Rolling your own dolmas may be a bit time consuming but it's surprisingly easy to do, and totally worth the effort. Here we show you how to roll dolmas, step-by-step.
Dolmas on a plate
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

Before we get started, here we are making dolmadakia yialantzi, which are Greek dolma that are stuffed with a vegan filling of rice, scallions, and herbs, and always cooked in lemon juice. Other Greek dolma recipes call for a meat-and-rice filling, while of course there are Middle Eastern dolma recipes, as well. No matter what type of dolma you're making, however, the process of rolling will remain the same. Now that we've got that covered, let's get rolling!

1. Choose your leaves

Yes, jarred grape leaves packed in brine are totally acceptable when it comes to making dolma at home. But, if you're lucky enough to have access to a grapevine in the springtime—try picking your own grape leaves! Choose medium- to large-sized leaves that aren't too small, and always pick from a vine that you know hasn't been treated with pesticides.

Fresh grape leaves
Fresh Grape Leaves | Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

2. Blanch the leaves

If you're using fresh leaves, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, then blanch the fresh leaves in batches for 30 to 60 seconds. Drain well on paper towel, then immediately move on to your dolma recipe, or keep the blanched leaves in the refrigerator for up to five days till you're ready to use them.

Blanched grape leaves
Blanched Leaves | Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

3. Trim, lay flat, and add your filling

Whether you're using fresh or jarred leaves, lay a leaf flat on a cutting board, smooth-side down. Cut away any hard stem still attached to the leaf. Add your filling, usually no more than a teaspoon. Remember, rice triples in size when it cooks, so you don't want to overstuff your dolma, as the leaves will break while cooking.

Grape leaves with stuffing
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

4. Get ready to roll!

Start by rolling the top of the leaf (where the stem was) over the filling.

First roll of a dolmas
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

5. Tuck in the sides

After that first roll, fold the sides of the leaf over the filling.

Dolmas with sides folded in
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

6. Roll to the finish

Continue rolling until you reach the end of the leaf, then set aside.

Dolmas rolled up
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

7. Line your pan

Line the bottom of your pan with some grape leaves (especially any that were torn or broke during the rolling process).

Pot lined with grape leaves
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

8. Snuggle 'em close

Take your dolma and arrange them in a single layer over the bottom of the pan. 'Snug as a bug in a rug' is the idea here; you want to arrange your dolma tightly, so they don't move around while cooking. If you have more dolma than what fits in a single layer, you can continue layering on top of the first layer.

Dolmas snuggled into a pot
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

9. Cover with liquid

Add liquid to cover. In this dish, we use a combination of water, lemon juice, and olive oil.

Dolmas in pot covered with water
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

10. Top with a weight

Place a heatproof plate on top of your dolma, or another suitable weight. This is to prevent breakage and moving around while simmering.

Weight on dolmas in a pot
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

11. Cook!

Bring it all to a gentle boil over medium heat, or follow the directions in your recipe. Generally, a gentle but consistent simmer is how you'll want to cook your dolma, as a vigorous boil may break the leaves apart. Cook covered and be ready with a kettle of hot water to add more liquid to the pot if it dries out before the rice is tender.

Cooked dolmas
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

12. Serve and enjoy

Once the rice is fully cooked, your dolma are ready! In Greece, this dish of vegan dolma are typically served warm, room temperature, or cold with lots of olive oil and lemon juice.

Dolmas on a plate
Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos