There are many, many kinds of dolmeh in the world. In Greece, they are known as dolmades, in Armenia they are called tolma, and in Syria they are known as yebra. The Persian word dolmeh—or dolma, if you’re talking about just one—comes from the Turkish verb dolmak, “to fill”, and there’s strong evidence to support the idea that dolmeh emerged in Turkey. Any vegetable can be considered a dolmeh; there are recipes for stuffed peppers, cucumbers, artichokes, and tomatoes, as well as the leafy wrappers like cabbage or the grape leaves.

Stuffed grape leaves began to gain popularity in the American food scene in the early 1980s, with just the right mix of whimsy and familiarity. Filled with an endless combination of rice, vegetables, and meat, grape leaves bear a striking resemblance to stuffed cabbage, an American favorite. The briny bite of the grape leaf makes them different enough to feel somewhat exotic, and the smaller wrapper gives them adorable, bite-sized appeal.

We wanted to highlight the spice blend Advieh in this dish. Advieh, which simply means “spice” in Farsi, has been a blend in the Middle East for thousands of years; it’s been around so long it’s hard to find when it came into being. This salt-free blend is warming and earthy from cumin and cinnamon, though it’s never spicy-hot. It’s got a surprising, aromatic lift that comes from the refreshing astringency of rose petals. To let the Advieh shine, we chose to make a vegetarian filling with basmati rice and eggplant. Both of these ingredients are sturdy enough to make a satisfying filling, and absorbent enough to pull in all the nuances of Advieh, lemon juice, and olive oil and create a mosaic of flavor.

Most of us will be buying jarred grape leaves, which should be rinsed off so they’re not terribly briny. Choose leaves that aren’t torn, and they should be roughly the size of your hand. If they’re ripped or too small, they’re harder to wrap properly. Those leaves can be used to line the bottom of the Dutch oven and help prevent the stuffed leaves from burning. Snip out the thick, tough stem with a pruning knife or a pair of kitchen shears. You probably won’t use an entire jar of grape leaves, so tuck whatever leaves are left back into the jar and put some more water in to keep them moist. Use them within a week after opening. If you have a grape vine in your yard and want to use fresh leaves, make sure they haven’t been treated with pesticides, and boil them for a minute or two to make them more pliable. Then snip the stems and carry on.

Once the filling is in the bottom third of the grape leaf, tuck in the sides of the leaves first, then pull the bottom of the leaf up and over and roll into a compact little cylinder. Place them in the oven seam-side down to prevent them from opening during cooking, and keep the leaves submerged by weighting them with a heavy plate during cooking. Let them simmer for about an hour and then test them for doneness. What’s the best way to test? Eat one. Snacking on a dish in the name of taste-testing is the chef’s bonus.

The rolling process takes a little bit of time but there’s nothing difficult about it, and in the end you’ll have a 35-40 terrific little taste nuggets that are ready to eat. They can be eaten at any temperature—hot, cold, or at room temp—so make them when you have the time and store them until you’re ready to eat. Serve these with a yogurt-based Tzatziki Sauce or a little spritz of lemon and a side of Homemade Hummus for some light, playful appetizers that are well worth the effort.

 Print Recipe

Prep Time: 60 min.
Cooking Time: 60 min.
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 2 teaspoons Fine Sea Salt, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Advieh seasoning, divided
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 finely diced yellow onion
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • 1 16-oz jar grape leaves
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 32 oz vegetable stock

1. Preheat oven to 500°F.

2. Cut eggplant into a small dice and season with 1 teaspoon of Fine Sea Salt, 1 teaspoon Advieh, and 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Roast on a sheet pan in a 500°F oven for 10 minutes.

3. Saute onion over medium heat with the ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil until soft. Add the basmati rice, cilantro, parsley, Advieh, and Fine Sea Salt.

4. Rinse grape leaves. Pull out any small or torn leaves and put to the side. Snip off the tough stem at the base of the leaf. Lay leaf vein side up. Spoon roughly 2 Tablespoons of the rice mixture in the middle of the bottom third of the grape leaf.

5. Fold the sides of the grape leaves in first, over the rice mixture, then pull the bottom of the leaves over the folded sides. Roll into a tight package. Continue the process until the rice mixture is gone.

6. Line the bottom of a Dutch oven with the small or torn grape leaves. Place rolled grape leaves tightly together, seam side down, on top of the grape leaves. Use more grape leaves to create a layer once the bottom of the Dutch oven is packed. There will be 2 or 3 layers. Any unfilled grape leaves can be put back into the jar and covered in water. They should be used within one week, once opened.

7. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the grape leaves and pour in the vegetable stock and lemon juice. Bring to a boil then turn heat down to a low, steady simmer. Cover the Dolmeh with a heavy plate to help keep them submerged and to prevent the cooking liquid from pulling them open as they cook.

8. Cook for roughly one hour, or until the rice is soft. The best way to test for doneness is to eat one after an hour of cooking.

9. Allow to cool and serve.