Along the Grapevine


Dolmas, or Venison Stuffed Grapeleaves

DSC_0121I have already posted recipes for dolmas using leaves from wild grape vines, and really thought I was done. My previous recipes have served me well and I saw no need for any more variations but with a little ground venison at my disposal and a special request to prepare dolmas, I felt compelled to add to my repertoire.  You don’t need to use venison in this recipe – any ground meat will work just as well. The spices are what makes these so good, and by using a generous amount of short-grained rice the texture is light.

I also feel the need to remind readers that grape leaf season is coming to an end, and this is the time to harvest all you will need for the winter months. The weather has been kind to the vines, and if I’m not mistaken the season has been longer this year than usual.

I am sure this recipe could be cooked in an Instant Pot in about half the time, but I opted for the old-fashioned way so I could keep an eye on their progress. However, when cooking these on a stove top, it is useful to line the bottom of a pot with something to protect them from getting scorched. I usually use sliced potatoes, but any root vegetable can be used, and then served alongside the dolmas. This time I lined the pot with corn husks, the same ones I used for making tamales. It also occurred to me that a good thick layer of grape leaves would work and add even more grape leafy flavour.

Venison Dolmas

1/2 cup short grained rice
1/3 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 cloves minced garlic
1 lb ground meat
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ground sumac
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
4 dozen mature grape leaves

Blanche the leaves in boiling water, drain and set aside. Pour boiling water over the rice and allow to sit for 20 minutes, then drain and let cool.
Mix all the ingredients except the leaves together in a bowl. To fill the leaves, place the leaf shiny side down, remove any remaining stem below the leaf. Place about 1 tsp of the mixture at the base of the leaf, fold over once, then wrap the sides inward and continue rolling.
To cook the dolmas, you need to stack them carefully in a pot, close enough together they support each other, but loosely enough they can expand slightly. Pour water or stock until almost covered and place a weight on top to press them down. Bring to a boil, then simmer until almost all the liquid has been absorbed, about 1 hour.


DSC03599Related Posts:Wild Grape Leaves;  Vegetarian Dolmas; Stuffed Fermented Grape Leaves


Dolmas with Rice and Meat


This week I have the privilege of co-hosting Angie’s Fiesta Friday along with Indu of Indu’s International Kitchen and Selma of Selma’s Table. This is the 24th such event, and if you haven’t attended or participated yet, you should check it out. I have come to rely on these gatherings for inspiration and great recipe ideas, and I am sure this week will be no exception.

With all the fresh, organic and free for the picking grape leaves just right for harvesting at this time, I decided to bring some along to the party. Last year at this time I made a vegetarian version of dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves, with chick peas and rice cooked in a slow cooker. For the sake of variation, I made for the first time a meat version for my omnivore house guests, and instead of a slow cooker used my ‘old’ method which requires no special equipment.

First, I picked a bag of leaves – about 4 dozen – choosing good sized ones but still young and unblemished. I blanched them for a few seconds in boiling water, drained and stacked them. At this point, you can freeze them to be used later.


To form the dolmas, place one leaf at a time vein-side up and remove any stem.


Take a spoonful of filling and place it at the base and in the centre of the leaf.


Lift the sides and bottom of the leaf around the filling and fold the edges over the centre.


Roll upwards making a nice neat package. Repeat this with the rest of the leaves.

Line the bottom of a large saucepan with clean, sliced raw potatoes. This will prevent the dolmas from burning or sticking to the pan. It will also leave you with some delicious potatoes to serve with or as a side dish for another meal. Place the dolmas on top of the potatoes, close together and in layers. Pour cold water over them until it just barely covers the dolmas.


Place a heat proof lid or plate smaller than the circumference of the pan but large enough to weigh down all the dolmas so they are submerged. I used a stone cutting board.


Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a medium and allow to simmer until all the water has been absorbed. You can tell when the water is almost used up by the sound, but to be sure I just tilted the pan a little to see how much there was. The total cooking time was about 3 1/2 hours.

They can be served immediately, kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen.

Dolmas with Meat and Rice

  • Servings: 48 pieces
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1 lb lean ground beef or lamb

1 onion, chopped

1 Tbsp sumac (optional)

2 tsp cumin

1 cup long grain rice

1/2 cup olive oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cup loosely packed mint leaves, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

2 or three potatoes, sliced

48 blanched grape leaves

Mix all the ingredients except the potatoes. Stuff the leaves as illustrated above. Place them in a pan previously lined with potato slices. Add water to barely cover. Place a weight, such as a heat-proof plate or lid on top. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and allow to cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Arrange in a serving dish and garnish with slices of lemon or pickled onions.





Now is the perfect time to collect grape leaves in our area. You can collect any variety of grape you like, but the ones I am talking about are wild and grow everywhere on our property. They are easy to identify, easy to pick and the easiest of all to store. I usually just blanch them in boiling water, then stack them in plastic bags and keep them in the freezer where I try to store enough to see me through to the next year.

I hope to come up with some new recipes, or at least ideas, to use these. I will begin with a recipe for dolmas which I made in the slow cooker. Dolmas are simply stuffed grape leaves and are a common dish in Middle Eastern and Greek cuisine. I prefer the vegetarian variety because the herbs, garlic and olive oil dominate the flavour and go so well with the unique flavour of grape leaves.

You can make these in a regular pot on the stove too, but in that case I recommend lining the bottom of the pan with a layer or two of sliced, raw potatoes, then piling the dolmas in, placing a heavy plate or board on top, pour water to cover the dolmas, cover the pot and cook on a low heat until the water has all be absorbed. The nice thing about this method is you get some pretty nice potatoes to boot.

Here are the grape vines at the end of our drive.


Vegetarian Dolmas recipe

For this recipe, you will need about 60 leaves. Choose ones which are about 3 inches broad at the widest part, ones which are unblemished and still young-looking (the older leaves are darker green).
Blanch the leaves in boiling water for a few seconds, until the colour changes to an olive shade. Rinse them under cold water. If the stems are still attached, remove them. (I try to do that when I pick them to save time.)

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups rice (brown or white)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
1/2 tsp. salt
juice of one lemon
4 minced cloves of garlic
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup mint, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup cooked or canned chick peas, coarsely chopped.

Mix all these ingredients in a bowl. Lay the leaves out flat, vein side up, and place about 1 tsp of filling near the base. Roll them up one turn, then fold in the sides and continue to roll. They should be firm but not too tight, as the rice will swell with cooking.
Place them in a slow cooker, touching but not pressed together. Pour over them 2 1/2 cups of water, which should just barely cover them. Cover and cook on automatic for about 4 1/2 hours or until all the water has been absorbed.
Serve hot, cold or in between with plain yogourt or sour cream.