Dolmas are one of those foods I had to grow into as an adult. Like beets (too red), and avocados (too mushy)–dolmas, with their unappetizing dark green color and oily exterior were a big no-no for a long, long time. Then… not that many years ago, I had Haig’s dolmas, and my thoughts on the subject were transformed. I didn’t just come to like them, I became addicted to them. They even got me over my squeamish attitude towards canned dolmas–which is what are sold in most delis and restaurants. And canned dolmas are fine, but Haig’s are stupendous. But they are about $1 apiece, which is expensive. Don’t get me wrong, they are worth it. Dolma making is time-consuming. But given Haig’s closed their brick and mortar store last year, and though their products are still available in groceries, I wanted to make sure I could produce some facsimile of their product if the retail well ever ran completely dry.
What’s different about Haig’s dolmas? For a start they are very lemony. And they have a lot of dill. And where most dolmas are packed in olive oil, Haig’s are saturated with what seems more like a vinaigrette, giving them a lovely savory sweet tang. They’re also double, if not triple, the size of most canned dolmas, and the vine leaves are more tender. I often feel like I’m going to choke on the ones that come from the can, because the leaves are too tough, which is a line I’d rather not walk when eating…
In short, from the beginning of this site, a dolma recipe was always on my list, but I didn’t want to post anything unless it tasted exactly like the ones I love. And these do.
Most dolma recipes call for fresh herbs. I prefer the dry variety for this recipe. Herbs aren’t necessarily better because they’re fresh; they are different in flavor, and sometimes it is the flavor of dried herbs that hits the mark.
The filling will make about 20 dolmas. You’re either going to have a few leaves or a little filling left over, and it’s hard to avoid that, and let me tell you why… the leaves in the jar will be of varying sizes, and you should use as many as you need to make sure the filling is covered and sealed well. Two, sometimes three leaves might be necessary for each one.
1 jar or can grape vine leaves, about 45-50
1/2 cup (120ml) plus 3 Tbps. (45ml) good quality, flavorful, extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. (120g) or approximately 1 cup (240ml) finely chopped or minced yellow onion–you don’t want big pieces of onion
1 cup (240ml) short or long grain brown rice*
1 Tbsp. (15ml) dried dill
3/4 teaspoon (2.5ml) garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) sugar**
1/4 teaspoon (1.25ml) dried oregano
1 Tbsp. (15ml) red wine vinegar
Juice of two lemons
Salt & pepper
*I used short grain brown rice, but you could use long grain, Basmati, or other long grain white rice. I wouldn’t recommend short, sticky white varieties, and I never use jasmine rice because of its high glycemic load.
**I try to avoid using sugar where it isn’t necessary, especially in savory foods, but the sugar here doesn’t make the dolmas sweet, it just helps pull all the flavors together.
Drain the vine leaves. They will likely be rolled and twisted together to fit into the container. Take your time figuring out how they’ve been assembled before unraveling them, or you will tear the tender leaves. If you do tear some, keep them to patch holes. Trim any thick bits of stem from the center of the leaves.
Cook the onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, over medium heat for 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the rice, dried dill, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, oregano and juice of half a lemon. Add 1 cup water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered until the water has absorbed–about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 minutes. Toss with a fork and set aside.
Use a pot large enough to hold all the dolmas in no more than two layers. Line the bottom with either a few of the vine leaves or a piece of parchment paper. The leaves or parchment encasing the dolmas will keep them from sticking to the pot and anything weighing them down.
On a work surface, lay two leaves fat ends together, spiky ends facing out. If the leaves are small, don’t be afraid to use three. Put about 1 tablespoon of filling in the lower middle area. Fold the sides in, and roll tightly. The rice is going to expand some, so you want to leave a little room, but not a lot. If the leaves tear, unroll, patch the hole, and roll again. The flaws won’t show.
Line the bottom of the prepared pot with the stuffed dolmas. Pack them in snugly. Top the dolmas with remaining vine leaves or a piece of parchment.
Mix 2 cups of water, the juice from the other half lemon, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder. Pour over the dolmas. The liquid should almost cover them. If not, add more water.
You want to weigh the dolmas down while cooking. I used a plate topped with a wide low bowl of water. If you don’t have any like that to fit in your pot, improvise. A piece of foil or a pie dish will do. You can weigh things down with jars or cans in zip plastic bags. You will need to cover everything while cooking, and the stuff you’re using to weigh things down will likely rise above the rim of your pot. Just tent everything with a couple of sheets of foil.
Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered for 1 hour. Remove from the heat. Carefully remove the weights. Holding the dolmas in place with a plate or foil, gently drain any excess water.
Whisk together the 1/2 cup olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and red wine vinegar. Pour over the dolmas in the pot, cover, and let everything cool completely. If you try to move the dolmas now they will fall apart.
Once cooled, carefully transfer the dolmas and the marinade from the pot to an airtight dish and refrigerate until ready to use.