Many Armenian dishes require long prep times and then cook “low and slow.” I remember spending half a day making these with my mom and grandma! So we always made dolmas in bulk for a few meals. You can halve the recipe or freeze the leftovers for another night. Dolma is traditionally paired with plain, thick yogurt.
1 bunch fresh cilantro
2 bunches fresh parsley
1 bunch scallions
1 bunch fresh dill
1 head cabbage, halved
1 jar grape leaves
2 lbs/900 g grass-fed ground beef
1 tbsp/15 g sea salt
1 tsp/5 g pepper
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp turmeric
2 tbsp/30 g butter, softened (not needed if using conventional beef)
2 tbsp/30 ml tomato paste (preferably from a jar)
4 cups/950 ml of water, divided
Wash and thoroughly dry your herbs. If they are wet, you will risk making the meat mixture soggy. Pulse the cilantro, parsley, scallions and dill in the food processor until well minced but not too smashed. Set aside.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the cabbage. Cook for 15 minutes, until soft. Strain in a colander.
Drain the grape leaves and separate them. Mix the meat, herb mixture, salt, pepper, cayenne and turmeric. Mix in butter only if using grass-fed beef; conventional beef has enough fat and won’t need additional butter. Squeeze the half-lemon’s juice into the mix. Use your hands to make sure the mixture is well combined.
Lay the grape leaves, vein side up, stem toward you. Place 1 tablespoon of filling at the base of the leaf and roll up, tucking in the excess leaf at the sides to make a bundle. Remove the core from the cabbage and separate the leaves. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of filling at the base and roll up, tucking in the sides to make a bundle.
Using a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, line the bottom of the pan with excess cabbage leaves. Place your dolmas on top of the excess cabbage leaves, placing grape leaf dolmas on the bottom and cabbage dolmas on top, with the bottom of your bundles facing down. Dissolve the tomato paste in 1 cup/240 ml of water. Pour the dissolved tomato paste into the pot. Add 3 more cups/700 ml of water. Place an oven-safe, heavy plate over the dolmas to weigh them down. (This is to keep them from unraveling.)
Cover the pot and bring to a light boil. Tilt the lid so the pot is only partially covered. Simmer for 2½ hours. Remove the lid and the plates. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes uncovered.