Advertisement Close

Warak Enab (Stuffed Grape Leaves or Dolmas)

posted on: Jan 20, 2021

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

As children living in foggy San Francisco, my Arab American parents would drive us to the warm wine country in Napa Valley in the mid-summer. We would knock on the vintner’s doors and ask permission to pick the grape leaves, not the grapes. While the vintners seemed puzzled, they always somehow said yes. So we grabbed our large trash bags and started picking for hours. Then we’d get home exhausted and sunburned, but triumphant that we were going to eat the best “Warak Enab,” or stuffed grape leaves,  this side of Palestine. We’d then spend the next day with scissors, clipping the stems off of every leaf before my mother prepared them for freezing. 

Warak Enab is basically the Arab version of Greek dolmas. “Warak” means paper, and “Enab” means grapes. While picking the leaves is simple enough, many people are intimidated about making their first pot of warak enab. This is the kind of delicacy that can take more than an hour to prepare, and less than 10 minutes to eat because the tender leaves surrounding fragrant rice and lamb are addictive and irresistible. However, this recipe is quite simple and worth the effort. Enlisting the help of family members to roll up the grape leaves not only cuts preparation time, it also makes the dish more special for everyone involved. 

MTJPX4 stuffed grape leaves

If you have access to fresh grape leaves, freeze any you don’t want to use in plastic bags. Just be sure you pick the leaves when they are young and tender, and are at least 4 inches in diameter. The leaves from green grape varieties are more tender than the leaves from red grapes. Canned grape leaves are an accessible option. You can find them in many Middle Eastern markets. Just wash and dry the briny leaves before using. A great trick to keep these rolled up gems intact while cooking? Place a small flat plate on top of the pot which somehow works every time to keep them in place and prevents the warak enab from bursting while cooking.  For a vegetarian version, replace the meat with chickpeas, and add ½ cup minced parsley to the rice filling. 

For the step by step tutorial on how to make this celebrated dish, click on the video below:

Warak Enab (Stuffed Grape Leaves or Dolmas), makes 6 servings:

1 cup of rice (jasmine, basmati, or long grain rice)

1 cup of chili cut lamb or dark meat chicken (you can use ground beef or lamb too) 

1 tsp salt, divided

½ tsp allspice

¼ tsp pepper 

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ cup minced fresh mint

1 tbsp. of melted butter

2 large tomatoes, sliced

2 large tomatoes pureed

1 can of tomato sauce

1 pound of lamb shoulder pieces (optional)

1 pot of boiling water

About 50 grape leaves 

To prepare the filling, mix meat, rice, nutmeg, ½ tsp of salt, pepper, allspice, mint, nutmeg, and butter (which will prevent the rice from sticking). Puree the tomatoes, and add 3 tbsp of the puree to the rice, and set the rest aside. Mix well. If using canned leaves, rinse them well. If using fresh leaves, cover with hot water until the leaves become limp and turn a darker green, about 1 minute. Using your fingers, lay flat one grape leaf so that the rougher side is facing up. Take about 1/2 tbsp. of the rice filling, and form a mound in the middle shaped like a rectangle. Fold the stem side horizontally over the stuffing, then fold the two vertical sides over the first fold. Then roll the rest like a burrito until it reaches the point of the leaf. You should have a cylinder about 3 inches long and ½ inches thick. The trick is to roll it tight enough so that it holds its shape, but no not too tightly in order to leave enough room for the rice to expand when cooking. Roll the rest of the grape leaves in the same fashion. Line the bottom of the pan with grape leaves, then add a layer of sliced tomatoes.  This will prevent the stuffed grape leaves from burning on the bottom of the pan. Place the lamb as another layer, if using. Sprinkle the lamb with salt, pepper, and allspice. Then place rolls side by side in layers over the lamb. Pour the can of tomato sauce and the rest of the pureed tomato on top, along with enough boiling water to cover. Sprinkle the top with about 1 ½ tsp salt, and place a small flat plate on top of the pot. This will prevent the warak enab from breaking apart.  Bring to a boil,  then reduce heat, cover and simmer for another 50 minutes. Taste test a roll to make sure rice is done before serving. To serve, turn the pot upside down in a large serving dish and dig in.

Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the YouTube cooking show called Feast in the Middle East and cookbook author. For more authentic and classical Middle Eastern recipes, you can now purchase her brand new cookbook: “Feast in the Middle East, A Personal  Journey of Family and Cuisine” by clicking HERE: 

To  check out her cooking video tutorials and other recipes follow Blanche on



Instagram: @BlancheMedia

Facebook: Blanche’s Feast In the Middle East