Lentil & Herb Stuffed Vine Leaves (Dolmas)

Dolmas epitomise everything I love about Mediterranean food. Simple peasant-style fare that is often made using left-overs from other dishes in order not to waste, but doesn’t feel, look or taste like peasant food at all.

I have always loved Dolmas, and some of my earliest vital memories of food are watching my grandmother stuff vegetables and vine leaves. “Dolma just means to stuff or stuffed” and doesn’t just refer to vine leaves (Dolmades and Dolmas are the same thing by the way). In fact, a Dolma is a family of stuffed vegetable dishes common in the Mediterranean cuisine and surrounding regions including the Balkans, the Caucasus, Russia, Central Asia and Middle East. I remember Bibi (my grandmother) stuffing tomatoes, onions, peppers, zucchini and even eggplant. The stuffing’s can be varied but generally involve rice, herbs, spices, sometimes raisins and occasionally minced meat of some kind or lentils instead, which is what we used. They can be served warm or cold – and are just as delicious either way – however slightly warm is how I like to serve them. I am sure every Mediterranean Yaya will have her own secret recipe – but I think the addition of pomegranate molasses to the cooking liquid is genius and gives the dolmas a sweet sour taste that harmonizes so well with the ingredients wrapped inside those glossy parcels of promise.

They are fairly finicky to make and time consuming, so yes, this is not a quick and easy midweek supper recipe. But they are really fun to make so set aside some time and enjoy the process – maybe even share it with your kids? My big sister came to visit and came with foodie gifts (she knows me so well) which included a packet of brined vine leaves so we decided to make them together. It has been a while since I have made Dolmas and I wish we had made double – they were just about the most delicious dolmasI have ever had and they flew out of the bowl faster than you could say “nóstimo”. (Greek for delicious) They would also make fantastic lunch box food and are super for picnics and the fact that they are plant based makes them even more appealing 🙂

If you live in the City you can find jars of brined vine leaves at The Olive Branch Deli on Kloof Street – along with most of the other ingredients you may need for these beauties – from the rice to the barberries and of course – the pomegranate molasses.


  • 8 oz grape leaves 1 jar/packet, preserved grape leaves
  • 1 cup brown or white basmati rice
  • ½ cup Chana dhal (split desi chickpea)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp soaked and cleaned Zereshk or barberries (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Handful each mint leaves , dill & flat leaf parsley leaves.
  • 4 medium spring onions
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses (Al Rabieh is my favourite)
  • 2 Cups of water (500ml)


  • Drain your vine leaves and soak in a bowl of water to get rid of too much salt.
  • Wash your basmati rice well to get rid of the starch and drain. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook the rice for 10mins and rain.
  • Boil the Chana dhal in plenty of unsalted water for about 25min until tender & drain.
  • Finely chop up all your herbs & spring onion and make sure to use the dark green ends of the spring onion also.
  • Gently fry them in the butter for about 3 to 4 mins taking care not to brown them.

  • Mix your rice, lentils, cinnamon, herbs, tomato paste and barberries together well. No need to season with salt

  • Using a board lay out your vine leaves with the glossy side down and the exposed vein side up. Chop any excessive stalk off the leaf and discard.

  • Keep 6 vine leaves to one side for when you want to layer the dolmas in the saucepan.
  • Place a tablespoon of the filling at the base of the leaf and roll the bottom of the leaf over the filling and tuck it in pressing down the filling and squeezing it very gently into a roll shape.

  • Take one side of the leaf and bring it over the centre and do the same with the other side and then roll it up neatly and gently. You don’t want it too tight as the rice still have to cook some more and will swell.


  • Place to one side and repeat using up all the filling.

  • I used an 8″ sauce pan so I could get 2 layers and still fit a small plate on top of the dolmas to keep them secure. Layer 2-3 vine leaves across the bottom of the pan and start placing your dolmas in a fan shape on the base (you can lay them however you like but this looks pretty when you turn them out). Drizzle the 2 tbsp olive oil over the first layer of dolmas. You should have enough to make 2 layers and then place the last few leaves over the top to cover the dolmas.

  • Mix the pomegranate molasses with the water and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture over the dolmas in the pot.

  • Place a small plate over the top of the dolmas to cover them and create a bit of pressure to keep them secure as they cook.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer with lid on for 20 mins
  • Once the water is absorbed leave to cook slightly – anywhere up to an hour if you still want to serve them warm.
  • Place a plate over the top of the saucepan and if tip the pan upside down to empty the dolmas on a plate or bowl. If you are not feeling skillful enough you don’t have to do this – you can just remove them one by one – however you like!