This is how I roll

With winter quickly approaching, everything gets pushed off to the back burner. Getting out of bed, hopping out of the shower – the basic tasks that were once a drag begin to feel even more impossible. I had originally intended on writing this post last night, but I failed. I was laying in bed, snuggled under my warm blankets with my powerbook perched over a pillow, typing away. The arrangement seemed perfect… except, I woke up the next morning to the annoying sound of my alarm, my laptop around my arm and a blog post that was complete rubbish. Needless to say, I’m writing at my desk today.

Stuffed grape leaves were a treat growing up. Mom, grandmas, and aunts would always gather around the same square table, each with their own pile of grape leaves to roll, while my cousins and I ran around getting into all sorts of trouble. When we were exhausted we would offer the grown ups our finest grape rolling services, but they always kindly declined. The adults sometimes handed us a few leaves to entertain ourselves with; but beyond that we were instructed to play more in order to get hungry and eat more later on. If you’re familiar with Middle Easterners, or most Mediterranean cultures for that matter, you’ll notice that the more you eat, the happier mom is, and the better off you are.

This past weekend I decided to make mom proud and make my own stuffed grape leaves. They’re different from the Greek or Turkish dolmas in that these are thinner and are served hot after slowly simmering in a garlic-lemon broth. They’re a staple in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan and have different names depending on where you’re from: يبرق (yabraq)، ورق عنب (waraq a’nib)، ورق عريش (waraq a’reesh) are some of the more common ones.

mise en place

Traditionally you won’t find pork chops used in this recipe. Instead, lamb chops or beef ribs are used to keep the stuffed leaves from burning. I couldn’t find beef ribs and the lamb chops looked kind of shady, so I opted for the pork chops.

just keep rolling, just keep rolling

Rolling the grape leaves is where some technique is involved. It takes time to get used to, but you’ll have plenty of tries to perfect your skills. The trick is not to roll them too tight (or you end up with a dry dish) and not to roll them too loose (or the broth floods the leaves and you end up with mush).

halfway there

Although this amount is certainly child’s play  for a veteran cook like my grandma, it was a major feat for a newbie like me. Luckily for me though, I had my mac and the wonders of youtube to get me through the mission. **Bonus for whoever can name that very famous Lebanese singer that is on my computer screen.

you can never have to much garlic

Another important part of the dish is aligning the rolled grape leaves into the pot. This will ensure even cooking and safe unveiling when you go to flip the pot after cooking. Once you line the bottom with the meat and any leftover/torn up grape leaves, you want to carefully position your rolled leaves in a circular fashion. I suggest positioning them in the 3-6-9-12 (clock) position first and start filling in the gaps accordingly. Halfway through you’ll want to throw in the garlic cloves that will become soft and sweet after cooking.

yabraq (يبرق)

At the end, your hard work doesn’t go unrewarded. This, my friends, is what it’s all about. صحة و هنا … saha w hana (bon appetit in Arabic).

Stuffed Grape Leaves

approx 6-8 servings


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb medium grain rice
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb of grape leaves
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • beef ribs (flanken cut)
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 15-25 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3-4 cups broth (enough to fill the pot)

Putting them all together

  1. If using grape leaves from a jar, drain and soak the leaves in fresh water to remove the briny flavor.
  2. Rinse rice under cold water then soak for 5-10 minutes and drain the water.
  3. Mix the rice, ground beef, olive oil, tomato paste, salt, pepper and allspice together until well mixed.
  4. Fill and roll all the grape leaves with the meat mixture as displayed in the picture.
  5. Season the beef ribs with salt and allspice.
  6. Line the bottom of a large pot with the meat, followed by any unused/torn up grape leaves – this protects the rolled leaves from burning.
  7. Carefully align half the grape leaves on top in a circular fashion.
  8. Distribute garlic cloves over the top.
  9. Finish layering the rest of the rolled grape leaves.
  10. Mix the lemon juice and water with some salt and pepper to prepare the cooking liquid.
  11. Pour the broth over the grape leaves, making sure the liquid reaches the top layer of the grape leaves. If not, cover the rest with water.
  12. Cover with a medium plate to weigh the grape leaves down and prevent them from floating. Bring to a boil.
  13. Once at a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours.
  14. Turn off the heat and drain the broth.
  15. Flip the cooked leaves onto a large decorative platter and enjoy.

note: You can find grape leaves at any Middle Eastern market and some specialty supermarkets.


