Grape Leaf Dolma


Filling these delicious parcels is an activity
the whole family can do together



For my “Meals Kids LOVE Around the World” series, I was super excited to get a recipe all the way from Azerbaijan. This recipe for grape leaf dolmas comes from Kate and her two kids, nine-year-old Samuel and fourteen-year-old Ada. 

Kate is originally from America but has lived in Azerbaijan for some time and her two children were both born there. Their dish is called dolma, which translates into English as stuffed. Kate tells us that dolma is a dish of stuffed grape leaves. In Azerbaijan, dolma has a ground lamb filling.

Kate’s children love the grape leaves because they lend a really fun texture and flavor to this finger food. Her children also love the savory and well-spiced lamb meat that is cooked until very tender. At Kate’s house, their good family friend Fatima usually makes dolmas for the children for special occasions like birthdays and other get-togethers.

Kate and her family mention that in Azerbaijan, dolmas have a huge history stretching back centuries. There are similar dishes in many places throughout the Caucuses and the Middle East, including Egypt, Turkey, and Greece. Compared to the dolmas in these other places, Kate and her kids say that Azerbaijani dolmas are unique because they are filled with ground meat, usually ground lamb. In addition, Azerbaijani dolmas are always served warm with a garlic yogurt sauce for dipping.

Her kids love to make this dish because they can get together with their family and roll the little dolmas up. 

I thought that making grape leaf dolma would be a really fun way to integrate a food that many people might not think of as quintessential kid-friendly food into this series. This ended up being an incredibly intense recipe to make. Each dolma is individually wrapped, which means that the recipe takes a very long time. Upon the first bite, I’m happy to report that these are incredibly delicious. The cooked grape leaves have such a unique texture and flavor to them that plays perfectly with the savory lamb filling. I’m amazed at how tender the lamb is. It’s critical in this recipe that you use medium grain rice to get that perfect texture.

I wanted to see how a young kid would feel about this recipe, so I gave dolma to six-year-old Flora. Flora had never tried a dolma and was surprised by how much she liked it. Flora particularly loved how creamy the filling was when combined with the yogurt sauce. Was it worth the labor? Yes. But make a big batch so they are worth the time! 

Watch the Video

Grape Leaf Dolma


For dolma

  • 1 lb ground lamb or beef (or a combo)
  • 1 medium onion grated
  • 1/2 cup medium-grain white rice rinsed
  • 1/2 cup cilantro chopped
  • 1/2 cup dill chopped
  • 1/2 cup mint chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 16 oz can grape leaves
  • 3 Tbsp butter

For garlicky yogurt

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2-4 cloves garlic


To make dolma

  • First, prepare the stuffing. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the stuffing. Mix with your hand until well combined.
  • Put batches of grape leaves in a colander, rinse well under cold water to remove the salt, and drain. If the canned leaves feel too thick, blanch them in boiling water for about a minute, then drain. Otherwise, do not blanch. Cut off the stems.
  • Now stuff the grape leaves. Hold a leaf shiny side down on the palm of your hand. Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling at the stem end of the leaf. Fold the top down, then the sides over the filling and roll up tightly to shape it into a 1-inch round bundle. 
  • Arrange the stuffed leaves, seam side down, on the bottom of a medium saucepan. Continue until all the leaves and filling are used, arranging the stuffed bundles snugly together in the pan, making several layers.
  • Dot the top with butter and pour in water to cover the dolma halfway. Place a small lid or a small ovenproof plate on top of the stuffed leaves to keep them tight and to prevent them from opening. Cover and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 hour 30 minutes, or until the leaves are tender, the filling is cooked, and there is little liquid left (if the liquid is completely absorbed at some point during cooking, add more water and continue to simmer).
  • Serve immediately with bread and plain yogurt or garlicky yogurt sauce to spoon onto the dolma to taste.

To make garlicky yogurt

  • I a bowl, combine 1 cup or more plain yogurt with 2-4 cloves garlic, crushed with a garlic press. Serve with dolma.


Recipe inspired by AZ Cookbook
Course: Snack
Diet: Gluten Free
Keyword: Kid Friendly


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