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What Is Dolma?

Angie Bates
Angie Bates

Dolma is a Mediterranean dish made with rice-stuffed grape leaves. Although the term dolma is a Turkish word, meaning something that is stuffed, most countries in the Mediterranean region have their own version of this dish. Occasionally dolma can be found premade in specialty stores but is more often found in Mediterranean restaurants or made at home.

In addition to grape leaves, rice, onions, and lemons are normally included in dolma. Tomato paste, pine nuts, and mint are added to many versions as well. Cinnamon, allspice, and oregano, as well as salt and pepper, may be used to season the dish. Some versions included fresh dill, dried currants, or parsley. Minced or ground meat, usually lamb or beef, are included in many dolma recipes.

Dolma is a popular dish in many Mediterranean countries.
Dolma is a popular dish in many Mediterranean countries.

To prepare dolma, the onions are sauteed in oil, then the rice is added and the mixture is covered in hot water. The rice is allowed to simmer for a short time, partially cooking it. Afterward, it is removed from the heat and the other ingredients, excluding the grape leaves, are mixed with the rice.

Grape leaves may be purchased fresh or in jars. To prepare the grape leaves, the leaves are washed and the stems removed. If jarred, the leaves are soaked in water and then separated prior to use.

Once the rice mixture is cool, small portions are placed in the center of each grape leaf. The leaves are then rolled up like cigars. The shiny side of the leaves always faces outward.

The cooking pan may or may not be lined with any remaining grape leaves or with the removed grape stems. The stems of the dill and parsley, if used, can also line the pan. Afterward, the dolma are placed snugly into the pan or steamer pot. Some versions may layer the leaf rolls, others use a single layer. Once placed, water or oil is poured over the dolma, and the dish is simmered until the rice is cooked completely.

Often a heat-proof plate or something similar is placed over the dolma in the pan to prevent them from floating or shifting during cooking. Once cooked, the stuffed leaves are cooled inside the pot to help prevent them breaking. Dolma are very fragile, so they should always be transferred from cooking pot to plate or serving platter with care. They can be eaten warm but are more frequently chilled and eaten cold.

Discussion Comments


@Mykol - I made a recipe very similar to that for a get together at work. I always like to try unusual food that most people aren't familiar with. Whenever we have food days at work, they always wonder what I am going to come in with.

Some things go over better than others, but my dolmades recipe was a big hit. I used chicken stock so they weren't so dry and served them with Greek yogurt that I spiced up with some dill.

I have had several requests to make these again an am pleased that they enjoyed them and are willing to try different types of cuisine from around the world.


I love Greek food and enjoy the different spices they use to really enhance the flavor of their food.

I have a dolmades recipe that is a Greek recipe that I make for special occasions. This recipe uses fennel and lemon zest. Along with the rice, it also has dill leaves and flat leaf parsley in the stuffed grape leaves.

I include some pine nuts in the mixture for some extra crunch and sprinkle them with lemon juice. These do take some time to prepare, but they are worth the effort. My mouth is starting to water just thinking about them.


@golf07 - You can fill your dolma with any kind of vegetable that you prefer. Many times I have used whatever I have on hand. This has included cabbage, peppers, carrots, tomatoes and zucchini.

My family loves meat and potato meals, so my favorite dolma recipe includes ground beef and sliced potatoes. Once you add the rice, tomato sauce and spices, these can be very hearty and filling.

Many Mediterranean dishes are known to be quite healthy and this is no exception. I like being creative and using fresh ingredients from my garden to make these as tasty as possible.


I am not very familiar with cuisine from different parts of the world, and have never heard of using grape leaves for a dish.

I live in an area where many grape vines are grown for the grapes to be processed into wine. Never have I heard of them using the leaves to cook with.

These sound like they would be very good depending on what you filled them with. It sounds like you can be as creative as you like when it comes to the filling and spices.

I am a vegetarian, so would enjoy trying one of these without the meat. I think I will search online for a good stuffed grape leaves recipe and give it a try.


@anamur-- Yea, that's right. Although "etli dolma" can also refer to dolma with chunks of beef, not just ground beef.

My mom makes vegetarian ones too, we call these "zeytinyagli" which means "with olive oil." In Mediterranean cuisine, vegetable dishes are made with olive oil if they don't contain meat, same goes for dolmas.

I agree that dolma is a great appetizer. I think it's so nice that it's available everywhere in the US now. Even some large grocery stores sell them, not just ethnic shops and restaurants. So you don't have to go all the way to Greece or Turkey to find authentic dolma.

By the way, we make stuffed dolma with things other than grape leaves too. Sometimes we make it with simmered cabbage leaves and sometimes with simmered chard leaves. These are called dolma too and the stuffing types are the same.


@ysmina-- So your mom always makes "etli dolma?" I think that's the Turkish name for dolma with meat right?

I spent a summer in Greece last year and went to Turkey for a few weeks briefly because they're so close to each other. I didn't even know that dolma is a Turkish word. It's always referred to as "dolmades" in Greece.

I ate dolma both in Turkey and Greece and they seem pretty similar overall. There is a lot of variety with the types of dolma in both countries. Some are entirely vegetarian without meat and tomato paste. Others are just rice, pine nuts and spices. I like both kinds, I think the vegetarian one is good for lunch and the meaty one for dinner.

We were served dolma a lot with alcoholic drinks too, especially with the anise liquor called ouzo in Greek and raki in Turkish. Dolma is like the best appetizer / side dish ever. It's filling but not heavy and so easy to eat. You don't even need a fork. I love picking them up and eating them with my fingers, yum!


Wow! What a great article. My family is Turkish and my mom makes dolma exactly as the article described it. I've never seen such a perfect description of dolma before.

The only difference with my mom's method is that she doesn't add any water to the rice while she's preparing the stuffing. She just kind of lets it saute with the onion, spices and ground beef. The rice cooks all the way through after it has been stuffed in the grape leaves. She doesn't want the rice overdone so she doesn't cook it with water beforehand.

In my family, we actually call stuffed grape leaves "sarma" instead of "dolma." Sarma means "something which is rolled." We use the word "dolma" for stuffed green peppers (biber dolma) or stuffed zucchini (kabak dolma). I guess it's more literally correct this way. But I know lots of Turkish people who call stuffed grape leaves dolma too.

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    • Dolma is a popular dish in many Mediterranean countries.
      By: david hughes
      Dolma is a popular dish in many Mediterranean countries.