38 thoughts on “This is how I roll

  1. Wow! That was very well explained Tony! The are very different to the Greek “dolmades” but I bet they’re just as delicious. No idea who the singer is!

  2. A lovely recipe and such good instructions:-)
    I have eaten similarly made stuffed grape leaves, but a vegetarian version.Very yummy!

  3. What a pleasure to read and watch your posts… you make us wait but it’s sooooooo worth! Love all I see here: the explanation, the leaves’ instruction steps, the pics. Bravo Toni! Un post magnífico 😀

    No idea about the singer. You are so right about mamas and abuelas wanting us to eat a lot ;D

  4. Oh wow! Those look awesome. I like the smaller size, too. Definitely saving this recipe.

    Is the singer Nancy Ajram? Looks like her …

  5. Tony, I’ve never seen this variation on dolmades but I do love the cigar shapes and the addition of chops in the pot.

    Thanks for giving me some ideas!

  6. Are you kidding me?! Those are SO beautiful and little!!! Wow, a lot of labor went into that. You are such a stud 🙂 I hope your mom is proud of you, that is awesome looking. And I am hungry now…

  7. I love your photo demonstration of how to roll these – it makes the task look much less daunting.
    These look delicious!

  8. Is that Nancy Ajram in the background? I love her. My husband is Lebanese and I love your blog-the pictures so beautiful and very helpful. I need a recipe for Kaak or Ghrybe if you don’t mind…just kidding!!

  9. Tony- As always, this is a beautiful post. My mouth is watering and I wish I could taste a few of those right here and now! 🙂

  10. Haha, I watch stuff on my Mac while cooking/baking, too!

    It’s the same in Italian families, too. They literally push food off on you whether you asked for it or not!

    Your recipe sounds really good. This is something I definitely need to try at least once, just because.

  11. Maybe next week you can make ya-pra-ques (as pronounced in the Maya/Hanono household) with cabbage!

  12. you are my hero! i love these dolmas! they do seem like a lot of work but with Lebanese music I am sure it would go easier. My brother would know who that singer is as he totally is into the Lebanese music scene!! Tony – would you make me a batch while I watch the video. Please!!

  13. this is very similar to how we do it in our family, and sometimes we substitute the rice w/bulgur. i’ve watched my grandma, mom, aunts, etc make this over the years. the lebanese singer looks like najwa karam…?

  14. wowee…my mama makes them too, but i never dreamed of making them myself…but now, i just might !

  15. Hi Tony,

    I have 1 question though… What’s the standard saiz of the leaves needed for this recipe? My grape tree on the balcony is growing well and I want to trim down a bit for more growth. Since the leaves varies, I want to make it standard for Dolmathes as well besides for this recipe.

    Thank you for sharing the Clock trick arrangement of the stuffed grape leaves in a round pot. I guessed a rectangular or oval pot could be easier. One more thing… for a guy, you sure have nimble fingers from now on 😀 Keep on rolling!

  16. Tony, I love the way you post your recipes…i like the way your site looks…so nice and clean,very neat! Your pictures are amazing!! so so clear.
    one thing i never do when i make stuffed grape leaves is i do not add garlic to the dish at all!! I am not sure if would like it with garlic! i would add plenty of garlic to the stuffed cabbage leaves for sure since the taste of the garlic and spices used in that dish are very complimentary.
    thank you always for sharing your detailed recipes with the world!!!

  17. Thanks, Peter!! hehe, I will unveil who the mystery singer is soon 🙂

    Mrs. Ergül, let me know how they turn out! They are indeed different.

    Thanks Yaelian!

    Gracias querida Núria 🙂 I’m going to unveil the singer in my next post… and maybe link to one of her songs.

    Enjoy the recipe Kitt… you’re close on the singer, but it’s not Nancy Ajram. I guess they look a little alike from afar.

    I know Joan :-\ My new years resolution is to be a better blogger 🙂

    Give it a try Peter 🙂 Let em know how they turn out. I would love to try to make the Greek ones sometime – do you have a good recipe I could follow?

    My mom was proud, Jen 😀 I just don’t know how my mom and grandma can roll these out so quickly? haha

    Thanks, Micha! The rolling isn’t as difficult as it seems… but it definitely takes time… lots of it.

    Jacqui, that isn’t Nancy Ajram… but I guess the mystery singer and Nancy do look a little similar. I will e-mail you my grandma’s recipe for ghrybe tonight… enjoy!

