Dolmas – A Middle Eastern Appetizer


Having just hosted our first holiday party, I can relate to the need for good, make-ahead finger food recipes. Luckily, this month’s issue of the Vegan Culinary Experience (which is free to download) is filled with wonderful options that all take inspiration from the Middle East. From the December issue, Chef Jason welcomed us to feature his Dolmas recipe.

Dolmas are one of those wonderful international foods that tend to be naturally dairy-free, yet under-loved in places like the U.S. Chef Jason notes, “Dolmas are a commitment, though well worth the effort [and very fun to make!]. I like to spend a weekend afternoon doing a large batch of them and then snack on them throughout the week.”

Preparing these in advance, and serving them up with a platter of olives, hummus, babaganoush, and tomato stewed green beans will offer a flavorful spread (with a cool theme!) that is open to most special diets, from vegan to gluten-free.

Special Diet Notes: Dolmas

By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, gluten-free, nut-free, peanut-free, vegan, plant-based, and vegetarian.

Dolmas - A Middle Eastern Appetizer
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe from the December 2009 issue (Food from the Middle East) of The Vegan Culinary Experience, by Chef Jason Wyrick
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Serves: 8
  • 2-3 oz. of grape leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of pine nuts
  • 5-6 sundried tomatoes, minced
  • ¼ cup of rice
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon of crushed red pepper
  • 2 teaspoon of minced fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoon of minced fresh parsley
  • ½ cup of rice
  • ⅜ cup of water
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1-1/2 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  1. Mince the onion and sundried tomatoes.
  2. Saute the onion in the oil on a medium heat until it is soft.
  3. Add in the rice and sauté this for about 2 minutes.
  4. Add in the pine nuts, sundried tomatoes, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and water.
  5. Bring this to a simmer.
  6. Allow it to simmer until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid and is soft.
  7. Mince the dill and parsley.
  8. Stir these into the rice.
  9. Unfold the grape leaves.
  10. If the grape leaves are very briny, rinse them with water.
  11. Boil them in enough water to cover them by at least 3” for about 5 minutes.
  12. Allow them to cool.
  13. Place a tbsp. of filling along one side of a leaf.
  14. Fold over the sides.
  15. Roll the leaf into a tight cigar shape.
  16. If there are tears in the leaf, you can shore them with other grape leaves.
  17. Repeat this with the filling and the other leaves.
  18. Place a layer of leaves in the bottom of a pot or deep skillet.
  19. Place the stuffed grape leaves tightly in the pot or skillet.
  20. Add one cup of water to the pot or skillet and bring the heat to medium low.
  21. Place a plate on top of the stuffed grape leaves to keep them from unfurling.
  22. Cook the stuffed grape leaves for 20 minutes.
  23. Add in 1 ½ cups of hot water and simmer this for 15 more minutes.
  24. Drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil on the finished grape leaves.
  25. Remove them and allow them to come to room temperature.

Kitchen Equipment

  • 2 Pots
  • Deep Skillet
  • Plate
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife
  • Measuring Cup
  • Measuring Spoon


I like to arrange these in rows on a platter with a hearty serving of olives. You can also garnish these with fresh parsley, diced tomatoes, and lemon slices.

Time Management

Dolmas are a lot of work, but they are easy to make in large batches and they get better as they sit, so I suggest taking the time to make a very large batch and then storing most of them in containers, saving a few to snack on the day you make them.

Complementary Food and Drinks

My favorite way to serve these is as part of a mezze platter with olives, hummus, babaganoush, and tomato stewed green beans.

Where to Shop

All of the ingredients for the dolmas should be commonly available except for the grape leaves. For those, you may have to try a Middle Eastern market or a gourmet market.

How It Works

Often, the leaves are a bit tough when coming out of the can or jar, so they need to be boiled to make them pliable. This also washes away some of the salt on them. For the filling, the onion and sundried tomatoes are minced so you don’t get large pieces of them relative to the small size of the dolmas. The onion is sautéed to soften it and bring out the sweetness. The rice is then added to the pot and toasted for a couple minutes to create a deeper, rich flavor. Then the spices and sundried tomatoes are added with the water to cook down into the rice. The rice will not be completely soft at this point, but that’s good because the stuffed dolmas are going to boil in water and the rice will absorb the rest of the liquid it needs. The stuffed dolmas are boiled to soften them further and to get the flavors to meld. A layer of leaves is placed on the bottom of the skillet or pot so that those will stick to the bottom and not the delicate dolmas. These then rest so they can absorb the lemon juice and olive oil and come down to room temperature.

Nutritional Facts

(individual servings in parentheses, does not include any options)

Calories 691.5 (86.4)
Calories from Fat 353.8 (44.2)
Fat 39.3g (4.9g)
Total Carbohydrates 72.6g (9.1g)
Dietary Fiber 4.4g (0.5g)
Sugars 7.0g (0.9g)
Protein 11.9g (1.5g)
Salt 3369mg (421mg)
Vitamin A 105% (13.1%)
Vitamin B6 22% (2.8%)
Vitamin C 130% (16.3%)
Calcium 32% (4%)
Iron 35% (4.4%)
Thiamin 25% (3.1%)
Riboflavin 23% (2.9%)
Niacin 40% (5%)
Folate 57% (7.1%)
Phosphorous 19% (2.4%)
Potassium 18% (2.3%)
Zinc 11% (1.4%)
Magnesium 19% (2.4%)
Copper 103% (12.9%)

Interesting Facts

Dolma means “stuffed veggie.” Thus, dolmas can be made from cabbage, eggplant, peppers, etc.
These are often called sarma because the Turkish word dolmak means stuffed and the Turkish
word sarmak means wrapped.

About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

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