These vegan dolma are made of grape-leaves stuffed with walnut-lentil mince, herbs and bulgur wheat. Azerbaijani dolma are unique in their small, bite-sized shaped, making these a lovely appetizer served with a yogurt dip.
When researching recipes to make for this week’s cuisines, we noticed many of the same dishes popping up from two different countries we were cooking from: Armenia and Azerbaijan. A quick look on the world map made sense of this: these countries are next door neighbours! It was quite handy really, as the recipes we picked from each country (lentil koftas for Armenia, vegan dolma for Azerbaijan) contained very similar ingredients. How is that for efficiency?
Azerbaijan is located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Although Azerbaijan isn’t technically in the Middle East, its cuisine would be most akin to Middle Eastern. There are also evident regional influences from Turkey and the Mediterranean in Azerbaijani food.
Many dishes in Azerbaijan tend to be meat-based, with mutton an especially prominent feature. The great news for vegetarians is that Azerbaijani cuisine is brimming with a wide variety of vegetables and greens. Fresh herbs are abundant, and are used liberally to flavour dishes. Rice and wheat are the main source of carbohydrates.
Popular Azerbaijani Recipes
- Dovga– This traditional Azeri dish is a yoghurt soup that is served warm or cold, with rice, chickpeas and herbs.
- Qutab– A savoury pancake filled with either meat, cheese or spinach and eaten with a yoghurt sauce.
- Dolma– Dolma in Azerbaijan most commonly are made of grape leaves or cabbage stuffed with fillings such as rice, herbs, and meat. However, vegetarian/vegan dolma are also very popular.
- Plov (Pilaf)- Azerbaijani pilaf is characterized by saffron-flavoured rice cooked with aromatic herbs and varying meats or vegetables.
- Pakhlava (Baklava)– This dessert may not be exclusive to Azerbaijan but it is very well-loved here. It is essentially layers of pastry stuffed with nuts or pistachios and coated with honey or syrup.
- Azerbaijani Sherbet- The most widespread drink in the country, it is a sweet, cold drink made by boiling water and infusing it with sugar and various fruits.
Vegetarian rating of Azerbaijani Cuisine
Making Vegan Dolma with Bulgur Wheat
Before we go any further, we have a confession. Neither of us have had particularly positive experiences with stuffed vine leaves. In the past, all the dolma we tried had been pretty bland. We actually chose this Azerbaijani dish to see if it were possible to make a flavourful dolma, sans meat.
The result? To be quite frank, dolma still aren’t our favourite thing in the world. However, after creating this dolma recipe, they have risen slightly in our estimations.
We managed to pack a decent amount of flavour into these little morsels. Similar to when making our Afghan vegetarian dumplings, the addition of a hearty walnut-lentil mince really elevates these dolma to rival their meat-filled counterparts. We also switched out the typical rice stuffing for bulgur wheat, which added another layer of pizzazz to our vegan dolma.
What exactly is a dolma?
If you hear the word dolma and think of stuffed vine leaves, you’re not alone. We had always thought dolma referred exclusively to these little green parcels. However, during our recipe research, we discovered that the word dolma actually just refers to a stuffed vegetable. The word dolma comes from the Turkish verb dolmak, which literally means “to be stuffed”.
Azerbaijan has more than 25 variations of dolma. While stuffed grape leaves are the most common type of dolma, people also stuff zucchini, eggplant, cabbage and tomatoes. Traditionally, dolma are stuffed with beef or lamb mince, rice, onion and herbs. With this recipe, we wanted to recreate something as true to a typical dolma as possible.
How to make dolma
These vegan dolma aren’t overly complicated to make, but they do require a little bit of time and effort to come together. Here are the basic steps/timings for making these dolma:
- Make the bulgur wheat filling and soak for 30 minutes
- Make vegan mince filling by sautéing ingredients in frying pan then pulsing in food processor
- Assemble dolma by wrapping bulgur wheat and vegan mince filling in vine leaves
- Cook dolma by in a large pot, simmering for about 45 minutes
- Cool to room temperature before serving
Rolling the dolma
Rolling up the vine leaves is the most fiddly part of this recipe. Our biggest piece of advice is to make sure your dolma are tightly sealed, with no filling peeking through. If in doubt, wrap the filling in a second vine leaf to really secure it in there. We learnt this the hard way: half of our dolma fell to pieces when we took them out of the pot. So please, learn from our mistakes. Here is a little visual guide on rolling up your dolma:
- On a flat surface, place a leaf with the stem towards you, with the veins of the leaf facing down.
