Lebanese-style dolmas (Mehshee warak enab wkoosa)

September 2, 2013  •  Category:


This is the epitome of a Lebanese-style dolmas; the grape leaves are picked fresh  (and the freh grape leaves are sold at Middle-Eastern stores )or you can use the brined ones. The zucchinis are much maller and sweeter; you can cut them in half if you like (I did that for decades, leaving one inch of pulp at the bottom and top). It is the type of dish that would please a table of guests and is perfect for a crockpot; it needs slow cooking to taste the best.

revert to original

INGREDIENTS: 4 servings (up to 8)

  • 8 small lamb chops or shoulder chops or lamb bones (less is fine)
  • 2 lbs zucchinis `if giant, cut in half, just don’t core all the way, leave room for the rice to expand
  • 1 lb. brined or fresh grape leaves


  • 1/4lb ground beef (or lamb or a combo or beef and lamb)
  • 1 cup medium-grain rice (such as sushi, caltrose, Egyptian, Italian, Turkish)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, as needed
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper or white pepper or paprika
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (more if needed or replace with water)
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste or pomegranate molasses + a dash of sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (more if needed)
  • water, as needed (1 or more cups)
  • 1 lb. yogurt, to serve

core zucchini

fill grape leaves

1. Season and fry the lamb chops or bones in the pot itself, about 3 minutes on each side. Set the pot aside and focus on the stuffing for the zucchinis and grape leaves. Place all the stuffing ingredients in a bowl, adding tomato paste, spices, a dash of sugar, if desired and mixing the stuffing briefly. Now, focus your attention on assembling the dish, starting with the zucchinis or grape leaves. When stuffing the zucchinis, if they are extra long, cut in half and leave 1/2 ” in order to allow for the rice to expand.

2. Core the zucchini (there are special extra-long corers available at all `Middle-Eastern stores), fill them with one or two tablespoon of stuffing; place the stuffed zucchinis at the bottom of the pot over the chops or lamb bones; this is done in order to protect them from bruising while cooking . When the zucchinis have been used us, start stuffing the grape leaves, placing one tablespoon in the middle of each leaf (see pic) and folding each leaf gently. Place each stuffed leaf on top of a stuffed zucchini going around the pot until all has been filled. 

3. Place a small dessert plate on the pot to hold the stuffed veggies in place; mix the olive oil, lemon juice and water and pour over the pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 45 minutes or so. Uncover and check to make sure the stuffing is fully cooked. Cool and serve warm or lukewarm with a bowl of yogurt on the side.

Serve warm with a bowl of plain yogurt on the side for a grandiose feast, `Lebanese-style. 

BUILD casserole

Preparing ahead: You can cook this halfway and freeze the entire pot; to reheat the day of the party, just go very slowly on the back burner with a cover and cook with a gentle bubble for 30 minutes or until all are meltingly tender.

place small plate on dolmas

2 roosters


23 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Rosa says:

    Fabulous! That is something I want to try making very soon…



  2. weavethousandflavors says:

    Joumana dear, this is truly a thing of beauty – simple, honest and such technique. So happy to be back to your blog. I’ve missed you dear friend. Hope your summer was fabulous!

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  3. Hisham Assaad says:

    I love stuffed grape leaves. I used to help mom roll them.
    I am very picky. I love them when they’re really tight and uniform.

  4. Kathy says:

    Just like my grandmothers! The Lebanese version is so delicious! I’ve only made them a few times…I have to rectify that! Beautiful, Joumana!

  5. Oui, Chef says:

    Oohhh….talk about soul food!

  6. Mark Wisecarver says:

    Mmm fresh/warm Khobaz and Lemon juice with these and I’m in heaven. 🙂
    btw, being Syrian/Lebanese is a very trying time right now, my thoughts and prayers are with all our families.

  7. Paula Mello says:

    In my family we used to fill the zucchinis with rice and meat, and a lot of garlic! A little bit of cayena pepper or cinnamon and it’s perfect!

    It’s sooo good!!

    • Joumana says:

      @ Paula: Yes, lots of garlic sounds delicious! `i like how this dish can be customized per family and made into a tradition!
      @Mark: Your thoughts and prayers are well-received. hope the outcome is not as bad as it looks from here.
      @Kathy: Definitely a grandmother’s dish to remember fondly!
      @Hisham`; `yes, I know a lot of people who look first to see if they are rolled real tight. i am not that picky, as long a the taste is lemony!
      @DEvaki: Will be back to comment but `i just cannot seem to be able to do so on your site; my summer was very challenging! missed you too! 🙂
      @Rosa: Hope you do and let me know what you thought of the results! 🙂
      @Belinda: yes, fresh is always better! try swiss chard for fresh leaves instead.

  8. MaryAthenes says:

    Magnifique ! Tu me fais partir a Chypre chez une amie qui les fait si bien… Miam, j’ai l’eau a la bouche la !
    Bises d’Athenes

  9. Velva says:

    Just beautiful. I did not know you could use the leaves from the squash plant too. Very cool. It makes sense once you think about it.


    • Joumana says:

      @Velva: I discovered that folks in the rural areas use (besides grape leaves), leaves from mulberry trees, pepper plants, even cyclamen flowers; in short, anything they can that is not considered toxic. By far, the most widespread use is for Swiss chard leaves,; the advantage there is the leaves are always available fresh in the markets, and when cooked liked grape leaves over a slow fire turn tender and silcky.

  10. Alicia (foodycat) says:

    I’ve never tried them with chops cooked in the pot – what a lovely idea!

  11. mariam says:

    great dish..recipe isnt to clear..where do you add the tomato paste and olive oil?

    • Joumana says:

      @Mariam: You add the tomato paste when you are mixing the stuffing (prior to stuffing); the tomato paste is optional, some people do not add it, or use a bit of pomegranate molasses instead. The olive oil is mixed with the lemon juice and added to the pot to make enough broth for the veggies to cook in.

  12. Ed Habib says:

    I made some yesterday, my problem is that I nibble on so many of the lamb bones I can only manage a few grape leaves(but I must have leban)

  13. Katerina says:

    I love dolmades as we call them and we too make them with meat or with rice when fastening. This is another one dish that confirms how many common things people around the Mediterranean share!

  14. tom | tall clover says:

    Joumana, this is one favorite meals. My grandmother treated me to it when I visited her and my Mom just served it when she visited me. It’s a dish made of love and memories. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

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