What comes to mind when you think of Greek food? I’m guessing gyros. Those delicious pitas stuffed with lamb and beef roasted to perfection, freshly shaved off the spit. Then topped with red onion, tomatoes, lettuce, and a generous slather of tzatziki. You’ll even find a few french fries in gyros on the streets of Greece. Undoubtedly, gyros are quintessentially Greek. However, if you have yet to explore Greek food beyond gyros, then you are missing out my friend. Greeks love to eat and as one would expect from such a hedonistic culture as ours, we have a TON of tasty dishes. Greek dolmades are one of my all-time favorites and it just so happens that they make an exceptional wine pairing for aromatic white wines.
Dolmades & The Greek Kitchen
Greek cuisine embodies the Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, grains, lots of olive oil, fish and some red meat. Greek recipes use a lot of fresh ingredients, resulting in dishes packed with flavor. Fresh herbs like dill, parsley, and oregano, along with olive oil and lots of lemon juice are mainstays in the Greek kitchen.
Greek dolmades are basically grape leaves stuffed with rice, dill, parsley, and scallions. Dolmades are one of my favorite Greek dishes because they are loaded with fresh flavors. The rice and aromatic mixture is first marinated in olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Once the grape leaves are stuffed and rolled, they are slowly simmered until the rice is cooked, the dolmades are tender, and your kitchen is fragrant. Dolmades are super simple to prepare, yet they pack a ton of Greek flavor.
Dolmades are part of a Greek culinary tradition called meze. Literally translated to taste or bite, meze are a plethora of savory small plates served alongside drinks. Greek meze can include dolmades, calamari, octopus salad, chickpeas in tomato sauce, Greek salad, navy bean salad, grilled vegetables, homemade Greek sausages, olives, grilled and marinated red peppers, saganaki, and so much more. We also have a whole range of dips and spreads to go with our pita bread, such as tzatziki, taramosalata, hummus, tirokafteri (a spicy feta dip), and the list goes on. The Spanish have tapas, the Italians have aperitivo, and the Greeks have meze.
The Wine Pairing for Greek Dolmades
When eating a traditional Greek meze plate, you must have the perfect wine pairing to sip, too. Recently, I featured Greek wines on my rare varieties series, which actually inspired me to make dolmades. I discovered that Malagousia, a highly aromatic white Greek variety with great structure and moderate acidity, is a particularly good wine pairing for the dish. Dolmades have very aromatic flavors from the fresh herbs and green onions in the filling, along with the green taste of the grape leaves. So, dry, aromatic, unoaked white wines pair well with dolmades. You’ll want a fresher style of white wine to match the fresh flavors of the dish. Falanghina, Garganega, Albariño, Vermentino, and Sauvignon Blanc are also ideal wine pairings for dolmades.
If you prefer red wine and prescribe by the ‘what grows together goes together’ wine pairing philosophy, then an Agiorgitiko is a great Greek option. Agiorgitiko offers subtle spice flavors to complement the aromatics of the dolmades. The wine’s medium body and delicate, supple tannins will not overpower the flavors of the dish. Additionally, any light to medium bodied red wine with light tannin and fruit forward, earthy, or spice aromas will work. For instance, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, and Frappato each provide an exceptional pairing opportunity. A rosato of Nerello Mascalese is also a top match for dolmades.
Where to Find Grape Leaves
Finding grape leaves may prove challenging, depending on where you live. Search for a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean specialty store nearby, as these markets typically have grape leaves. If you can’t find them in store, then you can always order them on Amazon. The grape leaves will come brined in a jar. You’ll need to boil some water in a pot and soak the leaves in the hot water for a few minutes. This will make them more tender and appetizing. Once you remove them from the water, rinse them well to eliminate any leftover salty, briny flavor.
If you happen to live in wine country or near a vineyard, then you can prepare fresh grape leaves off the vine. Late spring is the best time to harvest grape leaves for preserving. Check out this guide to learn how it’s done.
The Dolmades Recipe
Here is a traditional recipe I often use to make dolmades. Once you get the hang of making these, you can opt to add in pine nuts, raisins, leeks, or whatever your heart desires. If you choose to add in ingredients like leeks, white, yellow, or red onion, you’ll need to sauté them first before adding to the rice mixture.
Again, dolmades are simple to prepare. When dishes are simple, it’s all the more important to use high quality ingredients. Buy the freshest herbs that you can get your hands on. Better yet, cut them from your own garden.
If you have the time, prepare the rice mixture a couple hours before you are ready to make the dolmades. Giving the rice, herbs, and other ingredients time to set helps the filling stick together when you are stuffing the grape leaves.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do. Let me know in the comments below if you like dolmades and what wine you would choose to pair with them. Cheers!
Greek dolmades are traditional Greek meze that are loaded with flavor and easy to prepare. These dolmades are grape leaves stuffed with rice, dill, parsley, and scallions. This recipe is vegetarian and vegan.
- 1 16 oz jar of grape leaves in brine
- 2 cups short or long grain rice
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
- 2 bunches dill, finely chopped
- 1/2 bunch curly parsley
- extra virgin olive oil
Soak the rice in water for 20 minutes.
While the rice is soaking, bring some water to a boil in a small to medium sized pot. Turn the heat off and soak the grape leaves in the hot water for a few minutes. Then, thoroughly rinse the grape leaves to remove any remaining salty flavor from the brine. Pat dry and set aside any damaged leaves.
Drain the rice and combine with the finely chopped herbs, scallions, lemon juice, 2-3 tbsp olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to stand for 1-2 hours. This will make it hold together easier while you're assembling the dolmades.
To assemble the dolmades, lay the soft, undamaged leaves smooth side down on your work surface. Work with one leaf at a time and cut off any extra stem from each leaf as you work. Place a small amount of the rice filling at the bottom, stalk end of the leaf (about 1 heaping tsp or a bit more). Fold the stalk end of the leaf over the rice, so the filling is halfway covered and then roll one turn to completely cover the rice. Next, fold the sides of the leaf into the middle. Then continue rolling toward the end until fully rolled up.
Note, the dolmades should be rolled firmly, but not too tightly. The rice will expand while cooking and if rolled too tightly, the grape leaves will break.
Slice the lemons left over after juicing. Line the bottom of a large pot with lemon slices. Cover the lemon slices with any damaged grape leaves that you set aside before. Place each dolmade seam side down in the pot. First, line the circumference of the pot with dolmades, then fill in the rest of the pot. You'll want them snuggly, but not too tightly, packed in next to each other.
Pour over 3 1/4 cups of water and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Cover the dolmades with 1 or 2 plates to weigh them down while cooking. Cover the pot with a lid. Cook over medium to low heat for 30-45 minutes until all of the water has been absorbed and the rice is soft.
The dolmades can be served hot or cold. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and serve with lemon wedges. You can also serve with tzatziki or yogurt sauce.