Dolma – Our first Attempt

We were lucky enough to have learned to make dolma from meme before she passed away.

But the true test?

Making dolma in our own kitchen.

Without meme’s guidance.

It was a cold and gray Sunday, so we decided to roll up our sleeves and give it a try.

Also, I was really adamant about not making it until I had meme’s rock and plate.

(Check out the posts from the day we spent with meme here and here for more on the rock and the plate and for the recipe for dolma.)

When it came time to go through meme’s house and we were talking about who was going to take what, I called the rock and the plate. Not kidding.

Below are some pictures from dolma making our itty bitty kitchen, which, as you can see, spilled over into our living room.



We didn’t make any grape leaves, since our city apartment doesn’t really allow for a grape vine in the backyard, but we made cabbage, peppers and tomatoes (which are my favorite anyway)


While the dolma simmered on the stove, the smells that filled the apartment brought us back to meme’s kitchen.



And isn’t that why we cook?

Food isn’t just about nutrition and fuel. It’s about memories and about traditions and about keeping people and good times alive.


Was our dolma perfect?

Nope. (Notes for next time, cook it for longer than meme said to and DO NOT use 90/10 beef. You need the fat of 80/20)

But it was pretty darn close.

And I bet meme was happy to see us in the kitchen.

Grape Leaves – Part 2

Now that we’ve made the stuffing, it’s time to get to stuffing!

Or, more accurately, rolling.

You are going to need a large pot and a lot of grape leaves. We’re using the ones from meme’s back yard. To prepare the grape leaves, you will need to boil them first, just slightly, and remove the stems. Meme did this before we got there, so I can’t tell you how it’s really done.

Hey, a woman’s entitled to keep some secrets!


Get a comfy chair, some music and some friends. You will be here for a while.

Here’s the first secret from meme when rolling grape leaves. Feel the leaf. Look for the side with veins that are more raised. That will be the inside of the grape leaf, so it should be facing up.


Drop a little bit of the meat mixture onto the leaf down near where the stem was. Be careful not to put too much. Remember the rice isn’t cooked yet and it will expand.


Take the two sides next to the meat and fold them in so they are covering the meat mix.


And then roll the leaf up like a little burrito. Don’t put too much meat in and make sure you roll it right. Or meme will be mad.


But if you roll it right, you will have a happy meme!


I should give credit here where credit is due. The master roller is really pepe. Here’s pepe telling Christopher how to do it the right way.


Pepe is way fast at rolling grape leaves.


Chris and I are taking our time, making sure we get it right.

IMG_0878  IMG_0881

This is the time when you start telling family stories. A lot of good stories can come out while you’re sitting around the table, rolling grape leaves.


See, that’s me listening to a story. I can’t share them with you though, because what happens at the kitchen table rolling grape leaves, stays at the kitchen table rolling grape leaves.


This is serious business. Pepe has his glasses on. See. Serious. By the way, see all that meat? Yup, that all needs to get rolled up.


We’re still rolling…


and rolling


As you get piles and piles of grape leaves, start placing them in the pot, packed closely, like this.


Jeff took that job.


Add a sprig of thyme to the pot when all of the grape leaves are complete.


We still had a lot of meat mixture left, so we stuffed some vegetables too. Remember when we made the mix and we used the scooped out insides of the tomatoes? Well, there’s the tomatoes. The perfect little container for some stuffing.


We also did some peppers and some eggplants. And some cabbage leaves. And yes, we needed two pots.


Basically, keep hollowing out vegetables and stuffing them until all the meat is gone.


Meme does this by herself most of the time. Think about that. Her and pepe. rolling all those leaves. And stuffing all those vegetables. I think she was happy to have four extra sets of hands!


Okay, now it’s time to cook the dolma and go have a glass of wine to relax.

Fill the pot about three quarters of the way with chicken broth. Add two tablespoons of butter on top.


Place a heavy ceramic plate on top of the vegetables.


Then put a rock on top of the plate. A clean rock.


The rock and the plate will keep everything nice and compact, so the rice doesn’t expand and undo all that hardwork of rolling.


Cover with a lid. Let cook over low heat for about one hour. I think we ended up letting the pots go for about one hour and fifteen minutes because there was too much liquid still in the pot. So she took off the lid for about fifteen minutes or so and let the extra moisture escape.

