Authentic Caucasian dolma with local flair (RECIPE)

This is an amazing dish that combines lamb with delicate grape leaves.

This is an amazing dish that combines lamb with delicate grape leaves.

Legion Media
This is the best option if you want to cook something healthy and light with grape leaves and minced meat.

No one can prove definitively where “dolma” came from, whether its birthplace was Turkey, Armenia, Tadzhikistan, or Azerbaijan. The origin of the word is also blurred. But one thing is for sure - it was created during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Nowadays, it is considered the hallmark of many cuisines, especially Caucasian.

The most common dolma is made with classic grape leaves, but some cook dolma with the addition of fig and apple-quince leaves; others with cabbage leaves, and a small fraction of people cook it with bell peppers. As dolma is widely known in the Caucasus region and beyond, there are hundreds of original ways to cook it. 

A first-time visitor might be excused for assuming that dolma might be cooked with pork or chicken. In the Caucasus, where there’s meat - there’s bound to be lamb, in some cases - beef; but definitely not pork since Muslims don’t eat pork. 

For your dolma to be a success, the lamb has to be of the highest quality and it takes a connoisseur (read ‘a man’) to choose the best piece of meat. Occasionally lamb can be combined or even replaced with beef; in that case, the filling becomes softer. 

As for the cover, quite often dolma leaves are salted, pickled, or frozen during the winter. But today we’ll prepare dolma from purchased pickled grape leaves and the dish will turn out to be exquisitely tasty, with a slight shadow of sourness. 

To our dolma, which are cooked everywhere in Dagestan, we will add a lot of fresh herbs. Together with matsoni sauce, it will taste like heaven. 


  • Grape leaves - about 50 pcs, or 1 can of 500 ml
  • Minced lamb or beef - 700 g
  • Onions - 2 pcs
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, green onions, dill) - 30 gr
  • Rice - half a glass
  • Garlic - 1 clove
  • Spices (nutmeg, caraway, pepper) 
  • High fat sour cream - 200 grams
  • Tomato paste - 3 tbsps
  • Vegetable oil - 1 tbsp 
  • Matsoni - 1 can or 300 ml
  • Vegetable or meat broth, or just water - about 500 ml


1. Prepare the leaves - I use pickled ones which tend to be acidic; they need to be taken out of the jar, divided, put in a deep bowl, and filled with water. After 30 minutes, change the water to lessen the acidity.

2. At this time, rinse the rice, pour water into the saucepan, and add the rice. Boil until half cooked. 

3. Peel and chop a large onion and fry in vegetable oil. Cool the onion and rice. 

4. Finely chop the fresh herbs. 

5. In an appropriate and deep bowl, combine the minced beef or lamb, onion, rice, and chopped herbs. Season with salt and pepper; add other spices  to your taste, mix the minced meat well until it’s smooth and homogeneous.

6. Throw the pickled grape leaves in a colander to drain the excess water. Place a leaf on a comfortable surface with the glossy side down. Put some minced meat on the leaf.

7. First, wrap the top edges of the grape leaf. Then wrap the minced meat with the side edges of the leaf. Next, wrap the minced meat, twisting the grape leaf in the form of a cabbage roll.

8. Do the same with the remaining grape leaves and minced meat. Line the bottom of a large saucepan with several defective grape leaves, put dolma on them. From this amount of ingredients, I got 35 medium-sized pieces.

9. Make a sauce that’s boiling - Mix the remaining tomato paste with vegetable or meat broth, or just water. Pour the mass over the dolma in a saucepan. 

10. Cover the dolma with a saucer, pour water so that it covers the dolma well, but not too much. Cook on low heat for an hour and 10 minutes. While cooking, you might want to salt the water in which the dolma is boiled. Turn off the heat and let the ready-made dolma brew for about 10 minutes. Half of the broth will be absorbed, making the dolma even tastier.

11. Prepare dolma sauce from matsoni with garlic, salt, pepper, lots of herbs, and then serve.

12. Our dolma with pickled grape leaves is ready. Enjoy it! 

READ MORE: Caucasian secrets of longevity: What to eat if you want to live to 100!

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