May’s stuffed vine leaves

May’s stuffed vine leaves

New Middle Eastern Food
8 as part of a mezze selection
Mark Roper

Ask any good Lebanese boy what his favourite home-cooked dish is, and the chances are that he will nominate his mum’s dolma — stuffed vine leaves. This is my mother’s recipe, which we both love, not just because it tastes delicious, but because of the neat way in which both the first course and meat course are prepared together in one large pot. The idea is simple: after filling the vine leaves with a traditional rice stuffing, they are placed on top of lamb chops in a large pot. During cooking, all the bubbling juices rise to impregnate the dolma. These you eat first, with plenty of creamy yoghurt, and then follow with the meat course.


Quantity Ingredient
500g hand-sized vine leaves, fresh or preserved
300g medium-grain rice
500g minced lamb
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 lamb chops from the neck
1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
750ml water
2 lemons, juiced
Mint labneh


  1. If using fresh vine leaves, blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds and refresh in cold water. If using preserved vine leaves, soak them for 10 minutes, then rinse and pat dry.
  2. Wash the rice and mix it with the minced lamb, spices, salt and pepper.
  3. Lay the vine leaves out on a work surface, vein side up, and slice out the stems. Place a spoonful of filling across the base of the leaf. Roll it over once, fold in the sides and roll it into a neat sausage shape. The stuffed vine leaves should be about the size of your little finger — don’t roll them too tightly or they will burst during cooking. Continue stuffing and rolling until the filling is all used.
  4. Lay the lamb chops on the bottom of a heavy-based casserole dish, then pack the stuffed vine leaves in tightly on top, stuffing the garlic cloves in among them. Pour in the water and lemon juice, and place a plate on top to keep the rolls submerged in the liquid. Slowly bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for an hour.
  5. The vine leaves can be eaten hot, warm or even cold. If serving them hot, carefully take them out of the pot and arrange them in a pile on a serving dish. Lay the lamb alongside to be eaten with or after the vine leaves.
  6. If you plan to eat the dish cold, cool everything completely in the casserole dish. The whole thing will solidify into a lump. When cold, run a knife around the side of the dish, then invert it, a bit like a cake, onto a serving dish and allow everyone to help themselves. Hot, cold or warm, serve the vine leaves and chops with plenty of mint labneh.
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