HAPPY SUMMER! I hope you are having a glorious beginning of your summer and getting some time to frolic in the forest and the water. ...

Dolmades - Wild Stuffed Grape Leaves


I hope you are having a glorious beginning of your summer and getting some time to frolic in the forest and the water. 
I love this time of year. It is always packed with fun gatherings, secret and public swimming holes, teaching, traveling, and lots of wildcrafting (foraging). It's easy to feel overwhelmed as I work to get in the harvest before each plant's season is over. 
Last week, one of my fabulous apprentices brought the most lovely picnic for us all to enjoy on my weekly Apprentice Day (thanks, Colleen!). The star of the show was the Dolmades (dolmas for short), or stuffed grape leaves, that she had made from the wild grape leaves we had harvested the week before. I was so impressed, that I decided to attempt them with a slight tweak, making them even wilder: I added wild spices. 
This recipe was super fun to make! While not very labor intensive, I have to admit it was relatively time intensive. The first time takes longer, as you're figuring out how to best roll them. I'd recommend to make this for a special occasion, when you can share it with a group of folks you love. Also, if you get those folks involved in the preparation, well you know what they say, "Many hands make light work."
Dolmades are a traditional Greek food. You can find multiple recipes online. Some add meat, though this recipe is vegetarian. Feel free to do your own research, and tweak it to your taste. Let me know what you come up with (in the comment section). 
Around here, in Appalachia, there's multiple species of wild grapes. Any species, wild or cultivated will work. If there aren't grapes around you, you can find them in jars at certain stores (check specialty or grocery stores). 
I added several wild spices, but I encourage you to be creative. If you don't have these, substitute what you do have. Herbs like mint and oregano would work well. Sumac would be great, or the spice blend za'atar, which is a middle eastern blend of sumac and several other spices. I added fresh leaves of bergamot (Mondarda fistulosa, Lamiaceae), bee balm (Monarda didyma, Lamiaceae), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum species, Lamiaceae), spicebush (Lindera benzoin, Lauraceae), and scrapings of Carolina allspice twigs (Calycanthus floridus, Calycanthaceae). You can work with dried spices if you prefer, just add half as much. 
Bee Balm


Mountain Mint

Wild Dolmade Recipe

50 medium grape leaves, the younger and more tender, the better
1 medium onion, minced
1 1/2 cups of uncooked rice of choice (I used short grain brown)
3/4 c minced wild herbs
1 tsp fresh Carolina allspice twig shavings (optional)
3-6 Tbsp lemon juice (depending on how lemony you want it to taste)
1 3/4 c broth of choice (Check out my recipe for nourishing broth)
salt and pepper
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil

Yield: about 45 dolmades
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: About 1 hour

First, a little note about the rice, I like to soak mine first, overnight if possible, by covering it with twice as much water as rice and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and letting it sit. I believe this helps the rice to be more easily digestible. Before cooking, drain water.

Pour 1/4 c of the olive oil into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute, while stirring frequently until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, stir, and saute for one minute. Add 3/4 c of the broth, stir, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. The rice will not be fully cooked at this point, and that's good. Remove from heat. 

Stir in the spices and 1/3 of the total lemon juice. (A note about the quantity of lemon juice: the more juice you use, the more lemony it will taste, and the less you'll taste the spices. I like to taste the spices, so I prefer to use about 3 Tbsp total.) Add the salt and pepper to taste. Let cool.

Bring a large, lightly salted, pot of water to boil. While you're waiting, cut the stems off the grape leaves. I found this is most easily done by gently folding the leaves in half and cutting the stems with a small, sharp knife at the base of the leaf. Add the leaves to the boiling water, submerging all the leaves, and continue boiling lightly for 3-5 minutes, or until softened to the point of being flexible. This will take longer for fresh leaves than jarred.

Drain the leaves and cover with cold water. Drain again and pat dry. Place a leaf top (shiny side) down on a plate or cutting board. Add 1 Tbsp of rice mixture in a horizontal line, right above where the stem was, the narrower it is, the easier to roll.

Fold the bottom lobes of the leaf up to be equal to where the stem was, covering the rice.  

Fold the left and right edges in over the rice.

Then, very gently roll the leaf the rest of the way up. Roll slightly loosely, so the rice has room to expand as it cooks. You might have to experiment with this a few times, to get the hang of it and the right quantity of rice for the size of leaf you have.

Line the bottom of your saucepan with extra grape leaves. These could be leaves that aren't as pretty or are on the small side. Cover the bottom of the pan with the dolmades, placing them in layers close together. This will allow them to support each other, helping to ensure they stay rolled.

Pour the rest of the olive oil, broth, and lemon juice equally over the top of the dolmades. Put the pan over medium heat, just until it starts to simmer. Immediately turn down to low. Cover with an upside down plate that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the pan. This will weigh down the dolmades, helping them to cook and stay together. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes or until the leaves are tender and the rice is fully cooked. 

Serve warm or cold. Garnish these with anything you'd like. Some possibilities could be mint leaves, wildflowers, lemon slices, or olives. Enjoy with your family and friends! And don't forget to add your comments below, and tell me what you think.

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  1. Sounds great Abby! Looking forward to trying these. Thanks

  2. Sounds great Abby! Looking forward to trying these. Thanks