apple cabbage dolma

apple cabbage dolma

Dolma resists the standard recipe genre, and I can totally relate. When I’m cooking for fun, I usually tend to estimate and improvise. But I insist on being super precise when I’m developing and testing recipes here. I need to be able to honestly guarantee that if you start with the first step, and then follow them one by one, it will turn out perfectly. And I love knowing that I’m not leaving you with a pile of leftover stuffing and nothing to wrap it with.

But dolma? Dolma doesn’t care about my digital scale or my measuring cups. Dolma is kind of a badass, and it will never let you define it with numbers and checklists. So whenever I’m writing a recipe for it, I get this strong urge to just throw the measurements out the window and write up a guide instead.

I think this tension has finally manifested in my recipe for apple cabbage dolma. I’ve tested this recipe so many times, but at the end of the day, dolma takes a certain know-how, and can’t always be explained in a step-by-step way. So while I did my best to standardize, the following recipe is occasionally more of a choose-your-own-adventure book than a packet of instructions for assembling an Ikea bookshelf.

The first adventure in making apple dolma? Choosing the right size pot! Apple dolma is a staple of Assyrian cuisine, so if you’ve made it a million times before, you probably don’t think twice about it. But to a novice, apples are big, inflexible obstacles, and it takes some practice to learn how to nest things around them efficiently.

apple cabbage dolma
apple cabbage dolma
apple cabbage dolma
apple cabbage dolma
apple cabbage dolma
apple cabbage dolma

choosing the right container for apple dolma

Picking the right pot is one of the trickiest things about making dolma. The problem is, the shape of the pot matters just as much as the size. But it’s easy to find the right pot once you know what you’re doing, and once you build up your dolma tetris skills, you’ll develop an eye for choosing the right size. So here’s the goal: you want to pick a pot that gives your dolma the tightest fit possible, but you need to make sure there is enough room at the top so it doesn’t bubble over as it cooks.

For this recipe, the essential first step is to find a pot that holds all 5 apples in 1 layer. A pot where they’re all just about shoulder-to-shoulder is perfect. But second, you need to make sure there will be enough space over their tops (at least 1 inch) to allow the liquid to rise and bubble a bit. Once you’ve packed cabbage around the apples, it’s going to be a tight fit, so there won’t be much room for the liquid to fill the empty spaces. But that’s what you want for a perfect pot of dolma.

If the apples are more loosey goosey, and have a lot of breathing room between them, you might not be able to get the tightest fit with the cabbage rolls all the way to the tops of the apples, so you may end up needing a little more liquid. If that’s the case, make sure you have a can of V8 or tomato juice on standby, and feel free to top off the pot with up to 3/4 cup of veggie juice if you end up needing it. The apples don’t need to be absolutely submerged, because the liquid level will rise a little eventually. But the liquid should reach at least almost to the tops. The problem with having to use extra liquid, and leaving your dolma a little extra space, is that they’re more likely to come unwrapped, and their flavor will be a little different from the ones that are packed in like sardines. But it’s really not the end of the world, and all part of the process of becoming a dolma master.

Now you know everything you need to know about selecting the right pot, but let me take a little detour to give you a suggestion for how to use up all those apple cores.

what to do with all those apple guts

It’s important to core things very thinly when making dolma (the sides should be no thicker than a quarter inch), and so you’re going to end up with a lot of apple guts. If you’re concerned about food waste, you might be tempted to leave the apples on the bulky side, but I highly recommend fighting that urge, because the final product will taste kind of watered down if you do. And besides—leftover apple guts means you get to make Julia Turshen’s applesauce cake!

If you want to save the apple guts, first use a melon baller or sharp measuring spoon to carve out the seeds and tough core. Throw that part away, and save the rest of the scraps as you continue coring. The apple scraps may start to oxidize and turn brown, which is totally fine—just throw them in a saucepan with a tablespoon or two of water and a little squeeze of lemon, bring it to a simmer over medium heat, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the apples are super soft and falling apart. Mash them up with a fork, and chill in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. As long as you core your apples thinly enough, one recipe of this apple dolma makes enough for exactly one recipe of Julia’s cake, so nothing will end up going to waste.

apple cabbage dolma
apple cabbage dolma

apple cabbage dolma

yield: 6 to 8 servings
active time: 1 hour 15 minutes
total time: 2 hours 30 minutes
download a PDF to print
for more dolma recipes, visit the
dolma archives

make the filling

  • 28-ounce can diced tomato (800 gram can) (save the juice for the next part)