    Thanks Shannon! I only wish they lasted longer than it took me to roll them 🙂

    I think my mac is what kept me sane through the entire process. You should definitely try making these… if anything it’ll be a fun experience 🙂

    Ay, Raquel… ya-pr-ques is la-kha-na 🙂 I will make some after I get back from Christmas break, I promise!

    You should give these little guys a second chance… so, so good!

    The Lebanese singer definitely made the whole process go by quicker. We should join forces and make a huge batch while watching an episode (err… I mean episodES) of House.

    Marianna, you’re AMAZING!! You’re the only person who got it correct – it is Najwa Karam! I’ve never tried making these with bulgur, but that sounds interesting… I will look into that.

    melfox, you should surprise her and try to make these one day!!

    Seleta, I am happy to have discovered your blog too! haha we should totally team up – I cook and you style 🙂

    Thanks, Pixen! I hope you found the info I e-mailed you to be useful!

    Thanks, habibi 🙂 hehe, I know you do!

    Hi Mai! Thanks for the info! I can’t wait to try this recipe with the machine!

    Thanks Summer!! I think the garlic is what gives the dish its amazing flavor!! I would say certainly give it a try with the garlic cloves and let me know what you think 🙂 I find the lemon-garlic combo to be an amazing pairing! After cooking they become soft and sweet.
    For the stuffed cabbage we use plenty of chopped garlic, too! I thought the Levant area in general (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan) uses garlic for the stuffed grape leaves and the stuffed cabbage. Now I’m curious, so I’ll look into this some more.

  18. Hi Tony, I really got a kick out of reading your page here on how to make Yabraq (I’m guessing this to be the spelling thats goes with what my family (Syrian) always called it.) I can so relate to your story! When I saw mom soaking the leaves that she just picked from the yard, I would “try” and run but always got stuck helping with my 2 older sisters. Being the youngest by 6 years, I always got stuck pulling the stems off. Took years before I became a “roller”! Your #9 picture is the best! Thanks for the laugh of “truth”.


  19. I’m trying to purchase a Dolma Rolling Machine Where and how do I get ahold of one ? Would someone please email me as to where to buy one. Thank you

  20. Great post! I love this website. It has the recipes for everything I crave to make. I especially love the Spanish flare!

    The singer is Najwa Karam!

  21. My husband and I made these last night. They turned out pretty good, but we used brown rice and the rice was still crunchy. We are going to try again with white rice and see if that makes a difference. Great mix of flavors. I also recommend adding fresh dill and/or mint to add to the great flavors inside the dolmas.

  22. Hi Brittany! I should have made a note about using brown rice–I’ve never tried it myself, but you’ll probably want to cook the dolmas in slightly more liquid and for a much longer time, maybe 2 to 2.5 hours. Thanks for the recommendations for suing mint and dill! I love using these herbs in a vegetarian recipe for dolmas that I make, but haven’t blogged about yet. Maybe I need to get working on that soon 😀

  23. I was trying to “pin” this on pinterest, but there isn’t an image that comes up to pin, other than “Tony Tahhan” up at the top. I want people to see that yabraq is NOT the same as dolmas. Because everyone tells me I’m wrong and that there is NO such thing. Oddly I’ve eaten it since almost birth, so I’m sure it’s real, ha ha. My Grandmother was taught how to make Yabraq years and years ago by an elderly lady that lived next door to her. We also make the yogurt and garlic sauce (with cucumbers)and have a flat pita bread.
    The recipes have now been passed on to 4 generations in our family. Thank you SO much for posting this.

  24. Antonio Tahhan,

    I noticed you mentioned using a plate to cover the stuffed grape leaves when cooking them.

    Have you ever used a Dolma Stone to hold your Dolmades together while they cook? I understand this old world kitchen device does a wonderful job of keeping the Dolmades from unraveling and actually helps cook them from the top down due to the heat the stone holds. The holes allow steam to escape and the handle makes it very easy to take out of the pot.

    William A. Sheppard V.

    3rd Generation Owner/Artist of Pat Young Ceramic Arts
    Studio Celebrated 50 Years in 2004
    6-S-2-U & ME

  25. Hello Tony,
    I just made a vegetarian warag Enab, and I was googling a way for me to cook them with out burning anything. I came across your blog and I loved everything about it! great job sir. I loved the pictures.. it took me about 3 hours to make 150 mini ones.
    the singer is Najwa Karam?

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