Not Your Grandmother's* Dolmas

*Assuming your grandmother is from Turkey, Libya, Egypt, Albania, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, the Balkans, Greece, Cyprus, Iraq, Iran, Northern Sudan, Central or South Asia

I’ve been waiting, and waiting, and waiting to write this entry on making dolmas. I have no link for the original recipe source, no one to credit, simply because I WROTE THIS RECIPE! That’s right, and I’m very proud of it. I finally wrote it down after improving it through seven batches. Ok, so the ingredients aren’t original – they’ve been around for centuries, I give you that. But the process of making these dolmas is definitely a creation by me – a modern, busy cook: making dolmas in a rice cooker. They are just as good. In fact, I think they’re better than the stuff you can buy in jars, or dare I say…at restaurants (in America, at least).

Yes, a RICE COOKER. There, the big secret is out. Middle eastern grandmothers can scold at me for “cheating”, but I call making a time consuming task more practical – “ingenuity”, thankyouverymuch. Remember that late night infomercial for…what, that ridiculous rotisserie chicken machine? Say it with me, “set it and forget it!”. That’s kind of what it’s like. The machine tells you when it’s done. Ahh, modern conveniences.

And the easier it is, the more often I’m going to make it, which ultimately means more dolmas in my diet. That’s a good thing, if you ask me. Dolmas are to die for.

How did I come up with this?!

I first started making dolmas the traditional way, by boiling them in a pot. This turned out the be a disaster. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong, but I kept running into these problems:

  • The dolmas would unravel, and rice would spill out
  • The rice would become too soft from the second time of boiling
  • The dolmas would come out too salty from being boiled in broth
  • The dolmas would have very little taste if boiled in water

If you know me, I don’t give up easily. I went online and I researched different ways that people were making them. Some claim using less liquid works, some say putting a heavy ceramic dish on top of them would keep them from unraveling. I said – forget it. Let’s steam these suckers. And I won.

What’s a “dolma”?

The word “Dolma” means anything that is stuffed with rice or grains: eggplant, tomato, peppers, mussels, and are either served hot or cold. Asli is a good friend (and former classmate, and now neighbor) of mine from Turkey, and when I first started making dolmas, I brought some to her to get her insight. She liked them (score!), and her husband Sinan gave me some great tips on how to improve the recipe that you see here.

A few weeks later, she brought these babies over, and they were amazing! If you like seafood, this is definitely something to try. Stuffed mussels can also be called dolmas, and is a popular street cart item in Turkey. You eat them cold, and scoop the rice out with the other half of the shell. Thank you Sinan for the stuffed mussels – they were delicious.

A little bit about my rice cooker

This rice cooker is something my mom brought from Taiwan in the 70s. It’s an old, rattling hunk of metal that takes up too much space (it cooks enough rice for a party), but I can’t part with it. My dad came to this country fearing that there was no rice to eat so I’m bet you anything that one of the first things they brought over was this rice cooker and a

large bag of rice. Unfortunately, I never really ate steamed rice as a kid, or do that often now (my parents wonder if I’m really Chinese). I’m sure my mom never thought I would be making dolmas with her Chinese rice cooker, but hey, it works. It’s better than taking up all my cabinet space, collecting dust.

See more photos >

Rice Cooker Dolmas
Makes approx. 24

Approx. 24 grape leaves, rinsed, drained, and trimmed
juice from one lemon
olive oil for drizzling

For the filling:
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup of chicken broth
1 tsp of salt

Optional filling ingredients (but highly recommended):
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup of dried currants
1/4 cup of pine nuts


Making the filling:
Finely chop the dill, mint leaves, and onion. Add this to the rice cooker, along with the rice, chicken broth, all the spices, salt, pine nuts, and dried currants. Give the pot a quick stir to incorporate all the ingredients.

Rinse, drain, and trim the stems off the grape leaves. Line this on the steamer rack

in the rice cooker. Drizzle lightly with olive oil so nothing sticks, and the dolmas stay moist.

Turn on the rice cooker.

When the filling is done, drizzle with olive oil and the juice of half a lemon, and let everything cool so it’s easy to handle.

Roll the dolmas:
Start rolling the dolmas by taking a leaf and putting it shiny side down on your surface. Place about 1 teaspoon of filling in the center, and fold both sides of the leaf towards the middle, and roll it up towards the top. Repeat this until all the filling is used. (Step-by-step photos are shown below)

Steam the dolmas:
Put the dolmas back into the rice cooker and steam until done.

After taking the dolmas out of the rice cooker, drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil and the juice from the other half of the lemon. Serve cold and with a few slices of lemon.

Making the filling

This is what makes the filling so yummy – lots and lots of fresh mint and dill.

Mint and dill chopped very finely.

A good tip for cutting onions – refrigerate them first. I just bought this onion, so I had a hard time taking this photo because my eyes kept tearing up.

Here’s the magic – everything goes into the rice cooker! No stirring, watching, or risk of mushy rice (WHY does that always happen to me?).

When you first put everything in the pot, you might be wondering why there’s so little rice. No worries – the rice expands and everything else shrinks dramatically.

The filling, perfectly cooked by my trusty old rice cooker. It should have plenty of flavor. After all, rice in this case is the main focus, not a side dish.

Preparing the grape leaves

I bought these grape leaves at a Middle Eastern market. Sidenote: If you live around the SF Bay Area, be sure to check out Rose Market in Mountain View.

In the summer, you can pick fresh grape leaves instead of using the jarred kind. My mom has a friend that comes by every summer to pick the grape leaves in our backyard, and she recommends picking the leaves growing in the shade because they are more tender.

