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Iraqi dolma (vegetables stuffed with rice and meat) served in a blue patterned plate
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Iraqi Dolma (Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables)

This authentic Iraqi Dolma recipe may be a labour of love, but it is so worth it! If you ever wanted to be transported to Iraq through your taste buds, this is the recipe to try!
Course Mains
Cuisine middle eastern
Keyword Dolma, Iraqi Dolma, Stuffed Vegetables
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 3 hours 53 minutes
Servings 6 -7 portions

Ingredients

For the stuffing mixture:

  • 1.5 lbs lean ground beef
  • 4 cups medium grain rice I use Calrose
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1.5 teaspoon black pepper
  • 8 tablespoons tomato paste equivalent to 156 mL the small cans
  • cup pomegranate molasses *see notes
  • 3 small onions or 2 medium ones
  • 4 small cloves garlic
  • 2 red or orange bell peppers
  • ½ cup olive oil

For the vegetables:

  • 3 Italian eggplants medium sized eggplant - if using Indian use 6 because they're smaller
  • 2 green zucchini
  • 3-4 onions narrow in shape (avoid really round onions)
  • 4 small red peppers
  • 2 bunches of swiss chard
  • 20 - 30 grape leaves if using - you can also use more grape leaves instead of the swiss chard
  • ¼ cup oil for bottom of the pot before layering

For the cooking liquid:

  • 5 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoons black pepper
  • ¼ cup pomegranate molasses *see notes
  • 1 teaspoons citric acid *see notes

Instructions

For the stuffing mixture:

  • Start by finely dicing the onions and red peppers and mincing the garlic
  • Wash the rice well until the water runs clear and drain 
  • Mix together the all the ingredients for the stuffing: meat, rice, vegetables, garlic, tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, oil, salt and pepper. Use your hands and mix until very well combined. Set aide.

Preparing the vegetables:

  • For the eggplant: cut the eggplant into 2 pieces similar in size to the photos. Then using a sharp pairing knife (which is a knife with a short blade), place the eggplant on a cutting board sideways with your hand on top. Using your dominant hand, start coring around the inside of the eggplant, going around and around and slowly inserting the knife in deeper as you go around. Do this until you reach the other side or until you can use your fingers to scoop out the flesh. If you don't get it all out, keep using your knife to cut away the flesh. You can also insert your knife from the other side to help loosen the flesh further. Refer to recipe video for detailed method.
  • For the zucchini: start by scraping away the skin using a sharp knife, then trim the ends. Cut the zucchini into 3 pieces then core using the same method as the eggplant
  • For the pepper: carefully cut around the stem and remove it, then using your fingers, remove the inner seeds and any white parts. You can use a small knife to get in there and loosen them
  • For the onion: first peel the onion, then dig around the end where the root was and carve it out slightly (this helps separate the layers). Make a long cut lengthwise all the way to the centre - do not cut past the centre. Then microwave the onions for 1 minute to soften the layers slightly (you can also boil for a minute). Wait for it to cool, then use your fingers to carefully dislodge the layers and pop them out
  • For the swiss chard: before stuffing, wash the leaves well and then submerge in a bowl of boiling water for 3 seconds. Remove them and place them on a tray. This helps wilt the leaves and makes them more pliable for stuffing. Then, cut the thick stems off the leaves, and cut the leaf into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on the size.
  • For the grape leaves: grape leaves come in jars submerged in water (I don't recommend using the frozen ones). Generally the leaves are salted, so before using them, soak them in water for at least an hour to get rid of excess salt, then wash them a few times and drain. You can squeeze them carefully to get rid of excess water. 

Stuffing the vegetables and stacking:

  • Start by adding ¼ olive oil to the bottom of the pot, then line the bottom with the flesh of the eggplant and zucchini that you carved out
  • Then stuff the "rigid" vegetables first: eggplant, zucchini and pepper. Fill them ¾ of the way because the rice will expand during cooking. Stack the eggplant and zucchini together so they remain in place
  • Then stuff the onions and squeeze them into all the empty spots
  • Finally stuff the swiss chard and grape leaves and use them to fill in all the cervices and tightly pack everything in.
  • To roll the leaves, place a small amount in the middle of the leaf. Fold the sides over, then roll the leaf keeping a tight grip. Place in the pot seam side down 

Cooking the dolma:

  • Prepare the cooking liquid by mixing all the ingredients together well until the tomato paste has dissolved (you can use hot water to help this)
  • Pour the liquid into the pot ensuring it goes all the way up to half way through the top layer. Don't completely submerge the top layer.
  • Place a flat plate on top of the pot to keep everything in place
  • Cover the pot and bring to a boil on high heat for 15 minutes. Then, taste and adjust the seasoning of the liquid (add more salt or acid if you need to).
  • After 15 minutes, remove the plate and give the pot a jiggle to help the water travel downwards. Decrease the heat to medium and allow it to cook for another 15 minutes
  • Finally, decrease the heat to low and cook for 1 hour. Taste it after the hour and make sure all the vegetables are really soft
  • Allow the dolma to stand for 10-15 minutes, then flip it into a round metal tray with raised sides. If you don't have a round platter or tray, you can use a spoon to spoon the dolma into a platter.
  • To flip the dolma, place the tray on top of the pot, then grab each handle and flip in a swift motion. Make sure there is someone beside you to grab the tray as soon as you flip it and ease the weight off your arms.
  • Dig in and enjoy!

Notes

  • If you can't find pomegranate molasses, which is used in the stuffing mixture and the cooking liquid, you can replace it with lemon juice and a bit of sugar. Use the juice of 2 lemons and about 2 teaspoons of sugar for every ¼ cup pomegranate molasses
  • Citric acid can be found at any shop, but if you don't have it, add some lemon juice to the cooking liquid in place of it. Use the juice of 2-3lemons.
  • You can replace the swiss chard with grape leaves or vice versa if you can't find one of them
  • If you have leftover stuffing, check the blog post for how to use it to make a rice pilaf
  • If you find you need more cooking liquid as the dolma cooks, you can just use a splash of water
  • Use a wide non stick pot for best results
  • This is optional, but you can also add small lamb ribs to the bottom of the pot to add extra flavour