Brown Rice and Lentil Vine Leaf Rolls


I went “Cabinet Cooking” again.  I know that I make it sound like dumpster diving, and I really shouldn’t because it always ends up beings healthy food that just doesn’t require a quick trip to the grocery store.  The hermetic avoidance of fresh air was probably key, come to think of it, because you know what I don’t feel like doing when I’m flu-ish and cranky with matted hair and a face which would stop Medusa dead in her tracks?  I don’t feel like going to the grocery store in the town where I know 10% of the population by name.  Sure, Mike makes fun of my very well stocked pantry (it is possible that he has a point, and there’s no need for me to hoard 16 cans of coconut milk at any given time) but every now and again being a pack rat comes in handy.

These brown rice and lentil stuffed rolls are a healthy, low fat vegan riff on the Middle Eastern meat and rice stuffed vine leaf rolls that I adore.  They’re quite similar to Greek dolmades with the main exceptions that they don’t get packed in (or drizzled with) oil after they’re cooked and the seasoning takes a bit of a left turn. The joy of stuffed vine leaf rolls is that you can flavor them with whatever herbs and spices float your boat (from cinnamon to dill and everything in between), sweeten them with currants or raisins, make them meaty with lamb, beef or even ground turkey (delightful), and pretty much just play around.  You want to add a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses?  Be my guest.  You think that cumin is the bees-knees?  Go crazy.  The rolls are versatile, which is one of the reasons that you’ll find very different (but always delicious) versions of stuffed vine leaf rolls from Afghanistan to Morocco, and everywhere in between.

I tend to post a lot of Lebanese food on this site, and my beef and rice filled Warak Dawali recipe is, for Mike and I, one of our shared favorites.  Despite the fact that the recipe makes a metric tonne we always manage to finish it off in a matter of days….just the two of us……happily.  And then I go and make it with LENTILS.  Huh.

I’m always a bit leery of feeding my carnivorous fiancé vegan foods which are masquerading as his favorite meat-filled fare, not because he won’t eat or enjoy it (he will), but because he gets that freshly clubbed baby seal look on his face.  He might as well have been keening, plaintively, “Whhhyyyyy, Tina?  Whhhhyyyyy do you trick me like this?? I thought you loooooooooved me!! Oooohhhhooooohhhh…..”  Then I have to go through the motions of soothing his ruffled pelt, promising him red meat within the next two days, and before you know it the emotional investment of convincing him his dinner isn’t poison takes a far greater toll on me than any health benefits from one meal of rice and beans.  Good thing that I don’t give up easily.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention The Comment. I brought a freshly cooked role to Mike in one of those just-eat-it kind of ways, and thinking that it was the meat filled roll that he loved he ate it without question.  And then I heard:  “Hey!  Oh, huh. *munchmunch* That’s lentil.   That’s not meat, it’s LENTIL.  But….these are *snarfchewgulp* really good.  I mean, really good. I like them as much as your other ones!  You could…you could even GIVE SOME TO YOUR DAD!” Now that’s just crazy talk, of course (don’t worry Dad, you’re still safe from my vegan fare…for now) but I’ll take it.

One final note if you’re still debating the pros and cons of a leaf stuffed with rice and lentils, because I know that the title doesn’t exactly bring upon mass salivation.  And, okay, they’re “rustic”, which is a nice way of saying a little bit homely.  Here’s the balance though:  not only are these delicious little rolled emerald cigars a meal that leaves you feeling virtuous rather than having the meat sweats, but they’re dead cheap to make.  For all of the ingredients combined this meal would have cost just over $8 CAD, which comes out to less than $2 per serving.  So…that’s pretty awesome.  Us po’ folks like our depression style cookery, you know.  When lentils and rice can be gussied up with a bit of Middle Eastern flair, I’d happily call that dinner.  And lunch.  And hopefully leftovers for a midnight snack.

Brown Rice and Lentil Vine Leaf Rolls

Serves 6ish

  • 1.5 cups uncooked short grain brown rice
  • 1.5 cups dried green or brown lentils *
  • 2 tbsp dried mint
  • 1.5 tbsp dried dill
  • 1.5 red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 300 g (just over 1/2 lb) grape vine leaves **
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

To serve:

  • Plain yoghurt
  • crumbled dried mint (optional)
  • sprinkling of za’atar (optional)
  • fresh lemon wedges (optional)


Pour the lentils into a medium to large bowl and pick through them for any stones or bits of detritus.  Add the brown rice, spices, and season with salt and pepper.  Admittedly, it can be hard to season the filling mixture right now because you don’t know how briny your leaves are going to be.  If the leaves are really salty they’ll transfer that into the stuffing and your wee roles could be a bit puckersome.  That said, I rinse and drain the leaves several times before using them so about 1 tsp of salt in the filling seems to work just right.


Slice the top off your onion but leave the base intact.  Peel away the papery shell and then grate the onion using a box grater.


