Dolmas – stuffed chard leaves and yogurt sauce

This is the original post, published July 2012. Link to indexed and formatted recipe here: stuffed chard leaves

Have you eaten stuffed grape leaves? Common in Greek and Middle-Eastern cooking, they’re leaves stuffed with a rice/meat mixture, often served cool or at room temperature. This is a version using chard leaves. (If you’re wondering, that’s horiatiki salad shown with them in the picture.)

This isn’t a quick recipe, but it’s a great one to make ahead of time. If you break it down into steps, it’s not challenging at all: prepare the leaves, cook onions + rice, mix the filling, fill and roll the leaves, season the pot, add liquid and cook, make a simple yogurt sauce, and eat! Not so bad, right? Don’t let the long list of ingredients deter you from making this. (This is also a great dish to make with a group: you can break up the preparation among several people, then sit around a table and roll the filling into the chard leaves. It’s also a good project for a relaxed weekend afternoon.)

You can make a double or even triple batch of these, and then refrigerate for 5-6 days. They’re good to eat hot, warm, or room temperature; they would be a fabulous take-along dish for a party or potluck, and they are delicious. Do try them!

  • 1/2 lb ground beef (I used ground sirloin, it was on sale)
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • NOTE on the ground meat: you want about 20% fat, don’t use all ground sirloin, or the dolmas will be tough and chewy. 
  • 1 medium onion, cut into small dice
  • 4 Tbsp parsley, chopped fine
  • 1/3 c rice – a starchy one is better, don’t use Uncle Ben’s
  • butter or olive oil
  • 14-18 large chard leaves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cumin  (or if you have it, Penzey’s Turkish spice mix works well here) 
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp dried mint or about 4 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped finely
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • for the yogurt sauce:
  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • 1/3 c chopped fresh mint (or 1 1/2 Tbsp dried)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Step 1: cook onions and rice:  Heat a small pot and add some butter or oil. Cook the onions over medium heat, until they begin to turn golden. Stir occasionally, don’t let them burn! Add the rice, stir well, and then add 1 c water to the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and then lower heat, and cook about 10 minutes, until the water is fully absorbed and the rice is almost but not quite cooked. Turn it out into a large bowl to cool a bit.

Step 2: prep the chard leaves: Boil water in a large wide pot. While it’s coming up to temperature, wash the chard leaves very well.  (I start the onions at this point, step 2, just so you know) Have a large bowl of ice-water ready. Once the water boils, soften the chard leaves. Working with about 5 leaves at a time, dip them in the boiling water, leaf-tip first. Let them stand about a minute, until they soften, then remove them and immediately put in the ice water. Repeat with the rest of the chard until it’s all in the cold water. I like to have my leaves ready to use on a towel-lined tray: one by one, carefully lift a chard leaf from the water. Lay it flat on a tray. Be gentle! The leaves are much more fragile now.

Step 3: mix filling: When the rice and onions are cool enough to stick your fingers into, crumble in the uncooked ground meat. Add chopped parsley, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin or your other chosen seasonings, and mix well. Use a light hand, so that the meat + rice mixture stays as fluffy as possible.

Step 4: fill and roll the leaves: Have a wide dutch oven or deep skillet ready to put the chard rolls into. First, cut stalks from the leaves and put them crosswise along the bottom of your pot – this will keep the dolmas from sticking to the bottom! You’ll cut each stalk about half-way up the leaf, leaving you with a leaf-tip attached to 2 ‘wings’ where the stalk was cut. That’s okay. If the leaves are very large, you might get 3 pieces to roll: that tip, and each wing by itself. You’ll need a piece about 4 x 4 inches to have one big enough to roll (for the littlest ones) or you can do what I did, and use whole leaves, and make larger rolls.

For small ones: take a 4×4 piece of leaf. Put about 1 tsp of filling on the lower middle, fold in the sides, then fold up the bottom, and roll upward until it’s a compact packet. Arrange the rolls on top of the stalks in the bottom of the large wide pot, seam side down. Fill the pot from the sides toward the center. You can stack the layers, up to 4 or 5 high, as long as you have room in the pot.

For larger ones: take a leaf, tip facing away from you. Put about 2 Tbsp of filling on the leaf just where the hole from the stalk begins. Fold in the sides, and roll to make a neat bundle. Arrange the rolls on top of the stalks in the bottom of the wide pot, seam side down. Fill the pot from the sides toward the center. I used a 12″ wide Dutch oven, and I had one single layer.

If you end up with more filling than you have leaves, simply saute the filling in a little skillet, and either eat it as your cook’s treat, or save it to fill pita bread (with tomato and cucumber, a fabulous sandwich)

Step 5: season the pot: Now that the rolls are neatly in the pot, you want to make your pot seasoning. Drizzle the rolls with a very small bit of olive oil, or dot them with about 1 Tbsp butter, in small pieces. Mix a dab of tomato paste (I used 2 of the thick tomato sauce cubes I froze last August) with 2 cups water, and pour this over the leaves. Now chop 3 cloves of garlic very finely, mix them with the juice of 1 lemon and some mint.  Mix that, and pour it all over the top of the leaves. Put a heat-proof plate on top of the leaves within the pot, to make sure that they stay flat and do not float or move around.

Step 6: cook: Over medium-high heat, bring the water in the pot to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 35-40 minutes.

Step 7: mix a great sauce: Chop the mint and garlic, stick it in a bowl with the yogurt. Add lemon juice and salt to taste, and a bit of olive oil if you’d like. Fabulous on the dolmas, ordinary sauteed chard, a spoon, pita bread, or your fingers.

FINALLY! Eat and enjoy! Good hot, warm, at room temperature, or as leftovers snuck from the refrigerator one by one.


2 Responses

  1. […] for “grape leaves” in dolmas, those Turkish-ish wrapped-up rice thingys. I found this recipe which actually specifies chard, so I feel quite safe that it’s not an insane […]

  2. Dolmas or koupepia as we call them in Cyprus. Very nice dish!!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. They sound delicious. Since chard is so easy to get right now, it makes a wonderful summer recipe. I will be returning.

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