The grape leaves aren’t ready to use right out of the jar. You need to wash them. Did I mention you need to wash them? I failed to do this the first time I made dolmas and my batch came out tasting like the brine that it’s been swimming in for who knows how long. Not good. Wash them.

In addition to washing them, they need to be trimmed, like so.

I think every rice cooker comes with a steamer rack, but I had to get one. I’m
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sure mine got abandoned somewhere in the last 20 years. If you don’t have a wire one like this – get one. They’re cheap and have multiple uses. I’ve used mine for drying vegetables, cooling baked goods, and reheating food gently in the rice cooker.

So this is another thing I came up with. The leaves would come apart if I boiled it with rice, so for a while I was wrapping the dolmas with raw grape leaves. They turned out to be too tough to chew so I thought – a ha! I can steam them with the filling, and it will all be done at once. I win again.

Stuffing the leaves, Method #1

Wrapping the dolmas is simple. Make sure that the leaf is shiny side down. Be careful not to overstuff the leaves. You will probably just need a teaspoon of filling for this version.

Stuffing the leaves, Method #2

Here’s another way to wrap the dolmas. You use three leaves instead of one, and arrange them into a triangular shape. Many restaurants do this, and it’s a good way to use up some of the small leaves in the jar. You will probably need about one tablespoon of filling.

Steaming the dolmas

The dolmas are ready to steam! I’m cooking my dolmas outside because my rice cooker is too noisy and obnoxious to be inside
Illuminating was still this is and years compared protein-based before my shipping.

the house. I don’t have a kitchen fan to take in the extra steam, either.

This is what the finished result looks like. Be very liberal with the lemon juice at the end – this keeps them tasting fresh (and not like brine). They are best eaten cold. It’s great for parties, or if you’re like me, you can make enough for a party but eat them all yourself. You decide. I don’t like sharing mine. : )

See more photos >



Got something to say? Feel free, I want to hear from you! Leave a Comment

  1. HKT says:

    Yum! I gotta try that. I did get the nickname of “ricecooker Tom” when I was in the dorm, not from me cooking rice all the time but using ricecooker to cook everything, from noodles to soups to stews…..

  2. Paula says: (Author)


    Hahaha, really? That’s great. You’ll have to teach me how to make more food with the rice cooker. It’s so convenient, and does so much more than I think.

  3. anne says:

    Dolmas are one of my FAVORITE foods! What great instructions & photos on how to roll them. I am totally craving them now.

  4. Amir says:

    Hey! This is awesome! I can’t wait to cook it…

    Is that sweet? sour?

  5. maggie says:

    How long do you steam the dolmas when they are in the rice cooker for the second time? I am going to try this this weekend – very cleaver idea!

  6. Paula says: (Author)


    Actually, I don’t know! My rice cooker is so old that I’m not sure how it works, exactly – the labeling isn’t even in English. I steam them for the same time I cook the rice – so however long it takes for your rice cooker to make rice is how long I would wait for the filling to finish as well as the second steaming. The good thing is that with steaming, opposed to boiling (the traditional way), nothing falls apart or overcooks as easily.

    Good luck!

  7. Hmm.. this is interesting.. I have heard about dolmas before.. My granda used to prepare this in the province…

  8. Paula is QuiteCurious says: (Author)

    @Llewelyn Andrews
    How cool – I love homemade dolmas.

  9. Alice says:

    I was wondering what company name your rice cooker is?
    I love the traditional rice cooker because you can cook sticky rice and braise meat in it. Been looking for this model online

  10. Paula is QuiteCurious says: (Author)

    I have a Tatung rice cooker. My mom gave it to me – it’s probably from the 70s.

  11. Teresa says:

    Thank you, thank you. I made these tonight using your recipe (minus the currants) and they are exactly how I wanted them. So easy and fast. I have never made these before but love eating the ones from the shop. mmmmm they are soooo fresh. I used my own grape vine leaves from the garden (blanched them first).

  12. Paula is QuiteCurious says: (Author)

    I’m glad you liked them. I bet the fresh grape leaves taste REALLY good!

  13. Alison says:

    We have nice grape leaves in the garden right now and I’m craving dolmas! I love the rice cooker idea because I have better things to do than watch a pan of dolmas soak up liquid. Question, though, do you add more liquid on the steam cycle or do you just let the existing liquid do the work? Can’t wait to try your method! Do you ever try feta in them? That’s my favorite :)

    • Paula is QuiteCurious says: (Author)

      I can’t stand watching something on the stove! I get distracted, and the whole kitchen ends up in a mess. I just let the existing liquid do the work, but then again I’m not sure how other rice cookers function. Mine is REALLY old. It never crossed my mind to try feta, but now that you mention it, I’ll have to try it next time!

  14. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for this idea, I’ve never seen this way of cooking stuffed grape leaves—and it’s another reason I should go out and buy a rice cooker!
    (By the way we also eat these in Israel, so you can add that to your list of “grandmother’s” countries.)

    • Paula is QuiteCurious says: (Author)

      I’m always surprised at how many countries eat dolmas. Thanks for letting me know!

  15. Alison says:

    Finally got around to making these tonight! Loved them! The steamed leaves were so much more tender than using them straight up cold. I don’t have a rack for my rice cooker either, but I improvised with a piece of foil peirced with a knife. Set it gently on top of the filling while it cooked and it worked like a charm. So much faster than the old method of dolma making! Thank you!

  16. Greg says:

    This is a great post for preparing/making dolma. I was deployed to Iraq several times and fell in love for these dishes. These methods and instructions make cooking dolma extremely easy. I never cared for the grape leaves, but I have taken to using the dolma filling in eggplant/onion/peppers/tomatoes… with great success. Thank you so much for bringing this wonderful dish to my family…

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