Stuffed Lamb Dolmas in Fermented Grape Leaves

Dolmas or dolmades as they’re called at hour house are a stuffed grape leaves recipe with lamb and rice enjoyed in lots of places, but Greece is arguably the most well known and close to my heart as my girlfriend’s family is Greek.

Lamb and wild rice dolmas on a plate next to a yogurt sauce.
Stuffed grape leaves (dolmas).

After the grape leaves are gathered, they’re blanched in boiling water for a minute or two to relax them, then they’re filled with the stuffing, which is the time consuming part. We will make hundreds at a time, so it’s good to have a small group of people there to assist in rolling the leaves up with the filling. After all the leaves are rolled up, they’re cooked in a pasta pot with a small amount of stock and a tight fitting lid. When they’re done, we all gather around and enjoy a summer afternoon together, eating them with avgolemono sauce.

Lamb Dolma Ingredients

The recipe I have for you here is a little bit different than the family recipe, but the flavors are similar, and if you want a more traditional feel to it, you can easily substitute in what you like.

Real Wild Rice

Natural wild rice or manoomin.
Natural wild rice is lighter with a more uneven color than commodity wild rice that is shiny and black.

The really important thing to know, if you want the rice to be properly cooked, is that you can’t use commodity black wild rice here. Natural wild rice may also be labeled as parched wild rice or manoomin, it cooks in twenty minutes.

Fermented grape leaves

Most grocery stores will  carry pickled grape leaves in jars in the Ethnic section, and they can also be purchased online. They must be rinsed with water before using.

A jar full of fermented grape leaves.

Fermented grape leaves do not have to be rinsed before using since they contain much less salt than commercial pickled grape leaves. If you’d like to try making your own, see my recipe for fermented grape leaves.

Wild grape leaves on a grape vine.
Wild grape leaf on a grape vine.

How to Stuff Grape Leaves

Stuffing grape leaves is easy, but there’s a few things to keep in mind. The most important is that I always rinse the grape leaves of their brine before stuffing to make sure they’re not too salty. It’s also important not to overfill the leaves or wrap them too tight. Other than that, you’re just putting a small amount (roughly a tablespoon) of lamb and rice filling on each grape leaf and rolling them into packages.

Chef Alan Bergo
Chef Alan Bergo, The Forager Chef



This recipe is by James Beard Award-winning Chef Alan Bergo. He’s a chef from Minnesota and author of The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora. Learn more about Chef Alan at 

Looking to buy lamb or goat online? Shepherd Song Farm: Grass to table. We raise lambs & goats traditionally, humanely and sustainably. 100% Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Never Confined, no Hormones, Grains or Animal Byproducts. Born, raised and processed in the U.S.A. Good for you and good for the environment.

Lamb and wild rice dolmas recipe
Serve the grape leaves with a dipping sauce made with yogurt.

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Lamb and wild rice dolmas recipe
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5 from 1 vote

Stuffed Lamb Dolmas in Fermented Grape Leaves

Addictive lamb and rice filled grape leaf rolls inspired by a traditional recipe. Make about 50 rolls
Prep Time1 hour
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time2 hours
Course: Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine: American, Greek
Keyword: Black walnuts, Dolmas, Grape leaves, Ground lamb
Servings: 15 servings
Calories: 169kcal
Cost: 10


  • 1 Wide sauce pan or baking dish.


  • Lactofermented grape leaves or pickled grape leaves as needed, about 75
  • 2 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock

Stuffing / Lamb and Rice Mixture

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1 cup natural wild rice or white rice.
  • ½ cup toasted chopped black walnuts or other nuts optional
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 2 large cloves fresh garlic grated
  • 1 large 8 oz yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sliced fresh mint or 1-2 teaspoons dried optional

Yogurt sauce (optional)

  • 1 cup Thick Greek yogurt
  • 1 large cloves garlic
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Fresh grated lemon zest, to taste



  • Soak the wild rice in the stock for at least 3 hours, then drain, reserving the liquid. If you use white rice, soak it for 30 minutes and rinse until the water runs clean.

Stuff grape leaves

  • Mix the ground lamb and remaining stuffing ingredients, including the soaked rice. At this point prepare grape leaves, if they’re pickled aggressively, and very tart or salty, rinse them in water. Fresh grape leaves can be blanched in boiling water for 5 seconds.
  • Pat the grape leaves dry, then, working on a large worksurface, lay out the leaves, vein-side up. Put 1 tablespoon or so of the stuffing on the middle of each leaf, then fold in the sides, rolling the grape leaves into packages.


  • Line a 12 inch or wider pan with a layer of grape leaves to prevent sticking, then arrange the grape leaves, seam-side down in the pan.
  • Add the remaining broth (1.5 cups) to the pan, cover with a plate on top then bring to a simmer and cook on medium-low for 30 minutes, checking on it here and there to make sure the water is evaporating and being absorbed by the rice.
  • When the pan is nearly dry and the leaves are tender remove the lid, cover with a piece of parchment and allow to cool, then refrigerate. Enjoy at room temperature or warmed with the yogurt sauce or traditional avgolemono sauce.

Yogurt sauce (optional)

  • Mix all ingredients together, grating the garlic on a microplane grater or mashing it to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Double check the seasoning and adjust for salt, garlic, pepper, lemon zest and juice until it tastes good to you, then cover and refrigerate until needed.


For a more traditional lamb dolma recipe, use white rice instead of wild rice.
Ground beef is not a traditional meat filling for dolmas. 


Serving: 3rolls | Calories: 169kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 22mg | Sodium: 299mg | Potassium: 132mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 70IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 12mg | Iron: 1mg