*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.
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
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.
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.
I think every rice cooker comes with a steamer rack, but I had to get one. I’m 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
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. : )