Mouth-Watering Dolma Recipe: Step-by-Step Guide

Welcome, food enthusiasts! Today, I am pleased to share with you one of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes – Dolma, Iraqi-style recipe.

Dolma is a dish that has been enjoyed for centuries and is greatly valued in countries like Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. The word “dolma” means “stuffed,” which refers to the stuffed vegetables that are popular in the Middle East.

In this recipe, we will be using grape leaves as a wrapper for our stuffing. These leaves have a tangy and slightly bitter flavor that perfectly complements the savory and bold spices used in the filling.

What I love about this dish is its versatility – it can be made using beef or lamb, or can be adapted as a vegetarian stuffed option. It’s also one of the greatest stuffed vegetable dishes out there, and perfect for impressing your guests at a dinner party.

If you’re interested in discovering new flavors or already appreciate Middle Eastern cuisine, this recipe is sure to become a new favorite. So let’s get started!

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves), Iraqi-Style
Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves), Iraqi-Style

Imagine sinking your teeth into a warm, aromatic dolma (stuffed grape leaf) on a cool autumn day. The flavors of tender beef, lamb, and basmati rice blend together effortlessly, creating an indulgent dish that will transport you straight to the bustling streets of the Middle East. Irresistible spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and more elevate this classic Iraqi-style recipe to a whole new level.

This dish is not only packed with flavor but also loaded with essential dietary fiber from carrots and antioxidant properties from fresh garlic. For those who are meat lovers or vegetarians, there is an option for every palate – either way, you won’t be disappointed.

What’s remarkable about dolma stuffed grape leaves is each bite bursts with bold flavors in your mouth. It’s packed with nutrients while remaining a light and healthy option at the same time. The outer layer of vine leaves has a soft and chewy texture that matches perfectly with the juicy stuffing inside.

This recipe is a true crowd-pleaser due to its versatility; it can be served as an appetizer or as the main course. Impress your guests or family by serving this exceptional stuffed vegetable iraqi dolma at your next gathering. Believe me when I say – once you taste this irresistible delicacy, you’ll be adding it to your weekly rotation.

Ingredient List

 A delicious platter of dolmas stuffed to perfection!
A delicious platter of dolmas stuffed to perfection!

Here is what you’ll need to make Iraqi-Style Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves):
– 2 lbs beef or lamb (minced)
– 1 onion (minced)
– 3-4 garlic cloves (minced)
– 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
– 1 cup long grain uncooked rice (basmati rice works best)
– 4 cups tomato sauce
– Juice of 1 lemon
– 2 tablespoons tomato paste
– 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1 teaspoon paprika
– 1 teaspoon ground cumin
– 1 teaspoon ground coriander
– ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
– Pinch of ground nutmeg
– Pinch of ground cloves
– Salt and black pepper to taste
2 jars of grape leaves (16 ounces each), drained and rinsed well

NOTE: You may also add some minced lamb chops for a beefier flavor.

The Recipe How-To

 These Iraqi-style dolmas are an edible work of art.
These Iraqi-style dolmas are an edible work of art.

Get Ready to Roll!

Step 1: Rinse the grape leaves under cold water to remove excess salt. If you have picked fresh grape leaves, blanch them for about three minutes to achieve that great-tasting dolma.

Step 2: In a large mixing bowl, combine 2lbs of minced lamb and 2lbs of minced beef with 1 cup of uncooked basmati rice, 1 cup long-grain uncooked rice works best too.

Spice it Up

Step 3: Season the meat mixture with five minced garlic cloves, one medium finely diced onion, 3 tsp of ground cumin, 3 tsp of black pepper, 3 tsp of salt, one tsp each of ground cardamom, cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and ground cloves. Mix well.

Add Some Tomato Goodness

Step 4: Incorporate 4 cups of tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes with one heaping tablespoon of paprika. Then add one can (8 oz.) of tomato paste and a squeeze (or two) of lemon juice.

It’s Rolling Time!

Step 5: Prepare a large pot with some water that has been seasoned with salt, sliced carrots, and some canola oil. This broth is the perfect solution for achieving flavorful dolma.

Step 6: Lay out grape leaves on a flat surface such as your cutting board. Scoop a generous tablespoon of the meat mixture (depending on the size of your leaves) onto the center bottom half closer to you.
Fold both sides inwards and start rolling like a cigar until closed tightly enough so that the stuffing does not fall out.
Repeat this process until you have no more ingredients left.

Step 7: Place stuffed vine leaves seam side down in layers in circular fashion in the pot starting from the edge towards the center. Stack them nice and tight so they don’t move around while boiling.
Pour some extra broth over each layer before adding another.

Heat it up!

Step 8: Bring water to boiling over high heat then cover pot with lid and reduce heat to low-medium heat setting.

Step 9: Simmer, covered for at least an hour or more depending on how tightly packed your dolmas are. Check frequently; Do not let it boil dry – add extra broth as needed.