Scrape the onion and all of it’s juices into your rice and lentil mixture.  Mince the garlic until it has an almost paste-like consistency (I use a rasp because I’m far too lazy to do this the long way).  Dollop in the tomato paste while you’re at it.


Mix the mixture well until the wet and pasty ingredients are evenly incorporated throughout.  The grains and lentils should be moist and you should not be able to see any big lumps or chunks of onion/tomato/garlic or it isn’t mixed in properly.  Put an extendable/collapsable footed strainer (I have no idea what the technical term is for this contraption, only that I bought mine at the dollar store…) on the bottom of the pot.  This will create an elevated surface so the rolls on the bottom don’t burn.

Take a peek through a handful of your vine leaves and pull out the ones which look particularly small or damaged.  Use these to layer on top of the strainer and form a base.


Now then, on to the rolls!  If your vine leaves have been packed in brine, rinse them thoroughly under cold running water or soak them for a half hour with at least two changes of water.  You want to get rid of the excessive salt.  As you go along, take out any vine leaves which are damaged or torn and leave these aside for the top.

Lay one vine leaf flat on your work surface with the vein side up.  Spoon a small amount (about 1-2 tsp) of filling in a log shape along the lower center of the leaf.  Bring the bottom of the leaf up to enclose the filling and tuck in the left and right sides.  Continue rolling the bundle up like you would a tortilla wrap.

When you roll be careful not to do it too tight because the rice and lentils will both expand.  However, you also don’t want the rolls to be too lose or they’ll fall apart.  I’m making this far more complicated than it needs to be.  Just roll the leaves up around the filling ‘comfortably’ and you’ll be fine.


Snuggle the vine leaf rolls into your pot.  When you have completed one full layer, change direction so that the second layer is perpendicular.  You should have enough filling to make 2-3 complete layers.  Lay the rest of your discarded/damaged leaves on top of the finished rolls.

Slice the lemon as thinly as you can and lay the slices evenly around as the very top layer.

Fill the pot up with water until the water level is a full inch above the top layer of vine leaf rolls (or 3/4″ above the lemons).


Put the pot on an element over high heat and wait for the water to come to a boil.  As soon as it does you can secure the pot with a tight fitting lid and turn the heat down very low.  The rolls are going to steam away (whatever you do, don’t lift the lid!!) for at least 1 hour and up to 90 minutes.  After 1 hour you can check on the rolls.  Peel the top layer of grape leaves aside and taste one of the rolls from the top.  If the rice and lentils are still chewy or firm put the lid back on and let them continue cooking.  If you’re going to let the rolls cook longer it’s important to remember  that they need liquid if they’re going to steam.  If you tilt the pot and don’t see any water, add another cup or two before you put the lid back on and let them continue steaming.

The rolls are done when the rice and lentils are both hydrated and tender.


Although the meat filled warak dawali are often served warm or at room temperature, I think that the vegan version fares much better when they’re hot.  You can serve the lovely green cigars with a yoghurt to dollop overtop, a sprinkling of fresh mint or za’atar, or even just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.


Making the rolls can be a tedious process at best, and I do find it a bit daunting that something which took me 45 minutes to assemble can be snarfed down in 10 minutes flat.  However, as far as nutritious deliciousness goes, these nutrient packed and fiber-rich vegan rolls make me happy enough that I always forget about the tedium until I’m halfway through preparing the next batch.

So….grape leaves and yoghurt.  They’re what’s for dinner.


  • Astra Libris

    Wow, Tina, these are absolutely GORGEOUS!! I’m incredibly impressed that you’re able to make such glorious gourmet fare while being under the weather… You rock! 🙂

  • Jacquie

    Neat! you make stuffing things in grape leaves look so easy. Any thoughts on stuffing them with fish? Also, since the leaves are difficult for me to find here, any brands to recommend or things to look for in the jars? (You are so lucky you have access to all these fun things!)

    • Wanis

      I have stuffed the grape leaves with fish. The grape leaves should be fresh ( have a slight natural acidity). Canned leaves are not that flavourful. I find that a low fat fish such as bass works best for my taste.

    • Tina

      Jacquie – vine leaves stuffed with fish are delicious! I would recommend that you steam the fish as opposed to pan fry or bake. I’ve used a firm fleshed white fish before and would recommend something similar to a cod or hake.

      If you can’t make friends with someone who has a grapevine in their backyard (I like to steal the leaves from my parents’ house in the summer/fall when I remember!) absolutely go for the jarred. That’s what I’ve used here and I do like them except that the brine can be a bit overpowering sometimes (salty and sour) so you really need to rinse them well. THe brand I usually buy from is Cedars because it’s the easiest for me to find. What you want to look for in the jars is anything that would indicate salt content! As an aside, I’ve bought vacuum packed parcels of vine leaves before (can’t remember if they were in the freezer section or just on the racks) and I think the company was Cedars. THey were great! A little bit less salt/flavor in the brine they sat in, possibly because it was so minimal.

