Editor’s Note: In our upcoming fall travel issue, The New Persian Kitchen author Louisa Shafia wrote about her first-ever trip to Iran to visit her father’s family, where she helped her them make these Iranian-style dolmeh, or stuffed grape leaves.
Parvaneh’s Stuffed Grape Leaves, or Dolmeh
Makes about 50 stuffed grape leaves
I learned this recipe from my cousin Parvaneh on one of my first days in Iran. It was May, when young, tender grape leaves are in season, and we bought them fresh at the bazaar. I watched her make the filling and then I got to help assemble them. In Iran, dolmeh are folded into squares, as opposed to Greek and Arabic stuffed grape leaves, which are rolled. The recipe calls for tiny, tart barberries, a Persian staple. If you can’t find them use dried, unsweetened cranberries instead. The dolmeh can be made up to two days ahead, and eaten hot or cold.
1 16-ounce jar of grape leaves, or 1 pound fresh grape leaves
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 large onion, diced
1 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup barberries, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes and drained
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh or 2 tablespoons dried tarragon
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted
1 cup tightly packed chopped parsley leaves
1 cup tightly packed chopped cilantro leaves
2 cups cooked rice, cooled
1 hard-boiled egg, grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. If using jarred grape leaves, strain out the vinegar solution in which they’re stored. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a few tablespoons of salt. Turn off the heat and soak the grape leaves in the water for 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water, and pat dry.
2. To make the cooking sauce, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, and salt until the sugar is dissolved, and set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until brown. Add all of the other filling ingredients except the rice and egg, and cook over low heat until the meat is cooked through and the mixture is fragrant, about 10 minutes. Fold in the rice and egg, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to cool to room temperature.
4. To fill the grape leaves, place a leaf on a cutting board with the shiny side down. Place a tablespoon of filling in the middle. Fold the bottom of the leaf over the filling to cover, then tightly fold in the sides. Fold into a square as tightly as possible, and place the square on a baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining filling. As you work, set aside torn leaves and save them for the next step.
5. When the leaves are stuffed, line the bottom of a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with the remaining leaves and the torn leaves that were set aside. Tightly pack the stuffed leaves into one layer along the bottom, then start a new layer and pack it tightly, until all of the leaves are packed into the pot.
6. Pour in 1/4 cup water. Drizzle the cooking sauce over the leaves, then place a dessert plate on top. Cover with a lid. Simmer gently for about an hour, until the leaves are fully cooked. When ready, the dolmeh should be tender and easy to bite into.
7. Serve warm or cold.
Photo credit: Lauren Volo