the fact that most of the moisture comes from the vegetables and herbs, rather than added water. The herbs, onion, tomato, and other vegetables make up about three-fourths of the filling for dolmadakia gialantzi, with dry rice just 1/4 of the mix. For added moisture and flavor, you can also add extra onions, a cup of finely chopped fennel bulb, grated zucchini, and even tomato. Most Greek dolmas cooked on the stove top don’t include tomato. But in our dolmadakia recipe, which slowly bakes in the oven, tomatoes are a delicious addition. They’re particularly harmonious with the mint (for another recipe that brings tomato and mint together, try a Cretan boureki).
Lastly, extra virgin olive oil – and more of it than you might think (at least one cup olive oil) – carries the flavors of the herbs throughout the dolma. It also gives them their silky and tender texture.
Types of Stuffed Grape Leaves
Making such beautiful use of simple and available ingredients, recipes for vine leaves stuffed with rice, herbs, and sometimes meat are popular all over the eastern Mediterranean. Warak enab is the Arabic word for a similar dish from Lebanon. The Turkish version is yaprak sarmasi. Doldurulmuş is “stuffed” in Turkish, a word that likely relates to dolmades and dolma. And sarmades in many places in Greece refers to a similar dish of stuffed cabbage leaves with rice.
There are many varieties of dolma in Greece. There are also Greek dolmadakia with meat. These are more often called dolmades – the ‘aki’ end is diminutive, and refers usually to the vegetarian and vegan version of the dish – this is one of the most satisfying Greek vegan recipes.
Another excellent version of dolma is dolmadakia avgolemono. Dolmades avgolemono, with their rich egg and lemon sauce, are warm and satisfying, and ideal for the cooler months.
Every region and island can have its own version of stuffed grape leaves. Greek dolmades with lemon sauce are popular on the Dodecanese island of Kasos, for instance. Here, the local dolma is called dormaes – they are tiny, cone-shaped, stuffed with both rice and meat, and served warm in a tangy, lemony sauce.
Dolmadakia pronounciation? It’s easy to say. The accent is on the third syllable: dol-ma-DAK-ia.
How to Serve Dolmadakia Gialantzi
These meatless, vegan dolmadakia don’t need to be served warm. They are delicious at room temperature. If you’ve kept them in the refrigerator, let them come to room temperature before serving so their flavors have a chance to unfold. Lemon wedges are a popular accompaniment, and so is Greek yogurt – either strained or not.
Dolmades really shine on a meze table, together with spreads like tzatziki, and cheese dishes like this spicy, zesty bougiourdi. They have the advantage that you can prepare them in advance, and they keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
How to Eat Dolmadakia
If dolmades have a lemon sauce, they’re always eaten with a fork. But many people might use their finger tips for room-temperature dolmadakia.
Yield: about 100
Dolmadakia Gialantzi- Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves
Dolmadakia - Grape leaves stuffed with rice and abundant fresh herbs - are one of the most elegant and delicious of all Greek meze. Packed with fresh flavors, dolmades are naturally vegan and gluten free
Prep Time2 hours
Cook Time1 hour30 minutes
Total Time3 hours30 minutes
100 - 120 grape leaves, from 2 large jars (500 grams, 17.6 oz)
About 3 cups (600 - 700 g / about a pound and a half) short grained rice, such as Carolina, Arborio, Bomba, or sushi rice
2 large bunches of scallions / spring onions
3 - 5 large bunches of fresh herbs of your choice, including at least two of the following: parsley, dill, fresh fennel fronds, fresh mint
1 fennel bulb - optional
1 grated zucchini - optional
2 - 3 medium tomatoes
1 T salt (15 ml)
250 - 400 ml /1 - 1½ C extra virgin olive oil
Assemble a food processor with a chopping blade or a cutting board and sharp knife, a very large bowl, a pair of scissors, a large platter with a lip for holding in the juices for rolling the dolmadakia, and a large pan for the oven,
If you're using fresh grape leaves, blanch them in simmering water until they turn khaki green. Drain, reserving some of the water, and set aside. If you're using vine leaves from the jar, give them a rinse and shake them dry and set them in stacks on a platter or plate near your work surface.
Pick the leaves and fronds of the herbs clean from their stems, and wash in several changes of water.
Wash the spring onions well, and cut into lengths so they fit in the food processor.
Wash the tomatoes and the fennel and zucchini, if using, and cut them into large pieces.
Process the vegetables and herbs working in batches until finely chopped and soupy.
Measure - we need about 2 liters - 8 cups of mixture.
Add most of the rice, the salt, and the oil. The mixture should be about 1 part rice : 3 parts herbs and vegetables.
Snip the stems off of several grape leaves with the scissors. Place a leaf on your platter, rough side up, with the base of the leaf facing you and the tips facing away.
Arrange a large spoonful of the rice mixture across the bottom of the leaf. fold the bottom of the leaf over the mixture, then fold in the sides, and roll up tightly. Place seam-side down in the pan.
Keep stuffing and rolling the vine leaves until the mixture is finished. s you get closer to the bottom, you may have lots of excess liquid. Stain the rice mixture to keep making dolma, and reserve the liquid to put over the top.
Pour a glass of the reserved blanching water from the leaves, or some water and a little brine from the jarred leaves, over the dolmadakia. Cover the dolmadakia with a sheet of baking paper, and place in a 180° C / 350° F oven for about an hour and a half, checking every now and then and adding a little water as necessary. The pan should never be completely dry.
Thin slices of tomato covering the dolmadakia are optional, but delicious.
It's easy to make a half recipe, but once you commit to the project, it's not much more work to make the full batch. There is no such thing as too many dolmadakia.
Roll snugly but don't over-fill - the rice swells. We want a tight final roll, but not a split one.
Test them before you take them out of the oven. The rice should be fairly soft. They firm up a little as they cool, and even more in the refrigerator.