BEST Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmas)

😍😍 These flavor-packed grape leaves are stuffed with a tantalizing mixture of rice; meat; and loads of fresh herbs and warm spices, then cooked in a bright lemony broth.

1 16-oz jar grape leaves in brine (about 60 to 70 leaves)
1 ½ cup short grain rice, soaked in plenty of water for 15 minutes, then drained
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
12 oz lean ground beef
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp cumin
½ cup EACH chopped fresh parsley, fresh dill, and fresh mint
1 to 2 tomatoes sliced into rounds
About 4 cups or more low-sodium chicken broth or water
Juice of 2 lemons

Prepare the Grape Leaves
If using jarred grape leaves as I am here, remove them from the jar and discard the brine. Rinse the grape leaves well and place them in a colander to drain. (Later in the process, you’ll remove the stems before stuffing.) (See notes if using fresh grape leaves)
Prepare the Stuffing
Soak the rice in plenty of water for about 15 to 20 minutes or until you are able to break one grain of rice easily. Drain well.
While the rice is soaking, cook the meat. Heat 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and cook briefly, about 2 minutes or so, tossing until translucent. Add the meat and cook till fully browned, tossing occasionally. Drain any excess fat, then season the meat with kosher salt, pepper, and spices. Toss to combine. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, combine the meat, drained rice, and fresh herbs. Season lightly with kosher salt. Add a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and mix so that everything is well-incorporated.
Stuff Grape Leaves, Assemble, and Cook
Prepare a heavy cooking pot and lightly brush the bottom with extra virgin olive oil. Arrange a few grape leaves in the bottom (I used the leaves that didn’t look too great here and made three layers to protect the stuffed leaves from scorching later.) Top with sliced tomatoes.
To stuff the grape leaves, you will work one leaf at a time. Place one grape leave on a cutting board the textured/rough side facing you. Take 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling and place in the center of the leave, then fold the sides over the filling and roll (think about this like rolling spring rolls or cigars.) Repeat with the remaining grape leaves or until you’re out of stuffing.
Neatly arrange the grape leaves in row, seam side down, in your prepared pot, covering the circumference of the pot. Then place a small plate inverted on top. Boil the broth or water and pour over the grape leaves, arriving at the top layer and somewhat covering (about 4 cups liquid, maybe a little more.)
Now cover the pot with the lid and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. Uncover and remove the plate, then pour juice of 2 lemons. Cover again with the lid (no need for the plate at this point), cook on low heat for 30 to 45 more minutes or until fully cooked.
To Serve
Remove grape leaves from heat. Allow to rest uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
Add a generous drizzle of quality extra virgin olive oil, and transfer to a serving platter.
Serve with a side of Greek Tzatziki sauce or plain yogurt and wedges of lemon. (More suggestions for what to serve along in the post above)

Cooks Tips for Best Results:
1) Be sure to soak the rice before using, this allows it cook well and more evenly.
2) Don’t over-stuff the grape leaves, remember that the filling is mostly of rice and it will expand as it cooks.
3) Roll the grape leaves tightly enough so that they don’t unravel or become undone while cooking, BUT again, remember rice will expand as it cooks, so don’t fold too tightly or the rice won’t cook properly.
4) Adding a small inverted plate on top of assembled grape leaves in the pot helps keep them intact and in place and prevents them from floating while cooking. Once the liquid has been absorbed, you can remove the plate to finish cooking as instructed.
5) Once cooked, allow the grape leaves to rest for 20 to 30 minutes so that any remaining liquids are absorbed and the leaves set nicely, plus they just taste better.
Vegetarian Option: The difference in vegetarian grape leaves is obviously in the stuffing mixture. You will need to omit the meat and add ½ cup more rice. Sautee the onions (no meat this time) until translucent. And add onions to the rice. Add spices (allspice and cumin) and pinch of salt and add the fresh herbs. Mix to combine and use this vegetarian mixture in the recipe as outlined.

If using fresh grape leaves: wash them very well and blanch them in boiling hot water. Remove from water using a slotted spoon and place them in a colander to fully cool and drain.
Leftovers: Store properly in the fridge in a tight-lid, refrigerator-safe container for 3 to 4 days. You can enjoy them cold or reheat. To reheat, place in a pot with a tiny bit of liquid, cover and heat over medium-low heat until warmed through.
Prepare-Ahead Tips:
1) You can prepare the stuffing 1 to 2 nights in advance and keep refrigerated in a tight-lid glass container in the fridge.
2) You can also roll the grape leaves and assemble them fully up to 1 night in advance and keep refrigerated until ready to cook. I like to take them out of the fridge for a bit before cooking so they are not so cold.

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