Stuffed Grape Leaves (Tolma)

Grape vines criss-cross Georgia like telephone wires. Cooks in other parts of the country often stuff them with a mixture of beef and pork, but an all-beef filling is more popular in the Ajara region bordering Turkey, where Ottoman influences run deep and many people consider themselves Muslims.

Georgian Stuffed Grape Leaves (Tolma)
Makes about 35 stuffed leaves


1 jar (16 oz.) grape leaves, preserved in brine, stems removed

1 ½ lb. ground beef (85% lean is best)
½ cup long-grain white rice, uncooked
1 cup minced yellow onion
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/3 cup refined sunflower oil (or any mild-tasting vegetable oil)
1 cup minced fresh herbs (any combination of cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, dill, purple basil)
2 tsp. ground coriander
Salt and black pepper to taste

Garlic yogurt sauce:
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek style, the tartest you can find)
2 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
Pomegranate molasses (optional)


  1. Drop the grape leaves into boiling water for 1 minute to soften them. Shock them under cold water and drain them well.
  2. Mix the filling ingredients together. It’s helpful to cook a spoonful of it so you can taste it and adjust the seasoning as necessary before stuffing the leaves with it.
  3. Line the bottom of a pan with grape leaves to keep the rolls you’re about to cook from sticking.
  4. Stuff the rest of the grape leaves: lay a leaf on a flat surface, dull side up. Drop a teaspoon or so of the filling near the stem end, fold the sides of the leaf in to cover it, then roll up and press the tip into the roll as if you were sealing an envelope.
  5. Layer the stuffed grape leaves in the pan, seam side down, in concentric circles. Weigh them down with a plate.
  6. Pour in enough salted water to cover the stuffed grape leaves up to the level of the plate. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until meat is cooked and rice is tender.
  7. While the rolls are cooking, puree the yogurt, garlic, and salt together to make a sauce.
  8. When the rolls are cooked, remove them from the water carefully using a slotted spoon or spatula. Serve warm with a little sauce drizzled over them. I like to drizzle them with a touch of pomegranate molasses as well, which is not traditional but tastes wonderful.

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