- Place a spoonful of filling in the centre of the leaf.
- Fold the side leaves in towards the centre.
- Fold the bottom leaves to completely cover the filling.
- Continue to roll up to the top point of the leaf.
Ingredient notes for vegan dolma
- Vine leaves- The key ingredient for these dolma are the vine leaves (grape leaves), which unfortunately aren’t the easiest thing to get hold of. Either you’ll need to get them fresh and preserve them yourself, or purchase a jar of brined vine leaves. We found a jar of these in a Greek specialty store.
- Bulgur wheat- We opted to stuff our dolma with bulgur wheat as a fun variation on the typical rice-stuffed morsels. If you don’t want to use bulgur wheat, simply sub for rice.
- Herbs- When it comes to dolma, the more herbs you use, the merrier! Feel free to substitute parsley/ mint for whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. Whatever you do, make sure you use fresh herbs. Dried herbs just won’t have the same flavour punch.
- Lentil-walnut mince- In order to create the most flavourful vegan dolma possible, we included a lentil-walnut mince in our filling. However, you can certainly keep it simple by making these dolma without the mince.
Serving suggestions for vegan dolma
Most typically, dolma are served in Azerbaijan with a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil with a side of garlic yogurt. We made a deliciously fresh beetroot yogurt salad to go with our dolma. We made this by combining a cup of Greek yogurt, a crushed garlic clove and a tablespoon of lemon juice together in a bowl, and serving it with sliced baby beetroot, wilted spinach, toasted pecans and chopped dill.
Bulgur Wheat Filling
- 1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat
- 4 spring onions (finely chopped)
- 2 to matoes (diced)
- 1/2 cup parsley (chopped)
- 1/2 cup mint (chopped)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Salt & pepper (to taste)
Vegan Mince Filling
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion (finely chopped)
- 2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 cup walnuts (lightly toasted)
- 1 tin of brown lentils (drained)
- Salt & pepper (to taste)
- 300 g jar of vine leaves in brine
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Make bulgur wheat filling- In a large bowl, mix together bulgur wheat, spring onions, tomatoes, chopped herbs, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Let soak at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Make vegan mince filling- Meanwhile, heat oil in pan over medium heat and sauté onion until translucent. Add in garlic, tomato paste and mustard seeds and sauté for another minute. Put mixture from pan in food processor with lentils and toasted walnuts. Pulse until mixture is combined but still retains texture.
- Assemble dolma- Cover the bottom of large pot completely with layers of vine leaves. Open up vine leaves on counter. Place about a tablespoon of the bulgur wheat filling and 1/2 tablespoon of vegetarian mince in the centre of each leaf (adjust according to the size of the leaf). Fold the sides of the leaves into the centre, then the bottom, then roll tightly so filling is completely enclosed. If any filling is peaking through, just roll with another vine leaf. Place rolled vine leaves in the lined pot, fitting together as tightly as possible.
- Cook dolma- Pour water over filled grape leaves to make sure they are completely covered, then add 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup olive oil over. Place a tart pan atop leaves in pot; top with heavy heatproof dish or plate to weigh down. Bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat to very low. Continue to simmer for about 45 minutes, until bulgur filling is tender. Take off heat and allow Dolma to cool in the pot to room temperature before serving. Gently remove from liquid with a slotted spoon to serve.
Other Middle Eastern dishes to try
- Vegetarian Aushak Recipe: Afghan Dumplings
- Vospov Kofte Recipe: Lentil Kofte with Salad from Armenia
- Mahalabia Recipe: A Layered Chia Pudding Dessert from Bahrain