Dolma, stuffed grape leaves, or yabra? Whichever title you give them, these rolled grape leaves stuffed with spiced meat and rice, drenched in a lemony broth take some work, but they are worth every minute of effort!
Yabra, as we call it in Syria, is one of the most famous and highly regarded dishes. It is known to be served at dinner parties and special occasions because it’s incredibly delicious and loved by all. A common point about making yabra, is whether it is being made for a formal dinner, or simply at home for the family. If you are wrapping yabra for guests, each piece must be very small, thin and bite sized. It is totally improper to have them be finger long and thick in form. However, as my dad always says, spare me the little bite sized pieces! I want my yabra wrapped the size of my finger! And I’m not going to lie, I like it that way too;-)
A little history…
So I went to our good friend Tony Tahhan, who is an amazing food anthropologist and has an incredible blog, and asked him for a little tidbit of history on this classic dish. He said, “the practice of stuffing grape leaves predates the Ottoman Empire. Scholars don’t know exactly where this dish originated, but if you ask me, I can imagine a Teta hundreds of years ago deciding to pluck grape leaves so they don’t go to waste and die during the winter months. A lot of countries use the word “dolma,” which comes from the Turkish word “dolmak,” meaning to fill. Syrians tend to use the word “yabraq/يبرق” (the “qaf/ق” at the end is not pronounced in the shami dialect). This word comes from the Turkish word, “yaprak,” which means “leaf.” This dish has evolved over hundreds of years leading to regional variances across Greece, Turkey, and the entire Middle East.”
I know yabra looks intimidating, but it actually isn’t very hard. The recipe has few ingredients, and once you practice the wrap/roll, you will agree it’s not so bad. The main issue, is that it’s very time consuming! Particularly if you’re going to make the dinner party style yabra. It will require you to cut large leaves in half and then roll each one into uniform sized pieces. Below you will see a step-by-step of the process. If you have any other questions, shoot us a comment!
Also, important to note that there are obviously endless variations of this recipe. Some people like more meat less rice, others the reverse. Some like to add garlic (me!!), some don’t. Some like to add 7 spice blend or a spice called osfour, some don’t. But this is a great basic recipe to get you on your way. This is my favorite dish on the planet and I hope you’ll love it as much as we do!
How to Trim the Stem.
How to Wrap and Roll.
How to Wrap & Roll Bite Sized Dinner Party Style.
These rolled grape leaves stuffed with spiced meat and rice, drenched in a lemony broth take some work, but they are worth every minute of effort!
- 1 jar grape leaves about 60 leaves
- 2 cups short grain white rice
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 lb. 80% ground beef
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper (or 7 spice blend)
- 1 1/2 cups lemon juice (fresh)
- 5 cups water
- 1 teaspoons salt (to taste)
- 10 cloves garlic, pressed (or whole or a combo)
- 1 lb. fatty meat on the bone
- 2 cups plain yogurt (for serving)
- 1/4 cup olive oil (only if you decide not to include the fatty meat on the bone)
Open the jar and drain. The leaves will be folded in 2 bunches. Carefully pull one bunch out at a time so as not to rip the leaves. Unfold leaves, rinse, and lay out flat on a plate for use.
- In a medium bowl, add rice, cover with water and soak for 15 min or until rice begins to turn opaque white.
Drain water, leaving a little bit left (to make it easier to mix the meat and work with). Add meat to rice.
- Add salt & pepper. Mix well until rice and meat are evenly distributed.
Take each leaf and cut off the stem with a knife or scissor so that it is flat. Save leaves that rip or are odd shaped for later.
Place each leaf vein side up, smooth side facing your counter, with the point of the leaf facing away from you.
Take a small amount of rice mixture and place it centered on the leaf about 1/2" from the edge and mold it into a log shape.
Gripping the bottom edge of the leaf, closest to you, roll the leaf over the rice mixture. Hold the leaf in place, as you fold in the left side and then the right side. Then begin to roll the leaf all the way to the end until it is completely sealed. (If edges poke out, tuck them in as you roll). Repeat with remaining leaves.
Use saved leaves to line the bottom of a large pot. Add meat on the bone first, then position grape leaves on top in a circular, layered pattern.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add lemon juice, water, 1 teaspoon salt and pressed garlic and simmer for 1-3 min, just until flavors have a chance to melt together. Add to pot with grape leaves enough to cover. If there is extra, reserve remaining broth.
Place a large plate upside down over the top of the grape leaves, add a weight or jar on top of the plate to press them down firmly.
Bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat as low as possible and allow to simmer for about 45-60 min. making sure the broth stays sufficient. If broth gets low, add remaining broth.
When pricking a grape leaf at the top of the pot is tender, they are finished. Holding the plate carefully in place, drain the broth into a container to save. Place a plate larger than your pot over the pot and flip in one swift motion.
Remove the leaves that lined your pot. Serve with yogurt on the side.
If you do not add meat as the first top layer, adding olive oil will help make the dish moist since you will not have the fat from the meat melting throughout. If you do not like things very sour, reduce the lemon juice by 1/2 cup. If you do like things quite sour, add 1/2 cup.
Also, adding some whole cloves of garlic is delicious. 7 spice is delicious instead of plain pepper. Some people add osfour to give it a slight flavor and hint of yellow coloring.