Classical Azerbaijani dolma with vine leaf (top) and with eggplant, tomato and pepper (middle); a stamp issued by Azerbaijan's Postal Service (bottom).
Course Meze or main dish
Place of origin uncertain
Region or state Mediterranean. Central Asia, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, Middle East, Western Asia
Serving temperature Cold or hot
Main ingredients Stuffed peppers, Vine leaf, Rice
Variations Partial
Cookbook: Dolma  Media: Dolma

Dolma is a family of stuffed vegetable dishes common in the Mediterranean cuisine and surrounding regions including the Balkans, the South Caucasus, Russia, Central Asia and Middle East. Common vegetables to stuff include tomato, pepper, onion, zucchini, eggplant, and garlic. Meat dolmas are generally served warm, often with tahini or egg-lemon sauce. Dolmas prepared with olive oil and stuffed with rice are generally served cold with a garlic-yogurt sauce. Stuffed vegetables are also common in Greek cuisine, called gemista, as well as in Italian cuisine, where they are named ripieni ("stuffed").[1] Dishes of cabbage or stuffed grape leaves are sometimes also called sarma.

In 2017, dolma making in Azerbaijan was included into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. The tradition is present throughout the Republic of Azerbaijan, and is perceived as a central culinary practice in all of its regions.[2]

Names and etymology

The word dolma is of Turkish origin from the word dolmak (to fill).[3] The plural form in Greek is dolmades and this is sometimes preferred in English usage instead of "dolmas".[4]

The origins of dolma are unknown, but the dish is found in the cuisines of the Turkic countries, the Balkans, South Caucasus, Iran, Central Asia, Egypt, Arabia, and the Middle East. The word varies between Turkic dialects called dolama in Turkmen and tulma in the Tatar language. The word dolma most likely comes from Ottoman palace cuisine, but stuffed vegetables have other names as well like yemistos in Greek and mahshi in Arabic.[5]


Dolma have been a part of Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries.[6] Though the word dolma itself most likely has its roots in the cuisine of the Ottoman Topkapı Palace, stuffed vegetables are attested to in pre-Ottoman Arabic cookbooks that include recipes like eggplants stuffed with meat. Likewise, in Ancient Greece, fig leaf stuffed with sweetened cheese was called thrion.[5]

The exact origins are unknown, but the Persian variety has been traced to at least the 17th century and in the 19th century Naser al-Din Shah Qajar's chef records several varieties including stuffed grape leaves, cabbage leaves, cucumbers, eggplants, apples, and quinces. The recorded stuffings included ground meat, sauteed mint, rice and saffron.[7]

Dolma is a common dish in Iraqi cuisine, which includes a version of stuffed cabbage leaves, onions in aubergines cooked in tomato sauce.[8] Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis and Iranians have been making stuffed grape leaves for centuries. Over time, regional variations developed. In the Persian Gulf, basmati rice is preferred, and the flavor of the stuffing may be enhanced using tomatoes, onions and cumin.[6] Muslim families often serve dolma as part of the iftar meal during Ramadan and during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of the holy month. Iraqi Christians prepare meatless dolmas for Lent. Large pots of dolma are prepared during the Norouz festival.[9]

Dolma are part of cuisine of the Sephardic Jews as well.[10] There are some variations in Jewish family dishes that are not found in other versions. Iraqi Jewish families had a version of dolma with sweet and sour flavors that were not found in other versions.[11] During winter months cabbage was a staple food for peasants in Persia and the Ottoman Empire, and it spread to the Balkans as well. Jews in Eastern Europe prepared variations of stuffed cabbage rolls with kosher meat—this dish was called golub in Russian, holub in Ukranian, and teibel in Yiddish. Jews in the Ottoman Empire used locally grown grape leaves and adopted the Turkish names of the dish. As meat was expensive, rice was sometimes mixed in with the meat. Jews in Europe would sometimes substitute barley, bread or kasha for the rice.[12]


There are many varieties of the zeytinyağlı (with olive oil) and sağyağlı (with clarified butter) dolmas. The zeytinyağlı dolmas are usually stuffed with rice and served cold, but variations with meat based fillings are served warm.[13][14]

