Growing up, my mom would occasionally bring out the family recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls and my younger sister and I would help her roll the cabbage leaves. My sister and I interpreted the responsibility of this task with solemnity and reverence. With diligence and focus, we fell into a silent meditation while rolling up cabbage leaves.
Preparing these paleo dolmas brought me back to that memory. It could seem tedious to roll up grape leave after grape leave by myself, but I found my hands weaving in a meditative dance between the plate, the jar of grape leaves, and the bowl of lamb filling. The repetition stilled my mind and brought me into the moment. Before I knew it, I had rolled nearly 40 leaves by myself.
This recipe reminded me that cooking is more than food preparation. It is a pathway to creativity, meditation, generosity, love and community.
About the Paleo Dolmas ingredients
Ground lamb is the traditional meat for dolmas, but you could substitute lean (not extra lean) ground beef.
Pine nuts, again, are the traditional option but you can substitute a nut which you tolerate. I used macadamia nuts because I had them on hand.
Fresh mint and fresh lemon create add vibrant flavor and cut through the richness of the lamb, nuts, and olive oil. Dried mint or packaged lemon juice would absolutely not do justice in this recipe.
Grape leaves come packed in a jar are now available in almost any well-stocked grocery store.
- 1 Tbs. ghee or coconut oil
- ½ onion, chopped
- ¾ head cauliflower, riced (see note) to make about 4 cups riced cauliflower
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 3 Tbs. currants
- 3 Tbs. pine nuts (or a nut you tolerate, I used chopped macadamia nuts)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- 1 lemon
- 1 jar grape leaves
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- In a saute pan over medium heat, saute the onion in the ghee until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- In a large bowl with your hands, combine the riced cauliflower, cooked onion, mint, lamb, currants, nuts, garlic cloves, and salt. Add the juice of ½ the lemon (2 Tbs. juice). Combine well.
- To roll the dolmas, place a flattened grape leaf vein-side up. Place a packed tablespoon, more or less, of filling at the base of the leaf (see images above). Then, holding the filling in place, fold in the sides of the leaf and roll it up.
- As you make the dolmas, place them seam-side down in a large pot. Pack tightly to create a layer. If you have enough for two layers, make another layer.
- Drizzle the dolmas with the juice of the other half lemon and the olive oil. Add water to the pot to just fully cover the dolmas.
- Find a plate that fits the width of the pot, and place it over the dolmas to weight them down during cooking. If you use a salad place, you may need to double-stack it to provide adequate weight.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Serve dolmas warm or chilled. If storing them in the fridge before serving, place them in a container and spoon over some of the cooking water to keep them moist.