  • 1 cup green onions, chopped (55 grams)

  • 1 cup parsley leaves, chopped (27 grams)

  • 1/2 cup dill fronds, chopped (27 grams)

  • 3/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped (27 grams)

  • 1 medium jalapeño, seeded and minced (27 grams minced)

  • 3 cloves garlic crushed through a press (15 grams)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste (22 grams)

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (28 grams)

  • Shy 1/2 cup medium grain rice (100 grams) (e.g., Calrose)

  • 11 ounces ground or hand-minced beef (312 grams)

  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

  1. Strain the can of diced tomatoes, reserving the juice (do not throw away the juice!). Press the diced tomatoes/tomato pulp with the back of a spoon to make sure they are extremely well-strained. There should be about 2 cups of reserved liquid, and about 1 cup (280 grams) of tomato pulp.

  2. Combine the tomato pulp, green onion, parsley, dill, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, tomato paste, melted butter, rice, beef, pepper, and salt. Use your hands to mix everything together until it’s completely combined.

stuff and cook the apples and cabbage

  • 1 medium potato, sliced into 1/8 to 1/4-inch-thick rounds (enough to cover the bottom of the pot)

  • The reserved tomato juice (from above), about 2 cups

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (59 grams)

  • 3 tablespoons melted butter (42 grams)

  • Salt to taste

  • 5 large granny smith apples (1025 grams)

  • 1 small cabbage (700 to 800 grams)

  • (optional: a can of vegetable juice or tomato juice, just in case)

  1. Lightly oil the bottom of an approximately 4-quart* dutch oven or stockpot. Arrange the potato slices on the bottom so the apples won’t touch the bottom directly.

  2. Combine the reserved tomato juice, lemon juice, melted butter, salt to taste, and set aside.

  3. Bring a stockpot of salted water to a boil.

  4. While you’re waiting on the water, hollow out the apples:** Cut about 1/2 inch off the top of the apple (reserve the top), then use a 1/2-teaspoon or melon baller to carve out the base, leaving no thicker than 1/4-inch sides (it should be quite hollow).

  5. Once the water is boiling, cut the cabbage in half from root to end. Use a paring knife to carefully remove the core (the part that holds everything together). Place the cabbage in the water, reduce to a simmer, and let it cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, just until the leaves are soft enough to bend very easily without snapping. As the large leaves soften and fall away, remove them from the water and let them cool on a plate, and eventually remove the whole thing from the water once it's soft enough.

  6. Stuff the apples first (don’t tamp the stuffing down super tightly, but make sure they’re pretty full).

  7. Finish prepping the cabbage by shaving down the ribs. Place a cabbage leaf flat on a cutting board, so that the bumpy part of the rib is showing. Carefully hold a sharp knife flat against the cabbage leaf, and cut across (but away from your hand!) to remove the bumpy part of the rib.

  8. Stuff the cabbage leaves sort of like spring rolls or burritos. If you’re having trouble getting them to stay closed, just use less filling per leaf.

  9. Build the pot: First figure out where the apples are going to go. Then use your tetris skills to nest cabbage leaves under the base of the apples, so it’s a super snug fit. Fit cabbage leaves around the apples wherever you can, leaving space for their caps. There should be very few gaps.

  10. Pour the liquid evenly over the dolma, allowing a little bit to pour into the open apples (you may not need to use all of the liquid). Top the apples with their caps, and pour on more of the liquid. It’s ok if the tops are slightly exposed, but the liquid should reach almost to the top of the veggies (if not slightly over their tops). Make sure there’s at least 1 inch of room at the top so it doesn’t bubble over. If you don’t have quite enough liquid, top it off with a little bit of veggie juice (you’ll know you won tetris if you don’t need more liquid).

  11. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat, then place a heavy heat-proof plate face-down over the dolma, and use a wooden spoon to press it down a bit. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 more minutes. Control the heat while it cooks to make sure it is at a simmer (you’ll gradually lower the heat as it heats through). Once it’s done, keep it covered and let it rest for 30 minutes off the heat.

  12. Safely flip the dolma over onto a sheet pan or serving tray (visit this post for dolma flipping tips). For a showstopper: lift the upside-down pot to reveal the dolma, and serve.