Wrapped Sarma

The origins of stuffed vine leaves are unknown, but the dish was popular throughout the Ottoman Empire and can be found in many regional cuisines today. Sephardim call them yaprakes finos, and they are known as dolma bargh in Iran, dolmades in Greece, yalanchi sarma in Armenia, and yerba in Syria.[15] The Turkish town of Erbaa is a major source of the thin vine leaves that are exported to commercial markets worldwide.[16][17] Some Israelis may use leaves picked from the local mulberry trees.[18] Broad leaves from other wild plants, like mallow, beta trigyna, rumex gracilescens and rumex patientia, may also be gathered and used to make sarma.[19][20] For example, lor dolması, a speciality of Turkey's Erzurum province,[21] is made from fresh lor cheese and bulgur that is wrapped in leaves from the local evelik plant (from the Armenian eveliyh)[22] before being baked in a traditional earthenware güveç.[23]

Stuffed vine leaves without meat are sometimes called yalancı dolma, which means "liar's dolma" in Turkish.[24] Vişneli yalancı dolması is a variation of stuffed vine leaves where the rice is seasoned with cinnamon, allspice and mint. The dolmas are slowly cooked together with morello cherries (vişne), and plums may be used also.[25] In a version from the Turkish chef Arda Türkmen, the rice is cooked in morello cherry juice with spices, sour pomegranate syrup (nar ekşisi), currants and toasted pine nuts.[26] A modern Israeli recipe has a meat-filled variant served in a pomegranate sauce with dried cherries.[27]

Stuffed chard leaves are called pazı dolması in Turkey[28] and dolmas de pazi by Sephardi Jews who settled in Argentina.[29]

In the Turkish provinces of Amasya and Tokat sarma is prepared in a style similar to maklouba, with different fillings. One version made with fava beans is called bakla dolması or bakla sarma. The filling for this variant from Amasya is made with dried fava beans and a coarsely ground wheat called yarma. Tomato paste, water, sunflower oil, chopped onion, aleppo pepper and spices are added to complete the mixture. Bone-in lamb chops are tightly layered on the bottom of the pot and the wrapped sarma are added on top of the lamb. Butter is added on top and the sarma are cooked together with the lamb chops in water. The finished dish is served upside down.[30] A similar variation from Tokat is stuffed with a lentil, bulgur and chickpea filling. Homemade red pepper paste may be substituted for some of the tomato paste.[31]

Vine leaves may also be used to wrap stuffed celery root. Before wrapping, the celery root is stuffed with rice that has been seasoned with cinnamon, salt, pepper, allspice, pine nuts and sugar. (This type of rice is called iç pilav.) Dried fruits like fig and apricot may be added to the rice mixture before the celery root is stuffed, wrapped and baked in the oven.[32] Some variations may include quince.[33]

In Persian cuisine basuts dolma is a dish of cabbage rolls stuffed with beans and tart fruits. In Armenia, it is called Lenten Dolma or Pasuts Tolma (պասուց տոլմա). It is wrapped with cabbage leaves, and stuffed with red beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, cracked wheat, tomato paste, onion and many spices and flavorings.[34] Pasuts tolma is made of seven different grains – chickpea, bean, lentil, cracked wheat, pea, rice and maize. All the grains are boiled. This dolma is called pasuts (fast day) because the Christian New Year features the fast days, which end on Easter day. Armenian cooks sometimes use rose hip syrup to flavor stuffed cabbage rolls.[35] Some Jewish families eat stuffed cabbage on Simchat Torah.[12] There is a Turkish variation with a chestnut and rice based filling.[36]

Egyptians call this main course mahshi (also spelled mashi or mashy). It is stuffed vine leaves[37] but traditionally, cabbage is used in the winter and vine leaves are used in the summer.[38] According to Anthony Khatchaturian, a member of the Armenian community in Kolkata, India, the Bengali dish potoler dorma (stuffed gourd) was adapted from meat-stuffed vine leaves.[39]


Mülebbes dolma is a historic recipe from the Ottoman era.[40] Halep dolması—named for Aleppo—is a dish of eggplants stuffed with a meat and rice filling that is flavored with spices and either sour plum flavoring syrup or lemon juice.[41][42] Şalgam dolma are stuffed russian turnips.[43][44].

Soğan dolması ("soğan" meaning "onion" in Turkish), or stuffed onions, are a traditional dish in Bosnia, considered the specialty of Mostar. Ingredients include onions, minced beef, rice, oil, tomato purée, paprika, vinegar or sour cream, strained yogurt (locally known as kiselo mlijeko, literally "sour milk"), black pepper, salt and spices. After the onion's skin is removed, the larger, external, layers (leaves) of onion bulbs are used as containers, so called "shirts" (Old Turk. "dolama(n)" for a special kind of Ottoman robe) for the meat stuffing. The remaining part of onion is also used, mixed with the meat and fried on oil for a couple of minutes, to obtain the base of the stuffing. To extract the separate "shirts", the entire bulbs are cut on the top and then boiled until soft enough to be pried off, layer by layer. In order to prevent a further softening and crumbling, the bulbs should be blanched. The "shirts" are removed from the bulbs by slow and gentle finger pressure. Filled "shirts" ("dolme") are boiled slowly at a low heat in broth. The level of liquid should be sufficient to cover the dolmas entirely. Sogan-dolma are usually served with dense natural yogurt.

