If you are looking for a unique, flavorful, and fun snack idea or dinner recipe, then these Yaprak Sarma, Turkish style Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves or Dolmas are perfect for you! They’re packed with mouth-watering Mediterranean flavors and a unique blend of spice that makes every bite better than the last!
Stuffed dishes are the new talk of the town, but give your regular stuffed peppers a skip and make this delicious and unique Turkish stuffed grape leaves dolma or yaprak sarma as we say in Turkish. Once you have one, you won’t be able to stop!
This recipe is made with grape leaves stuffed with rice and is completely meatless. It only contains rice, onions, tomatoes, a few spices and herbs, and of course, some grape leaves to stuff. It is called zeytinyagli sarma in Turkish cuisine when it is meatless.
It also only has four folds; prepare the leaves, make the filling, stuff, and cook! Also check out another version of Turkish sarma: Turkish Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.
Today, we will be taking a culinary journey and look at everything yaprak dolma; from what they are, what they are stuffed with, how you can make them at home, and even how you can serve them.
What Is Dolma in Turkish Cuisine?
Dolma is a Turkish word that refers to all types of stuffed foods. Vegetables and edible leaves are used as the container for the delicious filling, which can be anything from meat to grains or vegetables. And these stuffed foods are one of the tastiest Turkish dishes everyone should try.
For example, “Biber Dolma” means rice stuffed peppers, “Kabak Dolma” refers to stuffed zucchini, while “Midye Dolma” means stuffed mussels.
Stuffed grape leaves are often referred to as “Yaprak Dolma” or “Yaprak Sarma”. This is because “yaprak” means grape leaves and “sarma” means wrapped, or rolled – exactly what this recipe is!
Turkish Dolmas can be served warm or cold depending on their filling; for example, meat or ground beef dolmas are usually served warm, whereas vegetarian dolmas are often served cold and with a generous amount of olive oil.
Dolmas also often have a sauce accompaniment that compliments the flavor of the dish itself. Serving this Turkish yaprak sarma or dolma with a refreshing mint yogurt sauce makes it even tastier!
What Are Dolmades?
Dolmades is simply the Greek word for Dolma (the Turkish word). Unlike Turkish dolma, which refers to everything stuffed, “Greek dolmades” is used for stuffed vine leaves, cabbage leaves or even zucchini blossoms.
Stuffed grape leaves have different names in several other cultures. They are called “yebra” in Syria, “dolme” in Iran, and “tolma” in Armenia. Each cuisine and country will have slight flavor variations and serving methods, but the concept remains the same. Read more >> Dolma In Different Cuisines.
About The Ingredients
In Turkish cuisine specifically, there are two versions of stuffed grape leaves. The first version is completely vegan. The second version is with a ground beef and rice filling.
Vegetarian dolmades are served cold with additional olive oil on top, whereas the meat version is often served hot.
The base for any dolma recipe is always the same; rice, onions, herbs, spices, olive oil, and lemon. These ingredients might differ slightly in type and ratio, but regardless of the vegetables or meats used with them, they remain unchanged.
Tomato paste and tomatoes are used some regions of the country whereas these are left out in some other regions. Still in some regions, pine nuts and a little cinnamon are added in the vegetarian dolma filling.
What Are Grape Leaves?
Every time we mention grape leaves, some people are always very confused. It seems like few know that the leaves from a grapevine plant are edible.
But, be careful before just grabbing some from a vineyard, as not all of them work as well as others. Make sure that the leaves are flexible enough and don’t have very hard ‘veins’. The best variety of vine leaves to make dolma and dolmades is sultanas.
These leaves are preferred mainly because of their size and shape, which makes the rolling process very easy. They are also much stronger and more flexible compared to others.
You will also be surprised to learn how easy it is to find fresh grape leaves. A lot of wine or grape farms will allow you to grab some leaves from the vineyard, however, you can also easily find them at some farmers markets. We wouldn’t recommend buying fresh grape leaves online, as they won’t be fresh when they reach you.
Preserved grape leaves can be more easily found at some supermarkets and can even be bought online. Our favorite brand is Melis, which has a Turkish origin. You can find it at online Turkish stores. These are stored in brine (saltwater) so their shelf life is much longer compared to fresh ones. The only thing you need to do is to rinse them well to remove the excessive salt before making yaprak sarma. If you want, you can preserve your very own grape leaves. Check out our post about How To Preserve Grape Leaves!
How To Make
This grape leaves recipe is surprisingly easy to make despite looking complex. It is delicious, packed with Mediterranean flavors, and a must-have at your next dinner party!
Make The Filling: To make this easy filling, all you have to do is combine the ingredients in a large bowl, leaving out the grape leaves, ¼ cup olive oil and water.