* It’s important to find the right pot to make your dolma. I used a 3 1/2 quart Le Creuset dutch oven when testing and photographing this recipe, but it was a very tight fit, and it was close to bubbling over toward the end of cooking. So I recommend using a 4 quart pot if you don’t have advanced dolma tetris skills. When looking for the right pot, it’s important to find one that fits all 5 apples in 1 layer. They should be touching or almost touching, and not too spread apart, and there should be some space between the tops of the apples and the top of the pot (to make sure it doesn’t bubble over). Read the notes above the recipe for more details on choosing the right one.
** Feel free to reserve (and/or freeze) the insides to make applesauce, apple bread, or apple cake.

apple cabbage dolma

weeknight vegan pepper dolma

vegan pepper dolma

When I wrote up my recipe for combination dolma earlier this month, I briefly thought about trying to simplify it, but I decided against it, because dolma is so essentially labor-intensive. But as much as I love the process, and as much as quick dolma goes against my sensibilities, I also love eating dolma, and sometimes I don't have time to make it, so I finally came up with a way to make it on a weeknight.

If you've never made a big pot, let me give you a sense of what you're missing: First you chop a million different ingredients for the stuffing (separately!). Then you prepare the wrappers—all those grape leaves, cabbage leaves, and onion layers need to be blanched, separated, and trimmed, and all those veggies need to be completely hollowed out with a zucchini corer. Once you're done with the wrappers and the stuffing, you'll probably feel like there should be something edible to snack on by now, but alas! There's not. There are just piles of raw meat, uncooked rice, and par-cooked veggies. But nevertheless, you continue on to the most time-consuming part: the wrapping and stuffing. You spend forever folding, rolling, and building the pot. And then it cooks and rests for an hour and a half.

I might sound kind of whiney, but I actually love this process. It's therapeutic to make a big pot of dolma on your own when you have an afternoon to yourself to catch up on your podcasts, and it's so much fun to make dolma with a big group of family. While too many cooks spoil the broth, many hands make light dolma. Little kids can help out by separating the leaves, and older kids can even help roll. But for days when you don't have time, but still want dolma, I've got you covered. Here's what makes this recipe easier:

vegan pepper dolma gif
vegan pepper dolma
vegan pepper dolma
vegan pepper dolma
vegan pepper dolma
vegan pepper dolma
weeknight vegan pepper dolma

1) Instead of mincing by hand, you use a food processor. Plus, I came up with the right order to chop ingredients in the food processor, so that you don't need to wash it between uses. You just add, blitz, empty, repeat. The above series illustrates the process, and the stuffing comes together so quickly, you'll feel like you're in a real-life Tasty video.

2) I've chosen the easiest veggie my family makes dolma with: peppers, like cubanelles and poblanos. They're big and already hollow, and they take almost no time to core and stuff. We don't normally make an entire pot with these peppers, but they're in every batch of combination dolma, and the peppers are always a nice break from stuffing the grape and cabbage leaves. Here, they make up the entire pot, so the whole thing is easy, and it turns out delicious.

3) I went with a vegan stuffing. My family's meat-stuffed dolma has beef that's been minced by hand, rather than commercially ground. Mincing by hand is very time consuming, so my family's vegan dolma is way easier. The vegan stuffing in this recipe is the one we make for fasting holidays like Lent and the commemoration of Jonah's prophecy. You could of course use ground beef instead of the mushrooms and walnuts—it's just a personal preference, and everyone tends to like dolma the way they grew up with it.

4) You briefly cook the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, and then don't wash the pot because you'll be cooking the dolma in it in a few. Easy cleanup, and more flavor!

5) Because it's a smaller batch, it can cook for a little less than a giant pot of combination dolma. This one only needs 30 minutes of cooking and 15 minutes of resting. Make sure it's at a gentle boil (above a simmer, below a rapid boil), don't skip the plate weight, and don't peek too often, and it'll cook in no time.

