VEGETARIAN DOLMA: Satisfies The Craving When My Armenian Roots Call!

Holidays in my house were always spent with my Armenian father’s side of the family. As it so often is with immigrant gatherings, food played a major role. The main meal was served in the early afternoon. Then came the clean-up, followed by a second round of the main meal. Armenians love to eat!

Dolma (stuffed grape leaves) was a favorite and always plentiful. My grandmother’s recipe was the absolute best! (My Lebanese friend, Deborah, claims her grandmother’s is the best…but we’ll have to agree to disagree.)

Of course, once I became a vegetarian, my grandmother’s beef and lamb filled dolmas became a happy memory, testing my willpower at holiday dinners. Oh, yes, I made many attempts at a vegetarian version, but they never came close.

Finally, food technology caught up. Imitation meats were getting better and better. When Impossible Burger became available at my local market, I decided to substitute it in for the beef and lamb (there doesn’t seem to be any imitation lamb yet). I added in a few shiitake mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce for the umani flavor, plus some flour to bind the filling logs so they don’t fall apart. After much tweaking of my recipe, I’m now prepared to serve them to my dolma-loving brother.

Note: I’m recommending Impossible Burger brand for this recipe. (No, they’re not paying me!) This product forms a firmer log so it mimics the filling made with beef and lamb.

Note: While you can grow and brine your own grape leaves, it’s much easier to buy them. Most supermarkets carry them, but you have to search. They’re usually in with the olives, and packaged in glass jars. You may not have much choice in brands. Be aware that they can be very difficult to remove from the jar – quite often I end up tearing a third of them, which makes them unusable. A brand with a wide mouth is best. To remove the leaves, you have to grasp a roll, then gently pull up while twisting. It’s very maddening.

Queen of Freeze note: Unused leaves can be stacked, rolled, and frozen for future use.

VEGETARIAN DOLMA – makes about 26-31, depending on leaf size

  • 340g / 12 oz / 3/4 lb Impossible Burger
  • 3 T parsley, chopped
  • 62 g / 2 oz shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 50 g / 1/3 cup / 1.75 oz uncooked Chinese-style rice (or any white rice)
  • 100 g / 3.5 oz onions, chopped
  • 286 g / 10 oz canned tomatoes plus their juice
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 T vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
  • 30 g / 4 T all-purpose flour
  • at least 40 grape leaves (you won’t use them all, but it’s good to have extra)

To get 286 g (10 oz) of the canned tomatoes plus juice, you’re going to have to buy a larger can and weigh out the amount. (Using the entire 15 oz can is too much for this recipe.) Pour the juice into a 4qt (4 litre) or larger cooking pot. Remove and discard the stem area of the tomatoes, and any skin or defects. Chop into small pieces.

Thoroughly wash mushrooms, discarding the stem (it’s too woody). Chop cap into 1cm (3/8″) sized pieces.

Into a large bowl, put the tomatoes, Impossible Burger, parsley, mushrooms, rice, onions, pepper, salt, and Worcestershire sauce. (You’ll add the flour later.)

Stir mixture to blend.

Before adding in the flour, prepare the grape leaves. Depending on the brand, it can be very tricky to remove them from the jar without tearing many. Torn leaves are pretty useless. So, do your best. You’ll need between 20-40 intact leaves. (The number is dependent on the size of the leaves and how generous you are with the filling.)

After removing the grape leaves from the jar, unroll them and cut off the stems to the nub. Some people rinse off the brine, but I don’t – I like the salty flavor.

Depending on how much room you have, lay out several leaves, vein-side up, to work in an assembly-line manner.

Add the flour to the filling and mix in. (I like to wait until the last minute to add in the flour.) Spoon out some filling and form a tight log. The amount will depend on the size of the leaf. If you over-stuff, the roll will come apart in the cooking – you need plenty of leaf to fold and roll as you can see from the photo below.

Wrap one of the lower flaps around the filling, tucking in the flap. (Don’t wrap too tightly – the rice will expand with cooking and you don’t want them to burst.)

Wrap the other lower flap around filling as before.

Wrap one of the side flaps toward the center (this seals in the side of the filling).

Fold in the other side flap.

Finally, roll up the dolma starting at the filling end. (Again, don’t roll too tightly.)

Place rolled dolmas in the pot with the tomato juice.

Line them up as you go, creating a second layer, as needed.

Once all the dolmas are wrapped and placed in the pot, cover with water. Place an upturned plate on top to weigh down the dolmas – otherwise, they’ll float.

Bring to a boil, cover pot, and reduce heat to just maintain a simmer. Cook 1 hour. Remove plate and let dolma cool about 15 minutes or more before serving. In my family we eat them plain. You might prefer a dipping sauce, such as tzatziki.

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