Dolmadakia - stuffed grape leaves are one of the most iconic Greek foods. With lots of dill, mint, scallions, and tender rice, they are a delicacy not to be missed.
What are dolmadakia?
Dolmadakia (or dolmades) are stuffed grape leaves. The most common version is vegetarian. The grape leaves are stuffed with rice and lots of herbs. They can also have ground meat, rice and herbs as stuffing.
Dolmadakia literally means small dolmades.
In Crete, they might add grated eggplant, zucchini, or artichokes in their dolmades.
The vegetarian version with rice, lots of diced onions, and herbs is also called dolmadakia gialantzi, which means in Turkish fake dolmadakia due to the absence of meat.
Are dolmades Greek or Turkish?
That is a great question!
The idea of a wrapped stuffed grape leaf has been around since ancient Greece. The tale says that on the west gable of the Parthenon, the goddess Hera is depicted eating hidden dolmades from the pot. She has a guilty look on her face glancing behind so no one can see.
In Ancient Greece, they stuffed fig leaves with sweet cheese. Stuffed vegetables-gemista are also common in modern Greek cuisine.
The word dolma (dolmades in plural) is of Turkish origin from the word dolmak (to fill). Middle Eastern cuisines have been using stuffed grape leaves for centuries. Greeks were under the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, liberating themselves with a revolution starting in 1821. It is natural the two cuisines blended and influenced each other.
How to make dolmadakia
This dolmades recipe is my Cretan family's version. I used to help my grandmother make them when I spend my summers in sunny Crete. She used to call them dolmadakia ta ftocha-the poor dolmadakia because they had few ingredients and no meat. ☺️
- Grape leaves, fresh or jarred
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Scallions (you can substitute with an onion)
- Carolina rice
- Fresh mint
- Fresh dill
- Broth (optional)
Detailed measurements and instructions can be found on the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
How to prepare the grape leaves
Fresh grape leaves preparation
Boil leaves for 2-3 minutes in salted water. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer in a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain leaves in a colander. Using a sharp knife, remove the stalks and any thick nerves on some of the leaves.
Jarred grape leaves in brine preparation
Take leaves out of the jar, put them in a big bowl filled with cold water.
Be gentle because they are fragile. It is ok that a few might break or tear. I usually lose 10-20 leaves. I use the damaged ones to line the pot.
Rinse them very well and let them drain in a colander. It is ok if they are not completely dry.
Chop the tomato, scallions, and herbs as small as you can.
Mix the rice, scallions, dill, mint, and tomato with ½ cup olive oil—season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
NOTE: You can saute the scallions and rice with one tablespoon olive oil for 3-4 minutes and then mix with the rest of the ingredients. The scallions get really fragrant when sauteing for a few minutes first. However, my grandma and aunt never sauteed the scallions and rice, and their dolmades were fantastic. I have used both methods and like both equally. It is totally up to you.
Place a generous tablespoon of filling in the center of a leaf (Image 1). Fold the bottom sides of the leaf over the filling. Make them overlap each other (Image 2). Fold the left and right sides over. (Images 3+4) then roll tightly to make a roughly 2-inch by 1⁄2–inch cigar shape (Image 5+6).
Line the bottom of a large pot with 3 layers of grape leaves.
Place each roll, seam side down.
Continue with the remaining stuffed leaves, placing them tightly together in the pot. Do a second layer if necessary.
Add the remaining ½ cup of oil and just enough warm water or broth to cover the leaves. Place a plate upside down over leaves to keep them from moving. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and cook until the rice and leaves are tender, about 50-60 minutes.
Fresh grape leaves can be more tender and flavorful than the jarred leaves, you can find them in farmers' markets and grocery stores in the summer. However, when out of season, leaves preserved in glass jars are a great substitute.
Yes, they are!
Grape leaves are both low in calories and high in fiber. They also have high amounts of vitamin A and vitamin K.
Dolmadakia are filled with rice and lots of fresh herbs such as dill and mint with many health benefits.
They can be eaten as a side dish, an appetizer, or as a main meal. Dolmadakia filled with rice are best at room temperature or chilled. Drizzled with olive oil and serve alongside lemon wedges for squeezing. Dip or top them with Greek yogurt for an extra flavor.
You may also try:
- This roasted stuffed chicken has a tomato-feta filling with pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, lots of garlic, and herbs.
- A delicious spaghetti sauce with tomatoes & basil made with basic pantry ingredients.
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Dolmadakia-Stuffed Grape Leaves
- Large pot
- Small strainer
- 60-70 grape leaves or a 16.oz jar-stems removed
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 scallions sliced. Substitute with one onion finely diced. See notes below.
- 1 ripe tomato Finely diced or grated, juices included.
- ½ finely chopped fennel
- 2 cups rice Carolina
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint 2 oz.
- ½ cup finely chopped dill
- 2 cups vegetable broth Totally optional; you can use water instead. You might not need all of the broth.
For the yogurt sauce
- 1 lb Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
- freshly ground pepper
- extra virgin olive oil for serving
Fresh grape leaves preparation
- Boil leaves for 2-3 minutes in salted water. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer in a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain leaves in a colander.Using a sharp knife remove the stalks and any thick nerves that may be on some of the leaves.
Jarred grape leaves in brine preparation
- Take leaves out of the jar, put them in a colander, rinse them well with cold water and let them drain.
Stuff and roll the grape leaves
- In a large bowl, mix the rice, scallions, dill, mint, and tomato (with its juices) with ½ cup olive oil, a generous pinch of salt, and some freshly ground pepper.
- Line the bottom of a large pot with 3 layers of grape leaves.
- Place a generous tablespoon of filling in the center of each leaf, then fold the bottom sides of the leaf over the filling. Make them overlap each other.Fold the left and right sides over, then roll tightly to make a roughly 2-inch by 1⁄2–inch cigar shape.
- Place the roll, seam side down, in the lined pot. Continue with the remaining leaves and filling, placing them tightly together in the pot and continuing onto a second layer if necessary.
- Add the remaining ½ cup of oil and just enough warm water -or broth to cover the leaves. Place a plate upside down over leaves to keep them from moving. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, cook until the rice and leaves are tender, about 45 minutes.
- Remove the pot and let the dolmadakia cool.
Make the yogurt sauce
- In a bowl, mix the yogurt with the chopped dill and mint and a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Serve the dolmadakia at room temperature or chilled, drizzled with olive oil and alongside lemon wedges for squeezing and the Greek yogurt sauce for dipping or topping.
- Naturally, you will lose some of the leaves due to tearing or holes that might be already on them. Don't discard them; use the broken leaves to line the pot. The lining will prevent scorching the dolmadakia while cooking.
- You can saute the scallions, fennel, and rice with some olive oil first and then mix it with the rest of the ingredients if you like. They will get really fragrant and sweet when sauteing for a few minutes first.
- Grate zucchini and a small eggplant and add it to the rice mixture for another Cretan variety of these dolmades. When in the season, you can also add a grated artichoke heart.
- Do you have rice mixture leftover? Stuff some veggies, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers with the delicious mixture. After you take out the flesh from the veggies, add it to the rice. You can bake the veggies with some broth and some olive oil in the oven. Check out this cooking method for gemista.
- Want to make sure the dolmadakia is fully cooked? After 45 minutes, uncover the pot and carefully lift the plate with the help of a fork. Gently, take one dolma out with the fork, wait for it to cool a little, and try it. Is the rice cooked fully? If not, cover the rest of the dolmades with the plate and cook until the rice is soft and fully cooked. If needed, add a little hot water -or broth (don't overdo it with the water).