And then, after the chopping and the mixing and the rolling and the rolling and the rolling and the stuffing and the hour of the simmering and the smell wafting through the house…


You sit down with a heaping plate


and a drink


And you eat dolma!

Look, everyone is happy when they eat dolma!




Open up and say yum!


Grape Leaves – Part 1

Remember a few weeks ago when I showed you meme and pepe’s grapevine? And remember how I teased you with the promise of how to make grape leaves?

Well, I’m making good on that promise.

You know that show on Cooking Channel, My Grandmother’s Ravioli? Well this is sort of like that.

Except she’s not my grandmother- she’s my fiance’s. And she’s not a grandmother- she’s meme.

And it’s not ravioli – it’s dolma.

So Meme’s Dolma!

Dolma is the term for vegetables or cabbage or grape leaves stuffed with a seasoned meat mixture. We came over to meme’s to learn to make grape leaves, but what she does is make a big bowl of the seasoned meat mixture and then stuff grape leaves, cabbage leaves and vegetable like tomatoes and eggplants and peppers.

This post is going to cover the meat mixture. The next one will walk you through rolling grape leaves.

I am going to try my best to write this out properly, but meme is not easy to follow.

Like most grandmas, she cooks by taste and by feel. She knows what it should look like.  She knows what it should taste like. She’s made this a million times, so it comes easy to her.

But here it is, the stuffing for dolma.

I suggest having everything out or having another person on hand to pass you things.


Meme is directing. Pepe is cleaning.


I’m taking pictures, while Sam and Chris write it all down.


Jeff’s capturing it all on video.


Okay. Here we go. In a large bowl, pour in two cups of medium rice which you’ve rinsed thoroughly. Meme said medium rice. Not long. Medium.

IMG_0838 Next add in one large white onion, diced and the scooped out insides from a few tomatoes. To get the scooped out insides, cut the top off of a tomato and dig out the insides with a spoon. (Don’t cut through the tomato all the way. You want to turn the tomato into a container to hold the meat stuffs later) I asked meme how many tomatoes but she kind of shrugged. I’m guessing 3 or 4.IMG_0842  IMG_0844IMG_0843

To the bowl add flat leaf parsley chopped up. Again, no precise measurements but I’m going to guesstimate a cup and a half to two cups.


Right? That looks like two cups?


Next add in 1 teaspoon of coriander, 1 teaspoon of the armenian red pepper that I still don’t know how to spell (Chris’s writing looks something like halibebebae – when they say it, it kind of sounds like holla baby bear) and 1 teaspoon of salt.



Next we add 1 cup of really good Greek olive oil. Meme said one cup, but then she handed Sam that coffee cup. She says she measured it out in a measuring cup, but we’re skeptical.


Now comes the meat. Meme used about a pound of ground sirloin and then another pound total of a veal, pork and beef mix. The right way to do it is to use lamb. I used to not like lamb, so meme switched it up for me. (I do like lamb now though so next time we will do it the right way).


You really need a big, big bowl for this.


To the meat, add in two thirds of a cup of tomato sauce (I think it’s just tomato puree) and a little less than a third of a cup of fresh lemon juice.


Here is the most important part. I’m quoting meme directly now. “No garlic, no dolma.” You need two “blobs” of minced garlic. From what I gather, a blob is less than a heaping tablespoon but more than a regular tablespoon.


When you have everything in the bowl, it’s time to wash your hands…


… and dig in.


And get to mixing!


Pause for a family picture!


And then get back to mixing. Changing of the guard here as meme tells Chris how to mix it right. IMG_0862

And then as I tell him how to mix it right.


And then he finally mixes it right.


And then his arms started hurting.


But thankfully the mixing was done.


So there you have it. The stuffing for dolma. Next, a lesson in grape leaf rolling.

You know you’re family is very European when…

They have a grapevine in the backyard.


This is the beautiful vine growing in his meme and pepe’s yard, up the arbor on their deck.


And this is pepe checking the leaves. You have to pick them when they’re soft, when they’re just right, otherwise they get too tough.

And then do you know what you have?

Tough stuffed grape leaves or dolma.

And nobody like a tough stuffed grape leaf.

There were only a few leaves that were good, so pepe picked them and put them away for later.

At the end of the month, there should be a big enough pile to make dolma.

That’s right. Meme is going to teach me the secret!

Check back at the end of July beginning of August.

Until then, enjoy the beautiful weather, listen to the waves crash or enjoy the shade of your grape vine.