vegetarian dolmades recipe

As I sit here typing, my mother-in-law is busy working away in the kitchen making her famous Vietnamese pickles. There are jars of carrot and daikon lined up along the bench as well as a whole sink-full of an Asian green I’ve never known the name of. It’s a little hard to get in the mood to talk about Greek dolmades, but I will do my best, after all they are one of my most favourite things in the world to eat. So much so that I swear I was meant to have been born in Greece! Lemon, pine nuts, currants and mint are just a few of my favourite ingredients, along with feta, tomato and beans.

One of the first things I noted when we moved into our house was how the neighbours huge grapevine hung over our fence in great sprawling masses. I made a vow right there and then that come spring time I would use some of those leaves to make fresh vine-leaf dolmades. But just as I was about to make my first batch, our area was hit by a freakish hail-storm that ripped through the leaves, leaving them tattered and sad. The rest of our garden didn’t fair to well either. Tomato flowers were blown to smithereens while the silver beet and capsicum leaves looked like they had little bullets holes where the forceful hail had pushed through. It was a little bit of a sad sight and for a minute I was worried we wouldn’t be getting any early tomatoes this year and wouldn’t have any grape leaves to make dolmades. But I never needed to fear, in this amazingly hot weather we’ve been having the plants have doubled, even tripled in size in a matter of weeks. There’s no sign left of the hammering they took, with plenty of new flowers and loads of little tomatoes growing, the broad beans are forming and there’s loads of fresh new growth on the grape vines. 

I made this batch of dolmades and almost everyday since have been picking a bundle of leaves to preserve in brine, that I will use over the coming months once the leaves have all become too tough to use straight from the vine. (I hope my neighbours haven’t noticed!)
If you are lucky enough to have access to a grape vine or two look for the fresh, young, tender leaves, making sure you pick a few extra to use as the liner for the base and top of the frying pan before cooking. And never fear, if you don’t have a grape vine, simply use store-bought preserved leaves and follow my instructions below before using them.

Recipe adapted from a Cuisine recipe I’ve been carrying around for years.

vegetarian dolmades 
Remember to choose the youngest, freshest, most tender leaves you can see if picking your own.
Makes 15-20

  • 22-25 fresh vine leaves (spray-free), or 400g jar of preserved vine leaves
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (100g) medium grain rice, washed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons currants
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup water, extra
  • the juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, extra
  • lemon wedges, to serve

Trim the stalks off the fresh vine leaves, then cook in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse. If using preserved vine leaves carefully separate them under running cold water. Rinse well, then place in a bowl of cold water. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and plunge several leaves in at a time, leaving them for 1-2 minutes before removing with tongs to a bowl of cold water. When all are done, drain, shake off excess water and snip off the stems.

Heat the first measure of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the onion gently until soft and lightly golden, then add the rice. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring then add the pine nuts, currants, parsley, mint, salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the 3/4 cup water, then cover with a lid and cook very gently for about 12 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the rice is nearly tender. 
Place the vine leaves smooth-side-down on a clean bench, a few at a time. Put a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each leaf. Fold the stem end up, followed by the sides (see pictures above), then roll up tightly to form a log shape.
Use any torn leaves to line the base of a small heavy-based frying pan, then put the dolmades in the pan, in one layer, seam-side down. Pack them as close as possible to prevent them unfolding during cooking. Cover the top with more leaves. Combine the 1 cup of water with lemon juice and the last measure of olive oil and pour over dolmades. Place a small plate over the top of them, to hold them in place then top with the lid. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a very low simmer and cook for about 1 hour, or until they are very tender.
Remove from the heat and let sit, without taking the lid off until cool. When cool, transfer to a container, cover and chill until serving time. Serve with extra lemon, to squeeze over.
This recipe is linked to:
* Slightly indulgent Tuesdays @ Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free

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  • Ulyana Michailov
    November 3, 2011 at 3:39 am

    YUM, have been meaning to do a post just like this!

  • Leigh @ Toasted
    November 3, 2011 at 4:42 am

    Aw man.. they sound too delicious. Must try.

    My fellah made vine leaves cooked and wrapped around a rectangle of gruyere cheese, and then bbq'd. Oh wow… very, very, very good.

  • Amy
    November 3, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Oh my goodness this is awesome! We live down the road from an amazing moroccan restaurant called Simo's and I always get dolmades from there and comment on how I should try and make my own. Luckily, I have a lovely young grapevine at my house, so I will have to give this a go before we move out in 3 weeks!

  • Hannah
    November 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I love all things Greek, too! How nice to have access to fresh grape leaves. These look so delicious. Your mother-in-law's pickles sound intriguing, too…

  • Emma Oakley
    November 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    YUM Emma!!! I love these too and we have a grapevine at home, am definitely going to give this recipe a try. x

  • Jennifer (Delicieux)
    November 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Your dolmades look fabulous!!! So neatly rolled too. I've only ever had dolmades once, and unfortunately that wasn't a success as I didn't like the vine leaf, but the filling was fabulous. I will have to give them another go.

