Eat & Drink

Yaprakia (Dolmades)

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Photography by me unless otherwise attributed.

Yaprakia - the name used by my Samian grandmother for what most of the rest of Greece calls dolmathes or dolma and the rest of the English-speaking world calls stuffed grape leaves. 

 

Being so close to the coast of Turkey that a good swimmer could swim there from her island, the name yaprakia comes from the Turkish yaprak, which means "leaf". 

 

I was very fortunate in that my grandparents planted a couple of grape vines in their American garden - at the house I now live in - back in probably the 1940s. Not for the grapes, but for the leaves. They survive to this day, and each second week of June or thereabouts - preferably after a good rain but once the leaves are dry - we pick the best of them and make yaprakia.

Your μπλογισσα picking grape leaves from my garden.

(No, I'm not sure that's an actual word, but I'm goin' with it.)

There is no one definitive recipe so please understand this is just one regional variation. My other grandmother called her version the more standard dolmathes and made them with a lemony sauce, so even within my own family there were differences. There isn't any one "right" way - just your family's way. 

 

Unless you're fortunate enough to have access to a grape vine, you're likely going to use jarred grape leaves. You can find these at Greek import stores or online. 

 

If you are using fresh leaves, be sure to boil them first with a pinch of salt until they turn dark green - about 20-25 minutes on medium heat. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so on low heat to be sure they are tender. Use fresh leaves that are a little bigger than your palm . Too big and the veins make them tough; too small and they won't hold enough stuffing.

 

Rinse them in cold water when done. They will be very delicate, so let them drain in a colander or pat them dry carefully. They will still be wet when you start rolling, but you want to get the excess water off.

 

The filling-to-leaves ratio isn't an exact science. Expect to have either extra leaves or some extra filling. Use the extra leaves to cover the rolled leaves in the pot if you like.

Image from PXhere

Yaprakia (Dolmathes)

Makes 75-100 grape leaves

 

grape leaves (check the jar information for how many are in there and plan accordingly, or use 75-100 fresh leaves)

 

Stuffing:

1 1/1 lbs. ground beef (chuck is best)

3/4 cups uncooked rice

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons canned chunk-style tomatoes

1 teaspoon salt

pinch pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 tablespoons dried parsley

1 teaspoon garlic powder

3 tablespoons dry onion, or half a fresh chopped white or yellow onion

1 egg

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (optional)

 

Topping:

4-5 sliced white mushrooms

1/2 sliced green or yellow pepper

1/2 sliced sweet red pepper

1 tablespoon dry onions

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

sprinkle of dried dill

any extra grape leaves you may have

enough water to cover the yaprakia in the pot

1. In a large bowl, mix all the stuffing ingredients very well by hand. 

2. Take a grape leaf, vein side up and pointing away from you, and add a small, flattened ball of stuffing. 

Image from iStock by Getty Images

3. Fold the bottom of the leaf up once over the stuffing, then fold over both sides of the leaf. Continue rolling it up from the bottom so you have a nice little roll. They should be snug but not too tight, as the rice will expand. They will be very delicate, so use patience. Save any torn leaves for later.

4. Start placing rolled leaves against the edge of a large, deep pot. The pot should have a lid - you will need it later. 

5. Place each successive yapraki gently but snugly against the side of the one before it. It should make a neat ring around the inside of the pan. 

6. Place the next row inside the first ring, and keep going inward until the entire bottom of the pan is filled with concentric circles of stuffed grape leaves. 

7. Do the same thing in a second layer going up. Finish all the grape leaves this way, however many layers it takes for you.

8. Once you're done putting them all in the pot, spread out any extra or torn leaves you may have over them like little blankets. Add all the topping ingredients on top of it all, along with a few pinches of dried dill.

9. Fill pot with just enough water to cover everything. Add an upside-down dish over it all to weigh everything down and keep it in place and intact while boiling. 

10. Add the pot lid (keep it slightly ajar so it will vent) and cook over medium heat for 30-35 minutes or until rice is cooked. Check water periodically and add a bit if it's too low. 

11. Gently remove and plate the yaprakia. 

 

Serve with a salad and some good, crusty bread. 

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