Need a fun appetizer for your next get-together? This’ll wow your guests.
Dolmades are a classic appetizer in Greece, served piping hot in gigantic piles for guests to grab. Here in the U.S., they can be a little ho-hum. They’re often packed tightly in little deli containers and taste overwhelmingly of mint. I took these in a different direction, adding lots of fresh flavors while keeping the basic recipe somewhat intact.
First on the list is farro! Farro is nutty, a little chewy (in a good way), and adds some great texture and flavor to these little two-bite appetizers. It’s an ancient grain that’s common in Italy, and was used as currency. So the likelihood of it ending up in Greece was probably pretty good! Then I added ground beef, though ground lamb would be fantastic if you can find it. Fresh oregano, fresh parsley, and roasted garlic amp up the flavor even more, and a pinch of cinnamon keeps it interesting.
The combination makes a fabulous, meatloaf-like mixture that we’re going to stuff into grape leaves. Now if I were in Greece or California, I might be able to go pluck some grape leaves off a tree and be done. But here in the Midwest, I headed to the ethnic aisle of my local grocery store and found them along with a small assortment of Greek food. They’re packed in a vinegar-y brine so it’s important to give them a quick rinse before you do anything with them. Some may also have some stems attached, so just give those a quick trim before you do anything with them.
Now onto the wrapping! If you’ve ever wrapped a burrito, you’ll be a pro. You pat the beef and farro mixture into a little cigar shape on the leaf and start rolling, tucking in the ends of the leaf as you go. This is a great time to grab your spouse, a friend, the kids, or a guest at your party to make this process fast and fun.
Then tuck the dolmades into a saucepan lined with extra grape leaves. The extras will prevent the dolmades from burning on the bottom of the pan. As you’re tucking the dolmades into the pan, leave a very small amount of room for them to expand. Then you place more grape leaves on top, which prevents the dolmades from floating to the top. That’s what they do in Greece anyway so we’re rolling with it. After about 45 minutes of simmering, you just made dolmades!
How could you make these your own? The options are many! You could substitute ground lamb or ground pork for the beef. You could add a tablespoon of chopped fresh mint to the mixture. Bob’s Red Mill bulgur would be a fantastic substitute for the farro. Some lemon zest in the mixture would be nice, too! You could also choose to make these vegetarian and leave out the beef. Since the beef is a binding agent to keep the mixture together, I’d add an egg to keep everything together if you skip it.
Now the dolmades are delicious on their own. But don’t miss the whipped feta. It takes them over the top! I combined feta with cream cheese and whipped it like crazy in a stand mixer. The end result is super thick and creamy, tangy, salty, basically everything that makes a delicious dip. A little lemon zest brightens it up and a topping of olives adds a pop of color and Greek flavor. A drizzle of olive oil at the end is nice, too. The whipped feta pairs so perfectly with the savory dolmades that you won’t be able to stop eating them. Trust me on this one—I know from experience!
I can’t recommend these enough for your next get-together. In the summertime you could serve these as a main dish with pita, olives, and a big Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion dressed simply with olive oil and a little white wine vinegar. For a heartier meal, make the salad and then add Mediterranean Grilled Rack of Lamb Lollipops as another appetizer or main dish. They’re super simple to make and make good use of the grill since it’s summertime after all!
- 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill farro
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 1 (16 oz) jar grape leaves
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 4 garlic cloves (roasted or fresh), minced
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 8 oz feta, at room temperature
- 4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- Zest of 1 lemon
- ⅓ cup Greek olives, finely chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Season the water with salt and add the farro. Bring back to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Drain and let cool.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the onion until translucent, about 8–10 minutes.
- Bring another saucepan of water to a boil. Drain the grape leaves, unroll, and rinse. Add grape leaves to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse the grape leaves with cool water.
- Combine the cooked farro, cooked onion, ground beef, oregano, parsley, garlic, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Toss gently with your hands to combine.
- Sort the grape leaves, setting aside the torn leaves or very small leaves. Take 6–8 of the usable leaves and lay them on a work surface. Place 1 tablespoon of filling onto each leaf toward the stem end. Arrange the filling into a long cylinder shape and roll each leaf like a burrito, folding the stem end over the filling and rolling, tucking in the sides as you roll. Wrap firmly but not too tightly, as mixture may expand slightly when cooking. Repeat until the filling is gone.
- Place half of the remaining torn/small leaves in the bottom of a saucepan. Stack the dolmades next to each other in the pan, making 2–3 layers if necessary. Add 2 cups water and the juice of 1 lemon. Place the other half of the remaining grape leaves on top and cover. Bring the water to a simmer and cook for 40–50 minutes, or until the ground beef is cooked through. Carefully remove the dolmades with tongs and set aside to cool slightly.
- Combine feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip until mixture is light and fluffy, about 5–8 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest. Top with the olives and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with the dolmades.