      Good luck and happy hunting!!

  • S.

    Ah! I love vine leaf rolls! They bring back such fond memories of my grandmother sitting in her living room rolling dozens and dozens of vine leaves. She made the most wonderful ones stuffed with rice and beef or lamb mince…
    These are such a great vegetarian alternative though. I’m definitely going to try a batch next time I buy some vine leaves 🙂

  • tobias cooks!

    reminds me of Dolmades of course, but your filling is very different. I like the idea of lentis and rice in such a handy wrapping.

  • Greek girl

    arabs think this dish is of arabic origin but its not,it originates in Greece by name dolmadakia gialantzi and arabs just took it as theyr own like many other dishes

    • Tina

      Oh, Greek-girl. Please don’t make me call you out for this vaguely racist sentiment.

      No, actually, I changed my mind. I think I will. It feels silly to say that a dish is exclusively Greek, Persian, Turkish or Middle Eastern when you think about the thousands of years of trade, export, invasion and cultural adaptation. We also need to factor in the accessibility of food products. People ate what they could. Are vine leaves edible? Awesome! More, please. It has been suggested that in Greece and the Middle East vine leaves were stuffed with figs, fruit and nuts, and eaten daily. The Turks took a look at this, realized the Power of Rice, and started developing a laboriously hand-rolled snack as victuals for the elite. Soon enough meshi/warak dawali (Middle Eastern), dolmades/dolmadakia/dolmathes (Greek), dolmas/dolma (Persian, Armenian, Syrian) took flight. Every region makes theirs a little bit different. Every household does as well. It’s the variation and flexibility that we find in foods such as this which is marvelous and intriguing.

      We feed off of one another, and we fuse our culinary preferences according to what happens to be both attainable and delicious. We learn from one another, the way we always have, and we’re influenced by the cultures we surround ourselves with. This is not something to be reviled, it’s something to be celebrated.

      So, “Greek girl”, I agree with you in many ways. In Greece there are many variations on stuffed vine leaf rolls. In the Middle East, there are also many variations on stuffed vine leaf rolls. Trying to identify the specific point in time when a dish originated is haphazard at best and ridiculous at worst. I also agree that the Arabs DID make it their own, just like the Greeks made it their own, the Turks made it their own, and I make it MY own.

      But really, I still think we should both be saying “Thank you” to the Persians, because…they did it first. Just a thought.

  • http://chossybeggars Rose Khoury

    way you go Tina I agree with you 100% I hope Greek got your message loud and cleear, I think you are amazing, creative and smart.

  • http://turfed Wally

    I just picked a bunch off of my vine off of my backyard garden. I got them off of a sapling off of my grandma’s garden.

    I hate the use of off of – and that is the only thing that killed the tale of the vine leaf.

    You’ll make a fine writer one day.

  • Charles

    We use much a somewhat different recipe
    1- No lentils, unless you are vegetarian.
    2- Use minced beef or lamb, the latter can be a bit too oily.
    3- Add mild curry powder and turmeric too.
    4- Mince the onions, red or white is inconsequential, not grated as its too coarse. Soak up the excess water the mincing produces and discard.
    5- No tomatoes.
    6- Add fenugreek, mint, dill, tarragon, corriander and parsley. Fresh is best and should be minced, but dried and crushed is acceptable.
    7- Basmati rice is best.
    As for the mixture the minced meat, onions and greens should have a more ‘green’ look than ‘red’ or ‘white’; the amount of rice included should only be a sprinkling.
    We like to finish the meal with our favourite Yemeni Matari coffee from The Tea and Coffee Emporium.
    Thanks for the post and the opportunity to comment.

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  • Evelyn

    I just finished putting my grape leaves to steam and let me tell you I pretty much used up the 1lb jar of grape leaves for the whole pot instead of 1/2 lb. I took the advice from the previous post and changed it up a bit. We’ll see how they come out.

  • Evelyn

    I finally finished steaming my grape leaves: it took me 2 1/2hrs to steam them in order for the lentils and rice to be precisely moist. And it took me about 4 1/2 hours to dice up all the herbs, wrap up all of the leaves, and fit them into the pot. I originally had placed the steamer basket at the bottom of the pot, but when I finished rolling up the grape leaves noticed that they wouldn’t fit with the strainer in there too. The basket was to big for the pot. So I had to remove all the grape leaves and then remove the basket. I then proceeded to putting sliced onions at the bottom instead. That’s the suggestion I found from another recipe video. I put the remaining leaves on top of that and then the rolled up grape leaves again. I put some more remaining grape leaves on top and lemon slices. I then proceeded onto putting three dessert plates on top to hold everything down (it was a suggestion from another recipe). And the final result were excellent stuffed grape leaves. I plan on sharing just enough to get some compliments. But with all the work I put into them and all the time it took to make them, I plan on keeping most of them to myself.