A note on the kind of pepper: poblanos vary a lot in spiciness, but you can control this a bit by using a zucchini corer or paring knife to remove the pith from the inside. But that kind of defeats the purpose of making this easy, so if you want a milder pepper, I'd suggest going with cubanelles instead, which are not very spicy (even if you don't remove every bit of pith). If you use poblanos, get ready for a couple unbelievably spicy ones (I like that sort of thing, but you might not, so buyer be ware!). I don't really recommend using bell peppers here, because they are harder to nest together in a small batch like this. I've also tried making this with mini sweet peppers, but they take way too long to core and stuff. Give yourself a break and go for poblanos or cubanelles!

vegan pepper dolma

weeknight vegan pepper dolma

download a PDF to print
serves: 6 as a main, 12 as a side
active time: 25 minutes
total time: 90 minutes
for more dolma recipes, visit the dolma archives

filling

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked medium grain rice (e.g., Calrose)

  • 8-ounce container mushrooms

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

  • salt

  • 1/2 cup whole walnuts

  • 1 medium bunch parsley *

  • 1 medium bunch cilantro

  • 1 medium bunch dill

  • 4 cloves garlic

  • 1 medium bunch green onions

  • 8 ounce can tomato sauce

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste

  1. Soak the rice for 10 minutes, and then rinse and strain it. Add it to a medium mixing bowl.

  2. Heat a medium-large dutch oven over medium-high heat for a couple minutes. While you're waiting, pulse the mushrooms in a food processor to finely chop them (but then don't wash the food processor until otherwise noted!).

  3. Add the 1 teaspoon olive oil to the pot, followed by the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste), and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes, until the juices evaporate and the mushrooms brown a bit. Remove the pot from heat and add the mushrooms to the mixing bowl (but then don't wash the dutch oven).

  4. In the same food processor, pulse the walnuts until they're finely chopped,** then add them to the mixing bowl. Do the same with the parsley, cilantro, and dill (you should end up with about 2 to 2 1/2 cups chopped herbs), and add to the mixing bowl. Next mince the garlic in the food processor, and add the green onions right on top of the minced garlic, pulsing it to chop (you should end up with about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of chopped green onion), and add to the mixing bowl. (Now you can wash the food processor.)

  5. Add the tomato sauce, 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste), black pepper, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and tomato paste to the mixing bowl. Stir everything together until it's completely mixed.

stuffing and cooking the peppers

  • 2 pounds 9 ounces poblano or cubanelle peppers (about 12 peppers) ***

  • 2 cups vegetable juice ****

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • salt to taste †

  1. Trim and discard the stems off the peppers, and then cut the tops off (save them). Use a paring knife or zucchini corer to get rid of the seeds and (optionally) some or all of the pith (the more pith you get rid of the less spicy they will be).

  2. Stuff the peppers with the filling, being careful not to over-stuff them (the rice needs room to expand). There shouldn't be any large gaps, but they shouldn't be absolutely packed in and stuffed to the brim.

  3. Place the pepper tops sort of halfway over the tops (they'll kind of awkwardly stick out, which is totally fine). Use your tetris skills to fit one layer of the peppers in the bottom of the mushroomy dutch oven (they should be on their sides). Add on one or two more layers, trying to create a snug fit.

  4. Pour the vegetable juice, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil over the tops of the stuffed peppers. Place a heavy heat-proof plate face-down over the center of the peppers. Bring everything to a boil over medium-high heat, and keep an eye on it while it heats. Once it reaches a gentle boil (a few big bubbles breaking the surface, but not a rapid boil), cover the pot (with the plate and lid) and reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle boil.

  5. Cook this way for about 35 minutes. Check on it intermittently to make sure it's at a gentle boil, and adjust the heat as necessary. Don't open the lid too often, or the top layer won't cook through enough. Once it's done, keep the lid on and let it rest for about 15 minutes, undisturbed.

* All the herbs need to be washed and dried well, and their stems need to be removed. But don't spend too much time on it for this recipe. Just rip the top of the bunch off with one twist, and sort through them to remove any big stems, then wash and dry them. They don't need to be perfect, since the stems will totally soften as they cook. But please don't tell my grandmother (if you're reading this, sorry Nana! <3)"
** A reader notes below that this is really delicious with more coarsely chopped walnuts, which I love the sound of! Dolma is a very soft food in general, especially vegan dolma, and it’s nice to introduce something a little crunchier.
*** Find the biggest peppers you can, and look for ones that aren't crooked. This will make stuffing quick. Poblanos are pictured here, but cubanelles work great too, and are much less spicy. If you plan to carefully remove the pith from the poblanos to make sure they're not too spicy, just go with the cubanelles, which you won't have to be as careful with.
**** I use V8, and 2 cups is conveniently just about 3 15.5-ounce cans.
† Many vegetable juices already have a lot of sodium (e.g., V8). If yours is low sodium, you should season it with some salt. I don't add salt to the vegetable juice if it's already seasoned.

vegan pepper dolma