One Hundred and One Mezze: 21. Stuffed Vine Leaves

The love of stuffed vine leaves extends way beyond the borders of the Levant. People from The Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and all the way to Middle Asia enjoys the tiny tangy wraps. I tried to do some research into the dish origin but I found it difficult to accurately identify where it was first cooked. Many different nations make a claim but without a doubt the Turkish voice remains the loudest. The name most commonly used in all of these countries "Dolma" or a variation of it. Dolma is Turkish for "stuffed".

The dish is most likely invented or at least developed into its current form in the Ottoman Empire. At one point it was one huge country extending from Central Europe to Central Asia and including most of North Africa. Food, ingredients, recipes and even chefs moved freely around the empire. No wonder there are so many similarities and common dishes in all these countries cuisines.

In Syria we use Turkish names to call stuffed vine leaves but interestingly it is not Dolma. We cooked vine leaves in two ways one with meat and rice stuffing, served hot and eaten as a main dish. This dish is called
Yaprak, Turkish for "leaf". The other is the vegetarian variant most people know, served cold as a starter or part of a Mezze spread. This version is called Yalangi, Turkish for "fake". Fake because it doesn't contain any meat of course!

Here is my Yalangi recipe:

Vine leaves, preserved 300g
Short grain rice 200g (paella rice works very well, or the more authentic Egyptian rice)
One large tomato
One small onion
One lemon
Chopped parsley 2-3 tbsp
Dried mint 1tsp
Allspice 1/2 tsp
Olive oil 3-4 tbsp

Wash the rice and soak in cold water for around 30 minutes.

Finely chop the onion and tomato. Sweat the onions in olive oil on medium heat till soft and translucent. Drain the rice and add to the pot. Stir well till the rice grain are heated and coated with the oil. Add the chopped tomato, parsley, mint, allspice. Season with salt and add the juice of half a lemon. Mix well and remove from the heat. Taste the rice mixture for seasoning.

Spoon a small amount of the mixture into the centre of the leaf. Fold the edges and roll as in the picture. If this is your first time, it will start slowly but don't get disheartened. You will soon be much quicker and the roles will look neater.

Cover the bottom of the pot with the left over leaves or sliced potatoes to prevent the wraps sticking to the bottom of the pot. Arrange the rolled leaves in layers. They need to be fairly compact to prevent them opening or breaking. Once you arranged all the wrapped leaves put a small plate on the top preferably with a small weight to keep the vine leaves compact.

Add the juice of the other lemon half and cover with water. Start cooking on a high heat. Once started boiling turn down the heat to medium and cook for another 20-30 minutes. Cooking time will depend on how soft the leaves are. Keep an eye on them.

Once cooked transfer carefully to a plate and let cool down before serving.

There are countless variations to stuffed vine leaves recipe. You can replace the lemon juice with pomegranate molasses. Greeks use dill instead of parsley. Turks add currents or raisins sometimes. Iraqis cook their dolma with tamarind. Feel free to adapt the recipe the way you like it.


Unknown said...

Yum! Yalangi is the one I would want.
I wish I could just reach in to that picture and take one.... or three!

Iiiii said...

We call it jalan dolma:)
I prefere it stuffet with meat: LINK

organizam said...

In ex Yugoslavia countries (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia...) it's called sarma (hot dish, made with sour cabbage leaves, minced meat and rice) or sarmica (small sarma, can be made with wine leafs or other green leafy stuff, with or without meat, hot or cold). Sarma or sarmica - it's the most popular dish here. :)

tasteofbeirut said...


I had no idea the Syrians called it these names; plus I thought dolma was a Greek word not Turkish!
Thanks for your historical clarifications !

tasteofbeirut said...


I thought of you when I read this; syrian chocolate houses have won major international prizes now and are getting famous ~ can't wait to try them out next time I am in Beirut!

Zora said...

Thx for that link, tasteofbeirut--Ghraoui is fantastic!

And Kano, I never understood the terms for vine leaves in Syria--thanks for clarifying! I might actually get enough leaves off our grapevine this year to make these...

Anonymous said...

Those look incredible. My wife and I had a similar dish such as that one when we visited South America. Thanks for the recipe. Keep up the great work with your articles and please stop by my health blog sometime. The web address is

Kano said...

Try to make it. It sounds more difficult than it actually is.

Welcome to my blog. I wish I could read your recipe.

Welcome to my blog. My first reader from Serbia. I forgot to mention "Sarma" in the post. It is another word from Tukish origin "sarmak" meaning "To Wrap"

Do you have any special name in Lebanon or do you call them stuffed vine leaves (mehshi waraa enab)?
Ghraoui chocolate is great. I was hoping to visit them for an interview and post it here but unfortunatly I didn't have time in my last visit to Syria.

A grapevine in New York!!!

@Davon Jacobson
Welcome to my blog. I am glad you like it. What was the stuffing in the South American version?

organizam said...

'but without a doubt the Turkish voice remains the loudest.' :)

Anonymous said...

We also add squashed boilt chick peas to the stuffing. Extra protein makes it heartier!


Kano said...

I knew I heard about adding chickpeas before but I wasn't certain when I wrote the post. Thank you for the addition.