Serve and Enjoy

Step 10: When ready to serve, take an inverted plate and lay it upside down on top of your dolma firmly, then flip your pot over onto the plate which should be large enough to hold in all your stuffed vegetables without falling apart too much.
Serve hot! And enjoy this traditional Middle Eastern dish.

Substitutions and Variations

 A medley of flavors in every bite - that's what you get with dolmas.
A medley of flavors in every bite – that’s what you get with dolmas.

The beauty of cooking is that you can always play around with the ingredients and customize them according to your taste. Here are some substitutions and variations that you can try for this dolma recipe:

– Meat: If beef or lamb are not your preferred meats, you can substitute them with ground chicken or turkey. Vegetarians can substitute meat with cooked lentils and black beans.

– Rice: This recipe calls for basmati rice, but any long-grain uncooked rice will work just fine. You can also try white rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, or even quinoa.

– Vegetables: The stuffing for this dolma requires onion and garlic. But feel free to experiment by adding other vegetables such as bell peppers, zucchini, eggplants, or even mushrooms.

– Spices: The combination of spices in this recipe gives it an Iraqi-style taste. However, if you prefer a milder flavor or a different spice combination, feel free to adjust the amount of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, coriander, cumin or paprika according to your preference.

– Grape leaves: Traditionally, stuffed grape leaves are made using freshly picked grape leaves. However, if you don’t have access to fresh ones, you can use jarred grape leaves which are readily available in most stores.

Try different variations to cater to your taste buds and create unique versions of this flavorful dish!

Serving and Pairing

 These stuffed grape leaves are perfect for an appetizer or a light meal.
These stuffed grape leaves are perfect for an appetizer or a light meal.

When it comes to serving and pairing Dolma, the options are endless. The stuffed vine leaves packed with flavors pair perfectly with a variety of sides that can elevate the overall taste of this Middle Eastern delicacy.

For a traditional Iraqi-style meal, serve the Dolma with rice pilaf. Basmati rice works best since it’s fragrant and light, but any long-grain uncooked rice will do. This savory and filling combination is sure to satisfy any palate.

If you’re feeling adventurous, try pairing Dolma with some Greek food favorites such as tzatziki or hummus. The creamy texture and tangy flavors of these dips complement the spices and meaty taste of the Dolma quite well.

Another great idea is to pair them with a lamb chop or other lamb-based dishes to create a delicious flavor combination. You could also serve these stuffed grape leaves along with other vegetarian stuffed vegetables for those who are looking for a meat-free option.

In Egyptian food culture, Mahshi recipe is prepared by stuffing peppers or vegetables with a mixture of cooked rice, ground meat, herbs, and spices – much like the Dolma recipe. These two dishes from Middle Eastern cuisine would make a great pairing when served together.

No matter what your preferences are, you’ll find that dolma stuffed grape leaves are versatile enough when paired with various dishes or served alone as an entree.

Make-Ahead, Storing and Reheating

 If you're looking for something different to try, give these Iraqi-style dolmas a go!
If you’re looking for something different to try, give these Iraqi-style dolmas a go!

When it comes to dolma, the flavors develop and deepen as the dish sits, making it a great candidate for being made ahead of time. If you are planning on serving this dish for dinner or a special occasion, I recommend preparing it the day before and letting the dolma rest in the refrigerator overnight. This will allow the spices to infuse into the meat and rice mixture, resulting in a more flavorful overall dish.

To store leftover dolma, place them into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to four days. Dolma also freezes well, so if you have leftovers that you would like to enjoy at a later date, simply wrap each individual piece in plastic wrap or foil, then place them into a large resealable bag or container before placing them into the freezer. Frozen dolma can be reheated in the microwave or oven.

To reheat your dolma, transfer them onto a baking dish and cover with foil. Bake at 375°F until heated through (about 15-20 minutes). Alternatively, you can reheat dolma in the microwave by placing them onto a microwave-safe dish and microwaving them until they are heated all the way through (usually 1-2 minutes). Be sure not to overheat them as they can dry out quickly.

With this make-ahead and reheating guide, you can enjoy delicious dolma any time of the week whether you are craving comfort food or hosting a large family gathering.

Tips for Perfect Results

 These dolmas will take you on a culinary journey to the Middle East.
These dolmas will take you on a culinary journey to the Middle East.

Now that you’re familiar with the ingredients and the step-by-step processes of making the perfect Iraqi-style Dolma, I’m going to share some beneficial tips to help you achieve the best results:

1. Handling the grape leaves: It is important to handle the grape leaves gently when rinsing them under running water. Pay attention that there are no broken pieces or unwanted stems in the mix. Careful handling ensures soft textured dolma.

2. Softening the grape leaves: This step can be time-consuming, but it helps prep your grape leaves for stuffing so they don’t rip apart. Soak the dry leaves in hot water mixed with a bit of lemon juice for 10 minutes before using.

3. Rice preparation: For excellent results, soak the rice in cold water for 20 minutes before cooking. This technique leads to evenly cooked, fluffy rice.

4. Select high-quality meat: Use high-quality, freshly purchased beef and lamb meat that is slightly fatty for juicy dolma.