  • emma
    November 4, 2011 at 1:38 am

    Leigh~oh yum that sounds great! I've been thinking I might do the same but with haloumi cheese. MMmmmmmm

    Hannah~ There's a similar vietnamese pickle recipe that I posted awhile back… look it up on my recipe page.

    Emma~ Yay, hope you try them πŸ™‚

    Jennifer~ I hope you give them another go. Especially lovely if you use fresh vine leaves.

  • The InTolerant Chef
    November 4, 2011 at 2:55 am

    I have a weird thing for dolmades, I love them soo much. At my last work we would open up 5kg tins of dolmades, and I would sneak as many as I could while I plated them up! Thanks for the chance to make my own, I just need to prowl the neighbourhood for a grape vine….

  • emma
    November 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

    haha you sound just like me!!!! Make your own then you can sit down and scoff the lot πŸ˜‰

  • Mara
    November 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Oh wow Emma. I will have to whip these up and I know just the vine to go source the leaves from.
    Justin is going to fall for me 10 times over again when I put a plate of these under his nose!

    Thank you for going to the extra effort to post without a computer. I enjoy my visits to your blog xx

  • brother brother
    November 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    awesome. I would have to make my own I reckon cause I always found most store bought ones are too vinegary for my taste. I once had some that were perfect but only once…
    I like that sequence of photos by the way πŸ™‚

  • tori
    November 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    This is just achingly beautiful… love it.

  • Cass @foodmyfriend
    November 8, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Love this! I can't eat the ones from the deli or heaven forbid, the can. Great recipe that I will be making next time I make moussaka!

  • Nisrine
    November 16, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Fabulous dolmades. The stuffing especially looks delicious.

  • monica
    July 17, 2012 at 3:36 am

    I made these this weekend and they were fantastic. The only problem I had was thinking I had finished and then reading that I needed to steam them for an hr. I instead microwaved for 10 min in steamer pot. This made for grape leaves not being as tender as we would have liked but overall still really good! Thanks for great recipe.

  • monica
    July 17, 2012 at 3:37 am

    I made these this weekend and they were fantastic. The only problem I had was thinking I had finished and then reading that I needed to steam them for an hr. I instead microwaved for 10 min in steamer pot. This made for grape leaves not being as tender as we would have liked but overall still really good! Thanks for great recipe.

  • monica
    July 29, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Any tips on getting the grape leaves more tender- have made these twice and snd time was improved with addition of white mushrooms but both times my hubby thought grape leaves we're a little tough.

    • emma
      July 29, 2012 at 6:46 am

      I've never had that problem? Are you using the big/older leaves from your grape vine? Only choose the younger fresh leaves. And make sure you follow the recipe, once you've blanched the leaves and rolled the dolmades they then need to cook in the water, lemon juice and olive oil mixture for a further hour. When they are done properly they should nearly fall apart they are that tender. Hope that helps xx

  • Peascod
    August 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I just found a friend who has grape vines and is willing to give me fresh leaves. You said that you saved the early tender ones in a brine? I have never preserved anything using a brine method. Can you tell me how? Please? I love these and since the only Greek food resturant in my city closed I have been having a dolmades craving crisis! Thanks so much for your help.

  • Q
    December 30, 2012 at 2:44 am

    They were delicious! I used brown rice when I made them (on my blog, "Dolmades en Domu") and my family had fun helping me. Thanks for sharing.

  • Susan Bennett
    February 10, 2013 at 3:56 am

    I happened on your blog when Googling Dolmades and I just had to drop in to say how much I love the title "My Darling Lemon Thyme". I wish I had thought of it myself.

    By the way, I think the addition of raisins to the Dolmades is inspired. Good luck with the cook book. I hope it sells millions for you.

    • emma
      February 10, 2013 at 11:23 am

      Thanks Susan! I hope so too! πŸ™‚

  • Naomie
    May 24, 2013 at 6:11 am

    I'm making those tonight and your pictures are so tantalizing! I do love the blog name and my friend's name is Clementine so I have to show her this. I love all Greek food so I'm so excited. Best wishes for the book and YUM I will go make some dolmades now

    • emma
      May 24, 2013 at 11:07 am

      Thanks Naomie! Enjoy you're dolmades, wish I was eating them right now :-p

  • GranoSalis
    July 15, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Thank you for this recipe and your lovely blog, that I discovered not long ago.
    I just took inspiration for my version of veg dolmades on my blog in Italy:
    When I started writing I used to translate every post in english, but in the last moths I really couldn't find the time…hope to start doing it again soon!
    I will continue following you for sure.

  • Su or Heath
    August 13, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    these were delicious

  • Emma
    December 13, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    I was wondering how long these would keep and how to store them?

      December 14, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      I just keep them in a covered container in the fridge. They never last long, but at a guess I’d say they’d keep 4-5 days.
      Emm xx