Vegan Dolma with Mince & Bulgur Wheat from Azerbaijan

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.

vegan dolma azerbaijan

Overview of Azerbaijan

I’ll be honest- I never quite knew which continent Azerbaijan was located. On doing some research into the country for this post, I now realize why there was a gap in my knowledge. Azerbaijan is actually a transcontinental country located at the boundary of Eastern Europe and Western Asia!

The country is bounded by the Caucasus mountains on one side and the Caspian Sea on the other. It’s unique positioning makes it full of beautiful and diverse landscapes. Azerbaijan also offers an interesting mix of tradition and modernization. The capital city, Baku, is a perfect example of this mix. Here, you’ll find an architectural mix of East-meets-West. One minute, you can be staring at modern shiny modern skyscrapers and the next, at a medieval old town steeped in history.

Azerbaijani Cuisine

Azerbaijan has been blessed with advantageous terrain for agriculture and food production. Thanks to it’s abundant grasslands and access to the Caspian sea, the Azerbaijani diet is rich in a wide range of fresh produce, meats, fish and milk products.

Because of it’s geographical position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan cuisine has made many influences over the years. The cuisine would be most akin to Middle Eastern, particularly Iranian. However, 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. However, Azerbaijani cuisine is also known for its abundance of fruits and vegetables. Fresh herbs are abundant and are used liberally to flavour dishes. Rice and wheat are the main sources 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)- Azerbaijan’s national dish. This 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.
vegan dolma azerbaijan

Making Vegan Dolma with Bulgur Wheat

Before I go any further, I have a confession. I’ve never had a particularly positive experience with dolma (stuffed vine leaves). In the past, all the dolma I have tried have been pretty bland.  Floss and I wanted to challenge ourselves to make a flavourful Azerbaijani dolma, without meat.

In the end, we managed to pack a decent amount of flavour into these little morsels. Similar to when making Afghan aushak, the addition of a hearty walnut-lentil mince really elevates these vegan dolma to rival their meat-filled counterparts. We also switched out the typical rice stuffing for bulgur wheat, which added another layer of textural pizzazz to these vegan dolma.

What exactly is a dolma?

If you hear the word dolma and think of stuffed vine leaves, you’re not alone. I had always thought dolma referred exclusively to these little green parcels. However, during recipe research, I 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”.

Vegan Dolma Recipe | Azerbaijani Cuisine

Ingredients 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.

How to make vegan dolma

Vegan Dolma Recipe | Azerbaijani Cuisine

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 vegan dolma recipe, we wanted to recreate something as true to a typical dolma as possible.

1. 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.

Vegan Dolma Recipe | Azerbaijani Cuisine

2. 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.

Vegan Dolma Recipe | Azerbaijani Cuisine

3. 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. If you want more guidance, see below for a detailed description of how to roll the dolma!

Vegan Dolma Recipe | Azerbaijani Cuisine

4. 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.

How to roll dolma

Rolling up the vine leaves is the most fiddly part of this recipe. My 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:

  1. On a flat surface, place a leaf with the stem towards you, with the veins of the leaf facing down.
  2. Place a spoonful of filling in the centre of the leaf.
  3. Fold the side leaves in towards the centre.
  4. Fold the bottom leaves to completely cover the filling.
  5. Continue to roll up to the top point of the leaf.
vegan dolma azerbaijan

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 served up our Azerbaijani dolma with this fresh beetroot yogurt salad.

Vegan Dolma Recipe- Azerbaijani Cuisine

Vegan Dolma Recipe- Azerbaijani Cuisine

Yield: 60 dolmas
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Resting Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

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.

Ingredients

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)

Dolma

  • 300 g jar of vine leaves in brine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a comment & review above or share a photo on Instagram tagging @polkadotpassport so I can reshare your creations!

Other Middle Eastern dishes to try

Liked this vegan dolma recipe? Pin it for later!

Vegan dolma recipe from Azerbaijan
Nicola Easterby Bio Image

HEY THERE, I'M NICOLA!

I am on a mission to discover the BEST destinations & dishes from around the world. In fact, I’ve visited 54 countries and cooked 196 cuisines in this very pursuit. Whether it’s hopping on a plane or into the kitchen, come join the adventure!

CURRENTLY TRENDING:

Biscoff Cake Recipe with Carrot Cake + Cheesecake

Biscoff Cake Recipe with Carrot Cake + Cheesecake

This is the ultimate biscoff cake recipe mash-up. Moist spiced carrot cake is layered with a creamy biscoff no-bake cheesecake then topped off with more biscoff spread, lotus biscuits and pecans. You know those things you eat and dream about years later? The carrot...

The BEST 23 things to do in the Catlins NZ in 2022

The BEST 23 things to do in the Catlins NZ in 2022

The ultimate guide to visiting the Catlins in 2022, including the best things to do, where to stay and how to get around the South Island of New Zealand's most overlooked destination. The Catlins is one of New Zealand’s most underrated gems. The region, located in the...

The TOP 6 North Island Glamping Spots in New Zealand

The TOP 6 North Island Glamping Spots in New Zealand

If you are looking for a spectacular place to go Glamping on the North Island of New Zealand, look no further. These 6 NZ glamping spots each feature luxurious safari tents, idyllic outdoor baths, and jaw-dropping views. With its endless lush countryside, unique...

READ NEXT:

Vegan Stuffed Avocados Recipe (Abacate Recheado)

Vegan Stuffed Avocados Recipe (Abacate Recheado)

These vegan stuffed avocados are inspired by a popular food from Guinea Bissau, Abacate Recheado. Avocado halves are stuffed with a herbed vegan chickpea tuna mayo, topped with tomatoes and garnished with toasted coconut flakes. Overview of Guinea Bissau The Republic...

read more
Healthy Vegan Anzac Biscuits Recipe

Healthy Vegan Anzac Biscuits Recipe

These anzac biscuits, made with rolled oats, desiccated coconut and golden syrup, are soft, chewy and so delicious. I promise you wouldn't know that they are a healthier vegan and gluten-free take on the typical anzac biscuit! Every year on April 25th, we celebrated...

read more
Biscoff Cake Recipe with Carrot Cake + Cheesecake

Biscoff Cake Recipe with Carrot Cake + Cheesecake

This is the ultimate biscoff cake recipe mash-up. Moist spiced carrot cake is layered with a creamy biscoff no-bake cheesecake then topped off with more biscoff spread, lotus biscuits and pecans. You know those things you eat and dream about years later? The carrot...

read more

READ NEXT:

Vegan Stuffed Avocados Recipe (Abacate Recheado)

Vegan Stuffed Avocados Recipe (Abacate Recheado)

These vegan stuffed avocados are inspired by a popular food from Guinea Bissau, Abacate Recheado. Avocado halves are stuffed with a herbed vegan chickpea tuna mayo, topped with tomatoes and garnished with toasted coconut flakes. Overview of Guinea Bissau The Republic...

read more
31 Best Desserts in Paris to Try in 2022

31 Best Desserts in Paris to Try in 2022

If you are visiting Paris and wondering which sweet treats to try, look no further. Here is a list of 31 of the best desserts in Paris in 2022 and where to try them. It is no secret that Paris is home to some of the best restaurants, patisseries and boulangeries in...

read more
Los Angeles Itinerary: How to Spend 2 Days in LA

Los Angeles Itinerary: How to Spend 2 Days in LA

Visiting L.A on a time crunch? Follow my ultimate Los Angeles itinerary to ensure you make the most of 2 days in la la land! I must admit, the first time I visited Los Angeles, I was not very enamoured by the city of stars. Getting around was difficult, everywhere I...

read more
Skip to Recipe