Dolma (tolma): Stuffed Grape Leaves

Dolma (or “tolma”) are rolls made from grape leaves stuffed with a meat mixture. This dish is very popular throughout the Caucasus, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The name reportedly comes from the Turkish word “dolmak”, which means “to fill”. However, Armenians have their own explanation. In the language of the ancient kingdom of Urartu (once Armenia), the word “doli” supposedly meant “grape leaf”.

Armenian dolma (tolma)
Armenian dolma (tolma)

Whatever the origin of this recipe, it’s an exceptionally tasty dish. In the classic recipe, grape leaves (or cabbage) are usually blanched in boiling water to make them pliable. A mixture of minced meat, rice, onions, and spices is prepared. The filling is placed on each leaf, which is rolled up to completely enclose the filling. The rolls are placed in a pot, often layered with slices of tomatoes or lemons. They are covered with a liquid (a mixture of water, olive oil, and lemon juice) and simmered until the filling is cooked and the leaves are tender. Dolma is served with Armenian yogurt “matsun” mixed with garlic.

Armenian dolma (tolma) - detail of the content of the roll
Armenian dolma (tolma) – detail of the content of the roll

Variations of the dolma dish

  • Summer dolma – the meat mixture is stuffed into hollowed-out raw peppers, tomatoes or zucchinis.
  • Pasuts dolma – a vegetarian version, rolls are made from cabbage leaves filled with a mixture of red beans, chickpeas, lentils and bulgur. It’s a traditional Armenian New Year’s dish.

Armenian Dolma Festival Uduli

Dolma is so popular in Armenia that it even has its own festival called Uduli. It is regularly held in the city of Armavir. The first edition took place in 2011. Chefs from all over Armenia come to the festival to prepare their version of dolma. Festival visitors taste the dishes, watch folk performances or listen to local songs.

Armenian dolma (tolma)
Armenian dolma (tolma)

Well-prepared dolma is among the most delicious dishes of Armenian cuisine. I tasted dolma made from beef tenderloin at the Lavash restaurant in Yerevan. One portion cost 2,800 AMD, approx. 6.80 EUR. It was an absolutely perfect dish.

Bon appétit!

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