5. Do not stuff too tightly: Remember not to stuff each leaf too tightly as this will prevent them from evenly cooking and expanding while boiling.

6. Be creative with spices: Do not be afraid to be creative with spices when seasoning your dolmas. Adjust the level of spice used based on your taste preference.

7. Alternate dishes: If you plan on having your dolmas in a platter with other dishes, remember to alternate the flavors and textures between each dish. Dolmas work exceptionally well along with stuffed vegetables such as eggplant and zucchini.

8. Practice makes perfect: Lastly, perfecting dolma takes time and practice – don’t get disheartened if it doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time! Keep giving it a try until you’ve nailed your own perfect recipe.

Follow these tips and tricks above for an impressive and delightful taste of Iraqi-style Dolma that will intrigue all food enthusiasts with Middle Eastern cuisine.


As with any recipe, there may be some questions or confusion that arise. To help ensure success with this Iraqi-style dolma recipe, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions and their answers. From substitutions to reheating, this FAQ section will cover some common concerns and tips for making the most out of each step in the dolma-making process. So, take a look and let’s get started!

Is dolma Turkish or Iraqi?

The culinary delight known as dolma finds its roots in the Middle East and nearby regions, with various versions of this stuffed vegetable dish existing in Turkey, the Balkans, and Central Asia. While the term “dolma” is of Turkish origin, records from Arabic cookbooks predating the Ottoman Empire feature the dish, establishing its longstanding place in Middle Eastern cuisine.

What is Kurdish dolma?

Aprax or Dolma is a traditional dish that is popular in various regions such as Kurdistan, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. These delicious stuffed vegetables are slowly cooked with a combination of fragrant herbs, spices, and sour lemons, creating an irresistible aroma that fills the house.

What ethnicity are stuffed grape leaves?

For those who enjoy Greek cuisine, the dolmathes or stuffed vine leaves are a must-try. These delectable appetizers are typically stuffed with a mixture of minced lamb, a small amount of rice, and various flavorful ingredients such as fennel, dill, garlic, pine nuts, and currants. They can either be served hot with a delicious broth and lemon sauce known as avgolemono, or cold for a refreshing snack.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, this Iraqi-style Dolma recipe is a must-try for anyone who loves Middle Eastern cuisine or wants to try something new and delicious. Its combination of flavorful beef or lamb, aromatic spices, and tender grape leaves make it a unique and satisfying dish that will leave you wanting more. With the recipe’s extensive ingredient list, substitutions and variations are also plentiful, whether you prefer vegetarian stuffed grape leaves or a more meat-heavy version. And with the simple serving and pairing suggestions and make-ahead instructions provided, this dish is perfect for any occasion or meal. So why not give it a try? With its rich history and unique flavors, this Dolma recipe is sure to become a new favorite in your home.

Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves), Iraqi-Style

Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves), Iraqi-Style Recipe

This Middle Eastern dish is a family favorite. The blend of the spices coupled with the tartness of the lemon makes it out of this world. This recipe has been passed down in my family for many years.
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Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Iraqi
Calories 1088.6 kcal


  • 1 (16 ounce) jar grape leaves
  • 2 lbs beef or 2 lbs lamb, minced
  • 1 cup long-grain uncooked rice (basmati rice works best)
  • 3/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 4 -5 carrots
  • water


  • Soak grape leaves in water for 20 minutes. Drain.
  • Peel and slice carrots lengthwise and line bottom of pot with them. This helps keep the grape leaves from sticking to the pot.
  • Soak rice in hot water for 10 minutes and drain. In a large bowl, combine rice, beef, onion, garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and all spices.
  • Place each grape leaf shiny side down with stem end toward you on a flat surface. Cut off stem. Place 1 tbsp of rice mixture on leaf near the stem end. Roll top over once, fold ends in, and continue to roll completely (rolling away from you). Repeat with remaining leaves.
  • Arrange rolled grape leaves in pot seam side down, tightly packed. Place each layer in opposite direction of previous layer, in a criss-cross fashion. For even cooking, try to have no more than 4 layers.
  • Combine lemon juice and oil and pour over grape leaves. Top with water until approximately 1" below top layer.
  • Place large plate on top, and place a heavy weight on plate (a foil-wrapped brick works great).
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, until rice is thoroughly cooked. Allow to rest for 20-30 minutes.
  • Serve with lemon wedges or Greek yogurt. Enjoy!

Add Your Own Notes


Serving: 303gCalories: 1088.6kcalCarbohydrates: 34.3gProtein: 14.5gFat: 100.3gSaturated Fat: 35.1gCholesterol: 112.4mgSodium: 2416.5mgFiber: 2.4gSugar: 4g
Keyword < 4 Hours, Asian, Egg-free, European, Free Of..., Greek, Iraqi, Lactose-free, Lamb/Sheep, Lebanese, Long-Grain Rice, Meat, Middle Eastern, One-Dish Meal, Rice, Stove Top, Weeknight
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