Are you studying Greek or Middle Eastern culture with your little ones? Then it’s time to break out the dolmades – a delicacy in our household as well as many others around the world!
Dolmades (or dolma) are a traditional Mediterranean cuisine that involves stuffing grape leaves with a variety of ingredients such as rice, meat, or vegetables.
Prepare yourselves as we take a look at the origins of dolmades from ancient Greece. We even plan on sharing our classic greek dolmades recipe from our Ancient Greece Project Passport, an iconic Mediterranean food your kids will love!
What Are Dolmades?
The word “dolmades” is a plural of the Turkish word “dolma,” meaning “stuffed.” This makes perfect sense because dolmades are one of the many Mediterranean stuffed foods enjoyed by various cultures throughout the Balkans, South Caucasus, Central Asia, Middle East, and Arabia.
Dolmades in Greek culture are notably made with fresh, young grape leaves. However, depending on which culture you’re in, they can be wrapped in spinach leaves, swiss chard, cabbage, hazelnut, mulberry, or fig leaves.
Once a type of leaf is chosen, they are stuffed with minced lamb or beef, rice, vegetables, and a variety of spices such as garlic, onion, dill, parsley, lemon, pine nuts, or currants. From there, the leaves and their contents are rolled into a tubular shape and can be garnished with olive oil, feta cheese, or more spices.
Dolmades are often served as an appetizer or main dish, either hot or cold. Dolmades containing meat are typically served warm. Dolma containing no meat are traditionally served cold and are called “yalanci,” meaning “liar” in Turkish. These are popular in cultures who celebrate Lent, a Christian tradition where people fast from foods such as meat.
According to a New York Times article, dolmades can be served with “a side of tzatziki (cucumber, garlic, and yogurt dressing), taramosalata (a pink puree made from fish roe), keftedes (spicy, garlic-laden meatballs), spanakopitas (tiny triangular spinach pies) and melitzanosalata (a paste of spiced, cooked eggplant).”
Whichever way you decide to eat dolmas, they’re sure to be delicious. Not only are they tasty, but they are low in calories and high in fiber. They also have an impressive antioxidant content and contain essential vitamins like A and K.
Dolmades in Ancient Greece
It’s difficult to say precisely which culture invented dolmades since they’ve been a part of Middle Eastern countries for centuries. However, the dolmades we know and love today likely originated in ancient Greece and were traditionally made with fig leaves and stuffed with a sweetened cheese.
Historians have found ancient texts that mention dolmades being served on top of Mount Olympus. According to Greek myth, all delicate foods were first served on the mountain top of the gods. Many of these foods included dolmades, ambrosia, and honey.
It is said that Greeks are responsible for bringing dolmades to other regions throughout the Middle East and Turkey. In 335 BC, Alexander the Great marched with his army throughout the city of Thebes. As the crowds welcomed him, he noticed a strange food being carried on platters.
Since Thebes was known for being a city that often suffered from food shortages, he was interested in learning about this food and their diet. Upon entering the kitchen, he noticed that cooks were using the little meat and vegetables they could find and wrapping them in grape leaves.
Alexander was impressed by their cleverness and made dolmades a part of his military’s food. As Alexander traveled and conquered other countries, they too adopted this tasty and affordable ancient Greek food.
Dolmades in Other Countries
Dolmades are also a popular food in Iran and can be traced back to the 17th century, with several different recipes involving stuffed grape leaves and cabbage. These rolls were often stuffed with a variety of different ingredients, including sautéed mint, rice, and saffron.
They have also been common to countries such as Syria and Lebanon. Their recipes often included the use of tomatoes, onions, and cumin – giving it a more savory flavor.
In Iraq, families eat versions of dolma with a unique sweet and sour flavor. They make dolmades sweeter by seasoning the rice with spices such as cinnamon, allspice, and mint. There are even fruit-based dolmas that include lamb, sumac, apples, raisins, almonds, and syrup.
How to Make Delicious Dolmades
Dolmades are a fun food to make with your kids if you’re studying Greece or other Middle Eastern cultures. This ancient food is still consumed regularly today throughout the world and is only growing in popularity, along with many other Mediterranean foods.
Like most classic appetizers, they are intended to be served as part of an entree. If you’re looking for a meal that pairs well with dolmades, we include Souvlaki (Obeliskos) in our Ancient Greece Project Passport, which is a skewered meat consisting of grilled meat with delicious spices such as oregano, thyme, and garlic.
Below, you’ll find our famous dolmades recipe. Note that although dolmades are traditionally stuffed with a beef or lamb mixture, we opted for just rice since many of our other dishes found in our study already contain beef and lamb.
- 1-1/4 c. olive oil, divided
- 2 medium onions, chopped fine
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1⁄2 c. pine nuts, roughly chopped
- 1 c. long-grain rice
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbs. mint, minced
- Juice of 2 lemons, divided
- 1⁄2 c. golden raisins (optional)
- One 8-oz jar grape leaves
- Heat 1⁄4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan. Sauté the onions for about 6 minutes or until translucent. Add in pine nuts and garlic, and stir for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and place mixture in a large bowl.
- Allow to cool a little bit and then add the uncooked rice to the bowl, along with the salt, mint, juice of 1 lemon, and raisins if you decide to use them. Combine ingredients well and set aside.
- In a medium pot, heat water to a simmer.
- Spread some clean kitchen towels on the counter. Remove the grape leaves from the jar and drop a few in the water at a time, removing quickly and laying out individually on the towels. If the leaves still have the stems attached, you will want to cut them off.
- On a cutting board or work surface, place a grape leaf, underside UP. Fill with 1-2 teaspoons of the rice mixture near the end of the leaf, where the stem was. Begin rolling by folding the stem end up and over the filling, then fold in the sides. Continue rolling the dolma, but not too tightly, as the rice will need room to expand while cooking. Set on a plate seam side down.
- Once all the dolmades have been rolled, place them all in a large sauté pan or a large dutch oven with the seam side facing down again. Pack them in pretty closely to avoid splitting open while cooking.
- In a bowl, mix 1 cup of olive oil with the remaining lemon juice and pour over the dolmades. Place a heavy baking dish or plate inverted over the dolmades to hold them in place while cooking and keep them conformed to their shape.
- Add enough water to reach the plate or baking dish. Bring the water to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for an hour, or until rice is cooked through and tender. If using brown rice, this will need more cooking time. Once cooked, you may want to refrigerate, as these are generally served at room temperature.
- Enjoy! These are also yummy dipped in Tzatziki sauce!
Enjoy More Greek Recipes With Your Kids!
There you have it – delicious and nutritious dolmades your kids can try! We hope you enjoy making this recipe with your children as they learn about the history behind various Middle Eastern cultures.
We personally love including recipe-making in our materials as it gives children a break from textbook reading and a chance to learn about the subject in a hands-on way. For more reasons on why you should include recipes in your history curriculum, read our blog post, Adding Interest to History with Recipes.
And if you’re looking for more ancient Greek recipes, we have plenty more in our Ancient Greece Project Passport. If you’re interested in learning about other cultures such as Egypt, Rome, the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance and Reformation, then check out our other Project Passports.
Our Project Passports include hands-on projects and activities that drive home lessons from the period in a fun way. You’ll take a trip through history and witness exciting events while meeting interesting people along the way.
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