Most Levantine Arabic-speaking countries like to call these delicious vegetarian stuffed grape leaves Yalanji, but whether you call them dolmas, dolmades, or Warak 3nab, there is no doubting they are one of the tastiest traditional Mediterranean delicacies out there!
Honestly, as a young child, I did not love stuffed grape leaves… but it was only because I was too scared to try them! I don’t know why the look of the cute, green, rolled cigars did not appeal to me, but once my mom finally convinced me to try one, after years, I was upset I hadn’t done so earlier! I absolutely love sour, zesty flavors, and when I tried yalanji for the first time, I was mesmerized by the fluffy rice that had soaked up all the delicious lemon and tomato juices, and the pleasantly moist, tangy, exterior of the tender grape leaf. If you have never tried dolmas, don’t be scared by their unfamiliar appearance because once you try one, you won’t be able to resist having more!
My lovely grandma taught me how to roll these stuffed grape leaves the Syrian way, thin and firm. I put together some helpful photos to assist you in rolling the perfect yalanji!
Begin by placing a spoonful of the filling about a centimeter from the base of the leaf, veiny side up, and shaping it into a firm log.
Roll the bottom of the leaves up over the filling, and tuck it under the filling, so it is snug.
Fold in the sides of the leaf over the filling as you continue to roll the leaf up.
And continue rolling until you reach the end! That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Once you get enough practice, you will be rolling these grape leaves in no time, just like my grandma, the speedy expert grape-leave-roller. ???? It also helps of course to work in a group! Have your family members or friends join you in a rolling party, and they will be all rolled up and ready to cook in no time!
This dish is traditionally vegan, as are many authentic Arabic recipes! They are also best enjoyed cold, and they are even more delicious the next day, after the flavors have marinated over night and the grape leaves and filling absorb every last drop of the citrusy, tomato-y, aromatic flavors. There is another Arabic stuffed grape leaf dish that is non-vegetarian, filled with rice and meat, and usually served warm, but even before I went vegan, I always preferred the vegetarian version. It was filled with my favorite flavors (I am known to drown everything in lemon juice), and I loved the cool, moist texture. I also loved how the flavors continued to become more lemony and delicious over time!
Every time I make yalanji, it takes me back to the beautiful times I spent in the Middle East during my childhood. Although rolling all the grape leaves takes a long time, I never see it as tedious because I enjoy it and find it entertaining. The best part though, is that one’s hard work always pays off. All the time spent rolling the grape leaves results in a beautiful and delicious dish, shared with friends and family, creating moments I will never forget. Food always tells a story, and I have so many wonderful memories with my family and friends, in the States and in the Middle East, surrounding a delicious plate of stuffed grape leaves.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do! It is one of my all-time favorite Mediterranean dishes, if not my absolute favorite, and I am so lucky to have a wonderful family to pass down the recipe to me.
Don’t forget to let me know if you try this recipe in the comments below, or pin it for later! I would also love to see your recreations on Instagram @zenanzaatar! ????
- 1 16 oz. (1 lb.) grape leaves*
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1½ tbsp olive oil
- 1 potato (optional)
- 1 tomato (optional)
- 1 lemon (optional)
- 3¼ cups medium grain rice
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 15 oz. jar finely diced tomatoes (or 2 large tomatoes, peeled and finely diced)
- 1 bunch parsley
- 2 tsp dried mint
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp shatta (optional)**
- 1.5 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or more lemon juice)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- ¼ cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
- Rinse the grape leaves thoroughly in a strainer, to get rid of most of the saltiness. Put grape leaves in a large pot and cover them with water, up to at least an inch over the grape leaves. Bring the pot to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil, leave for no more than 1 minute before draining the grape leaves. The grape leaves should be more tender and easier to work with; set them aside.
- Prepare the filling. Remove the stems of the parsley bunch, and chop the parsley leaves finely. Combine dry rice with salt, diced tomatoes, chopped parsley, mint, tomato paste, and shatta, and mix together in a large bowl. Pour the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and olive oil over the rice mixture and mix thoroughly.
- Now it is time to start rolling the stuffed grape leaves. Cut off the stems of all the grape leaves before rolling them. Place a spoonful of the rice filling about one centimeter from the base of the grape leaf, next to where the stem was, and shape it into a small log. The amount of filling should vary depending on the size of the grape leaf. Make sure you are placing the filling on the veiny side of the leaf, so the outside will be smooth. Roll the base of the grape leaf over the top of the filling and tuck it so it is tightly wrapped. Fold in the sides of the grape leaf inwards over the filling, and then continue to roll the leaf all the way until you reach the end. Set aside. Repeat for all grape leaves.
- If you have any leftover filling once you are done rolling all the leaves, you can stuff tomatoes, bell peppers, or any other small vegetable with the filling, and cook them with the grape leaves.
- If desired, chop the tomato, potato, and lemon into thin slices to line the bottom of the pot where the grape leaves will be. They absorb the delicious juices of the grape leaves and are tasty to eat alongside the stuffed grape leaves.
- Drizzle the 1½ tbsp of olive oil at the bottom of a pressure cooker.*** Line the pressure cooker with the tomato, potato, and lemon slices, reserving a few tomato and lemon slices to place on top later. Then, begin filling the pot with the stuffed grape leaves, packing them tightly in a circular fashion. If you have any gaps, you can stuff them with the extra stuffed vegetables (if you ended up with any). Once all the grape leaves are in the pot, cover them with a plate that is close to the diameter of the pressure cooker. This is to stop the grape leaves from floating to the top. Pour 5½ cups of boiling water and the 2 tbsp of lemon juice over the grape leaves.
- Place the pressure cooker on the stove over high heat, and wait for it to whistle. Once it whistles, reduce to medium to medium-high heat and cook for another 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the pot.
- Once you are able to open the pressure cooker after it has cooled enough, do so. Check if the plate and leaves have cooled enough to handle. When they have, get a large serving plate ready to flip the dish onto. Holding the plate in the pot, flip the pot upside down onto the serving dish. Slide out the plate from under the grape leaves, and rearrange them if needed. This dish is best served cool, so if desired, place in the refrigerator to cool, or wait at least 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
**Arabic chili and olive oil hot sauce- can substitute chili garlic sauce or any similar chili hot sauce.
***The stuffed grape leaves can be cooked in a normal pot as well, but they will take longer. If not using a pressure cooker, you should bring the water to a boil, reduce to low and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, and keep checking to see when they are tender.