Rice Dolma (Stuffed Cabbage and Vegetables)


In case you were wondering, this is my all-time favorite Armenian dish! Rice dolma is what I would describe as "the food of the gods!" It's heavenly.  If you haven't tried it, then you are missing out on the most amazing palatable experience of your life!
This is the rice dolma recipe that I grew up eating, seasoned with garlic, allspice, mint and lemon juice. The recipe was passed down to me from my mom, who learned it from her mom, who learned it from her mom and so on! 
Earlier this year, my cousin Chrissie Tsaturyan shared her husband's family recipe with The Stuffed Grape Leaf, which is Cabbage Dolma Seasoned With Fresh Herbs instead of allspice and mint. Hope you'll check this one out too!

What ingredients do I need to make Rice Dolma (Stuffed Cabbage and Vegetables)?

  • Ground lamb or beef: Just use meat that isn't too lean for the best flavor. I recommend about 85% lean.

  • Calrose rice: We always use this particular type of medium-grain white rice that is grown in California (hence it's name). It is mild and soaks up all the flavor of this incredible dish. It is somewhat soft and sticky.

  • Diced/crushed tomatoes (28 oz.): You can also crush your own whole San Marzano tomatoes, which are a great-tasting variety.

  • Tomato paste: A thick concentrated paste of tomatoes made by cooking tomatoes for several hours, straining out water, skins and seeds and then simmering again.

  • Seasonings: Salt, pepper, sugar (to negate some of the tomato acidity), and allspice (a hallmark Armenian flavoring).

  • Green pepper: Finely chopped mild bell pepper adds some additional flavor without overpowering the recipe. You could leave this out if you prefer, since you'll get some of the same flavor from the bell peppers that you stuff.

  • Simmering juice: Approximately 70% water, 25% lemon juice, 5% tomato sauce, plus a little salt and sugar. (How much you need depends on size of pot.)

  • Mashed garlic, dried mint and salt: This "magic" flavor combination gives rice dolma its distinctive taste from bulgur dolma.

  • Green cabbage: Simmered until leaves are tender and pliable, but not mushy. When green cabbage is cooked, the flavor becomes sweeter and more mild.

  • Grape leaves: Orlando California Grape Leaves is one of our favorite brands of grape leaves. These are used for lining the bottom of the pot if you aren't using pieces of lamb.  Also, you can make a whole batch of sarma with grape leaves, using the method here.


How do I make Rice Dolma (Stuffed Cabbage and Vegetables)?

Prepare vegetables: Wash green cabbage and other vegetables such as zucchini, yellow squash, Japanese eggplant, bell peppers, small yellow chili peppers and tomatoes. 

You'll want to cut the core out of the bottom of the cabbage and remove any tough, discolored outer leaves.

For the other vegetables, you'll need to hollow them out and remove the pulp with a tool like this one. It may be helpful to rinse vegetables again to remove residual seeds and pulp and then drain by turning upside down on a towel.

Prepare meat mixture: With hands, combine and mix together the ground meat, rice, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, allspice, sugar and green bell pepper, if desired.

Optional: Boil lamb necks/shoulders until cooked fairly well. Rinse meat and pat dry. Use the lamb pieces to line the bottom of the pot, add some additional flavor and to eat. Alternatively, you can line the bottom of the pot with grape leaves. This is the method that I typically do.

Stuff cabbage leaves. Place a single cabbage leaf on a plate or cutting board. Cut a  narrow triangular piece out of the bottom where the tough core is. Put a couple of tablespoons of filling centered at the bottom of the leaf. (The exact amount of filling depends on the size of your leaf.)

Rice dolma

Spread filling into a line, about half an inch from the sides of the cabbage leaf. Then carefully roll up and bring the sides in before you roll all the way to the top.  Because cabbage leaves all vary in size and shape, you can't expect perfection, here.  Just do your best and have fun.  I typically trim around the outside of each leaf if it is too thick and curly.

If you are doing vegetables, then stuff those next with raw meat filling.  Leave about a half an inch of space at the top of each vegetable to leave room for the rice to expand during cooking.

Once everything is stuffed, get the pots ready for cooking. 

Line the pots with lamb pieces (and/or grape leaves). If you just have enough food to fill one pot, put the bell peppers in the pot first. Then continue loading the vegetables from heartiest to most delicate. You'll put the cabbage on the top, but you'll need to make sure it's packed in tightly enough to not float around.  

Our family always placed an oven-safe plate over the top to keep the vegetables stable, and then placed a mason jar filled with water on top of that to weight it down.  If you choose to do this method, please do so at your own risk! Just because it always has worked for us, doesn't mean I'm not a little hesitant to recommend it, since it looks a bit precarious! 

To get a snugger fit, you might want to load the cabbage sarma into a separate pot from your other vegetables. You'll also want to line this put with grape leaves too.  

In a mortar and pestle, you'll mash up some garlic with dried mint and a sprinkle of salt. Set this aside.

Finally, prepare the simmering juice (to cook dolma and sarma in). Combine water, lemon juice, tomato sauce, sugar and salt to taste. You'll want to make enough simmering juice to fill the entire pot and cover all the vegetables.

Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature.  Add the mint and garlic mixture. Simmer for 30 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. Cooking time may vary depending on the amount made and size of the pot.

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  • Sosi Setian on

    No onions in the meat?

  • Jackie Jenkins on

    So delicious!! One of my favorites!!

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