Enginar dolması is stuffed whole artichoke hearts. They may be stuffed with seasoned rice[45] or ground meat cooked in fresh tomato sauce with aleppo pepper.[46] Celery root may be substituted for the artichoke.[47]

A regional specialty from Mardin is mixed dolma platter. The sumac and Urfa pepper seasoned rice filling is first wrapped with onion layers, vine leaves and cabbage. The remainder of the rice is used to fill eggplant, zucchini and stuffing peppers. The wrapped onion dolma are added on the bottom of a deep cooking pot and the stuffed vegetables, cabbage rolls and stuffed vine leaves are layered on top of the onion dolmas. The entire pot of dolmas are cooked in sumac flavored water.[48]


There are also seafood variants of dolma. Stuffed mussels, called midye dolma are very popular in Turkey. Midye dolma may be filled with rice, onion, black pepper and pimento spice.[49]

The filling for kalamar dolma (stuffed calamari) is made from Halloumi cheese, onion, fresh bread crumbs, garlic and parsley. The whole tentacle is stuffed with the mixture and fried in a butter, olive oil and tomato sauce.[50] For another variation a whole small squid may be stuffed with a bulgur and fresh herb mixture and baked in the oven.[51]

Uskumru dolma (stuffed mackerel) is a staple of Istanbul cuisine. The version that was traditionally prepared by Armenian cooks is particularly well-regarded. After the fish is prepared by carefully separating the skin from the meat, the meat is sauteed with onions, currants, dried apricots, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, fresh herbs and lemon juice. The entire mixture is stuffed into the whole, intact skin. The stuffed mackerel is then either baked or preferably grilled long enough to brown the skin.[51][52]

Sardines (sardalya) may be stuffed with a filling of kashar cheese, tomato, onion, dill and parsley.[53] In Turkey, stuffed sardines may be served as a mezze platter at traditional taverns called meyhane.[54]


There are several varieties of dolma made with offal. Dalak dolması, widely considered a delicacy of Armenian origin, is spleen stuffed with rice that has been seasoned with allspice, salt, pepper, mint, parsley and onion. It may be served an accompaniment with the anise-flavored liquor called rakı.[55][56]

Mumbar dolma is intestine stuffed with a moist mixture of ground meat, rice, pepper, cumin and salt. The stuffed intestine is then boiled in water until it is cooked thoroughly, after which it may be sliced and fried in butter before serving.[57]

Fruit-based dolmas

There are some fruit-based dolmas as well like şekerli ayva dolması (quince stuffed with a rice and currant filling, flavored with coriander, cinnamon and sugar)[58] and pekmezli ayva dolması (meat and bulgur stuffed quince flavored with a traditional Turkish syrup, similar to molasses, called pekmez).[59] Pekmez is also an ingredient in the meat-based variants of elma dolması (stuffed apples) and sarı erık dolması (stuffed yellow plums).[60] Persian Jews may serve stuffed quince, called dolma bay, as a Sabbath meal or during Sukkot.[61]

One filling for stuffed apples is made from high-quality cubed lamb shoulder called kuşbaşı, ground lamb and rice. First black grapes are boiled together with sumac—the resulting sumac flavored grape juice is drained and reserved. The kuşbaşı lamb is cooked in this sumac flavored grape juice. The apples are stuffed with a mixture of ground lamb combined with rice, salt, pepper and layered in a pot on top of the cooked chunks of kuşbaşı. The apples are cooked in the remaining sumac flavored grape juice. Dried apricots and blanched almonds are added to the pot near the end of the cooking process.[62] A meatless variant of the filling is made from a sauteed mixture of diced apples, diced pears, walnuts, hazelnut, currants, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. The hollowed out apples are stuffed with the mixture and baked in the oven. This version may be garnished with powdered sugar.[63]

See also


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  • Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food. ISBN 0-19-211579-0.
  • Gosetti Della Salda, Anna (1967). Le ricette regionali italiane (in Italian). Milano: Solares. 

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