Fouad @ The Food Blog said...

Hi Kano

I'm still hesitant to call the dish Turkish. If European countries call it Dolma (or a derivative), that would be because of their proximity to the Ottoman Empire. There is probably no doubt that it got to Europe through the Turks, but Middle-Eastern that doesn't make it Turkish. As you know, Lebanon is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the world and is thought to be the earliest wine making region in the world, so they must have used the grape leaves, especially when making verjuice, the leaves would have been perfect. That said, this recipe could have originated from any of the Mediterranean countries and to concede it to anyone is difficult.

Kano said...

Hi Fouad

I agree with you. It is very difficult to pinpoint the actual origin of this dish or the majority of our dishes. But one have to aknowledge that our current cuisine in its current format is Ottoman era food.

Do you agree that our modern Levantine cuisine is not a natural progression of Medival Arabic cooking? I, and this is all personal views, feel that North African food, Iraqi and Iranian cuisine have more with Medival Arabic/Islamic cuisine than our food in Syria and Lebanon.

This is partly because Ottoman influence was strongest and longest in the Levant, and partly because of the free movement of people and ingredients between Natural Syria and Istanbul. People with crafts (builders, carpenters, decorators ...) moved or even forced to move on occasions to Istanbul bringing all their skills with them. Chefs were no exception.

Hila said...

What a blog! I'm so glad I found it. Keep on posting :)

Arabic food lover from Lithuania

Kano said...


Welcome to my blog!

Thank you very much for the nice words. Keep coming back ;)

Danielle said...

My Syrian grandma makes the yaprak (but pronounces it yebrat) with apricot mish-mosh... are you familiar with that?!

Kano said...


Welcome to my blog!

I suspect your grandma is from Aleppo rather than Damascus. In Aleppo they use fruits, fresh or dried, in cooking. Including stuffed vegetables.

Anonymous said...

Great recipe and history on this fab dish.
Vanessa from usa

Kano said...


Welcome to my blog. I am so glad you like the recipe.

DubaiBride said...

Okay I'm planning to try this tomorrow... will let you know how it goes!

DubaiBride said...

Hi Kano, I tried making these today as a test-run before my dinner party! I think they came out okay considering it was my first time but here are the issues I faced:

- After I took them out of the pan, within an hour, the side that was facing up became shriveled and wrinkly looking. Is it because it was exposed to air and had it been in an airtight container would it have stayed juicy looking?

- The stalks of some of the leaves were a bit hard so we couldn't chew them. Is that a problem in the leaf itself or is it because it wasn't cooked for long enough?

Anyway, aside from those 2 small problems, it was great and I can't believe I made it!!!

Kano said...


I am so glad you had a go at making these.

To avoid them drying you need to cool them down covered and keep them covered until served. You can also increase the amount of olive oil in the cooking liquid or simply drizzle olive oil at the end .

If the stalks are too tough then the leafs are not of a good quality. Try a different brand and if a leaf feels too tough. Don't roll it and use these to line the bottom of the pot.

On this rate you will be a Syrian food world expert ;)

Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting! I love your blog. I'm Syrian from the U.S., recently beginning to cook our beloved homeland's foods. Your blog reminds me of back home. Do you have a post for yabrak?


Kano said...


Thank you very much for the nice words. I am glad you like the blog.

I haven't done Yabrak for the blog yet. May be in the future.

Ashleigh said...

Hi Kano

I just made these and they turned out so delicious! My husband is also a Syrian surgeon, and we are living in the UK! I made these to take to his family in the UK for New Years Eve tomorrow, and he has already eaten half of them!!! Definitely a favourite!


Kano said...


I am really glad to hear it was a success. Did you follow the recipe or did you make changes?

Unknown said...

My husband's family came to the US after the genocide (Assyrian) in the 20's. His parents never learned to cook the dishes that he loved as a boy - some of the names are different. "Tagat" is what they called "dolma" - I am hoping this recipe is close to grandma Maritza's! I'm looking for a recipe for fasouli - (green beans and braised beef) - any suggestions?
Thank you for the great blog. I'm learning a lot.

Kano said...

@Susan Eskandar

Thank you for your comment and apology for the very late reply. I am not that active on the blog these days.

I hope you had a chance to cook the vine leaves and I hope your husband enjoyed them.

Funnely you are asking about Fasolia, I just cooked it yesterday. I will try to post a recipe soon.

Unknown said...

I.m from Eastern Europe, Romania and we also have this kind of stuff, both vegetarian and with meat (making them in early summer, when grapeleaves are fresh). The major difference is the absence of mint and the presence of dill. I agree that this is a heritage from the Otoman period, since it is not eaten in parts of the country that were not included in the otoman empire in the padt. Excellent blog!!congrats!

Kano said...

@zugravu corina

Welcome to my blog.

It appears all ex-Ottoman territories in mainland Europe use dill instead of mint.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Kano said...

@Emma Klien

Welcome to my blog and thanks for the kind words. I do apologise for the very very late reply but things have been really busy lately.

I will try to write more in coming weeks.

Stenar said...

I used to eat these at a Lebanese restaurant where I live (it's closed now) and they called them Sarma.

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