Prepare the Grape Leaves: If you have grape leaves in brine, you don’t need to prepare them in any way. Simply wash them with water to remove the excessive salt. If you are using fresh grape leaves, blanch them in boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then transfer them into ice-cold water.
Once completely cooled, drain them and set them aside until needed. Once the leaves have been washed or cooked, cut off the stems as close to the leaf as possible (see the video in the recipe card below).
Stuff The Vine Leaves: Cut off the stems of the leaves. Place a leaf on a cutting board or on a plate, shiny side down. Place about 1 tablespoon of the rice filling near the end of the leaf, cover that filling with the top edges as you see in the pictures here.
Fold the side edges to the center and roll it up as you see above.
Arrange the stuffed leaves in rows without leaving any space. Pour water and olive oil over the rolls. At this step, you can even add a splash of verjus if you have any. Place a heat-proof plate on the top to help the dolmas keep stable when cooking.
Let them cook covered over the lowest heat for 45 minutes, or until the rice has completely cooked inside the rolls. Once cooked, remove them from the pot and allow them to cool before serving.
For serving, we highly recommend that you prepare an easy garlicky tomato sauce and pour it over the dolmas. This sauce will definitely take this yaprak sarma recipe to a whole new level.
Note: If there is any leftover filling, you can either keep it in the fridge and cook as a side dish next day or freeze it for a later use.
What To Serve With
These vegetarian stuffed grape leaves are the perfect alternative to traditional chips and dip. In Turkey, they are often served with plain yogurt, mint yogurt sauce or Turkish cacik, a cucumber and yogurt dip, very similar to tzatziki.
You can also serve yaprak sarma as is with an extra drizzle of olive oil and lemon wedges.
More Stuffed Veggies (Dolma) Recipes
More Turkish Recipes
- Mercimekli Kofte (Lentil Kofte)
- Turkish Breakfast
As always: If you make this recipe, let us know what you think by rating it and leaving a comment below. And post a pic on Instagram too—tag @give_recipe so we can see!
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Yaprak Sarma (Turkish Dolma)
Grape leaves stuffed with a spicy vegetarian rice filling. These are best when cooled and with extra lemon juice.
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Yield: 6 1x
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Cooking
- Cuisine: Turkish
- Diet: Vegetarian
To Stuff Grape Leaves:
- 2 cups rice, rinsed well
- 1 cup tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cups onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup parsley, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried mint
- 1 and ½ teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ⅔ cup olive oil plus ¼ cup for drizzling the stuffed leaves
- 1 lemon, squeezed
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 pound grape leaves
- 1 and ¾ cups water
Tomato Sauce For serving:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried mint (or fresh mint)
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Stuffing Grape Leaves:
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except grape leaves, ¼ cup olive oil and water.
- If you have grape leaves in brine, you don’t need to do any work on them, just wash them well to remove excessive salt. If you have fresh grape leaves, blanch them in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Transfer into cold water and drain.
- Cut off the stems of the leaves. (See the video)
- Place a leaf on a cutting board or on a plate, shiny side down. Place about 1 tablespoon of the rice filling near the end of the leaf, fold and roll it up. (Please see it in the pictures above or watch the video to see how).
- Place stuffed and rolled grape leaves into a pan either leaving the centre of the pan empty or in rows without leaving any space at the bottom of the pan.
- If there is any leftover filling, put it in a cup or glass, place it into the centre (you can see it in the video) so that it is cooked at the same time with the leaves or freeze it for later use. If there is no leftover, just skip this step. But you can still place the rolls in the pot in the same way.
- Pour 1 and ¾ cups water and ¼ cup olive oil over the rolls.
- Cook covered over the lowest heat for about 45 minutes or until the rice inside the rolls is cooked.
- Cool completely before serving.
- Squeeze lemon over it.
Tomato Sauce For Serving:
- Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over low heat.
- Add in tomato paste and dried mint, cook for about a minute.
- Add in diced tomatoes, minced garlic and lemon juice. Cook until tomatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.
- Pour this sauce over the stuffed grape leaves before serving.
You don’t have to cook the leftover filling in the same pot as seen in the video. It is just the easy and quick way of cooking it. You can freeze it for a later use.
- Serving Size:
- Calories: 436
- Sugar: 9.5 g
- Sodium: 807.2 mg
- Fat: 29.4 g
- Carbohydrates: 43.4 g
- Protein: 7.5 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
Keywords: stuffed grape leaves, dolma, yaprak sarma
I followed this recipe exactly except I halved the salt and it was still wayyyy too salty. If I try this again I’d maybe use 1/2 tsp salt. Everything else was great, just the salt was overpowering
When I’m using the leaves that are in the brine, after I rinse them initially in cold water in the sink, I will then take out my largest skillet. I place the leaves inside. Place fresh cold water in, enough to cover the leaves and put it over a small flame. As the water heats up, it pulls out the salt into the water. Don’t boil or simmer it. It ought to heat up just enough that you can tolerate placing your bare hand in, to pull out a leaf to roll. If it gets too hot, take it off the flame and let it cool
Thank you Gulhan for this detailed expalantion! It really helps a lot!
Demetra Kavis says
Did you rinse the brine from the grape leaves? That would be the only reason your grape leaves were too salty. I rinse them twice before stuffing them.
Thank you for the heads up about rinsing grape leaves well. Otherwise, one ends up with way too salty dolmas.
Meltem Camuroglu says
Sorry but this is not a vegeterian food, IT is VEGAN which is much butter. IT does not contain any animal product. Bu calling this food you are missing your real tarihte group, vegan people. Maybe you reconsider correcting it.
I recently had this kind of stuffed grape leaves with rice and quite a lot of olive oil, cooked in a huge pot over some chicken legs. It was one of the best things I had in my life!! A Syrian friend of mine cooked this recipe in my kitchen and I wrote down every single step. I would love to try your version as well, I bet it tastes fantastic! And I definitely don't mind the fact that you use less oil than she did 🙂
Hi Adina, the amount of olive oil is up to you. Some people in our country use a lot more olive oil than I use in this recipe but I think it's quite enough in my recipe. I've had it with ground beef and lamb chunks but never had it with chicken legs. I would use even less olive oil if I made it with chicken or meat. Hope you love it when you make my version. Hope you find the video helpful 🙂
Lili anvari says
Dear zarrin . Great weblog . Do you have a recipie for spagetti sauce? I would appreciate it. Thanks
Thank you Lili! We've several pasta recipes on the blog. You can choose the category pasta to see them all and you will find various sauces in those recipes that you can use for spaghetti. To get an idea, you can check this pasta recipe out: Pasta with Mince Sauce.
I made these this weekend and they were amazing! I made a few modifications to the recipe. In the future I think I might just try boiling the pot of stuffed grape leaves, rather than attempting to steam them, because it took about 4 hours, and the top ones still weren't very well cooked, but the bottom ones that were boiled were great.
I just hope I get faster at rolling them with more practice!
Well, I halved this recipe, since I only had a small jar of leaves, and I messed it up some. I forgot the garlic and tomato. Oh, well. I still ate them all. I found that the ones in the bottom of the pot were softer and moister than those on top, which seemed a little too dry. I also found that they tasted better the next day!
Oh, I added a little bit of lentils for some non-meat protein. Do you ever do that? The next batch I made, I used red lentils. I used 2 Tablespoons lentils to 1 cup of rice. Just experimenting...I'll use more next time, I think.
I am using wild grape leaves, which are free. They seem good so far. I can tell a difference sometimes in tender and tough ones--the tough ones are edible, just a little stringy. I am no expert yet! I usually see directions to pick in spring or early summer, but this is confusing to me, because my wilf vines are constantly making new leaves, which should be tender. The taste doesn't change, does it? Do you have wild grapevines in Turkey? I am in the suburbs of Nashville, and I got the idea to start eating them after I saw women in headscarves (probably Kurdish) a few weeks ago picking them from the side of the road.
Oh, maybe your dolmas should have cooked a little more. That might be the reason why the ones on the top are dry. Stuffed leaves must be cooked over lowest heat for about 40 minutes or more depending on the size of pan and the amount of dolmas. They will get tender with the steam in the pan. The ones at the bottom are directly exposed to hot water, that's why they are softer.
I used green lentil and bulgur together as the filling, which is not traditional here and loved that, but never tried red lentils. I'm sure it will be another great filling when mixed with bulgur or rice.
I'm not sure about wild grapevines. But I know leaves are picked in these days as I've seen very fresh grape leaves at local bazaar these days. They are not sold after June. And mom says you should pick them before they get bigger as they get stringy.
Thanks for answering. I added some pine nuts and currants and ground meat, the end results absolutely fabulous. The leaves had a weird smell before cooking but not after cooking. I also made your recipe for the green beans with tomato sauce to complement our meal. Thank you for your recipes.
If you put the cooked ones in refrigerator, you can keep them for 3 days. But if you put some uncooked into freezer, you can keep it longer (at least 5 months). I generally put some of them into freezer before cooking. Then it's so easy to defreeze and cook it later. This method always helps me whenever I have some unexpected guests.
Please don't forget to send me some when you finish! 🙂
I am cooking this dish today and would really love to know how long can I keep them in the refrigerator since I am making a lot of them. Also, can the be frozen and if so for how long?