ready grape leaves sarmi

Vegan stuffed grape leaves | Dolmades | Sarmi

Traditional stuffed grape leaves with rice and veggies

Stuffed grape leaves are a traditional recipe in Eastern cuisine. Called dolmades in Greek or sarmi in Bulgarian cuisine, this dish is originally vegan. 

In Bulgaria, stuffed grape leaves or sarmi is always served on Christmas Eve. There is a curious tradition for Christmas Eve dinner there. All dishes served on the table must be vegan and the total number of dishes must be an odd number.

how to stuff a cabbage leaf
Stuffed pickled cabbage leaf

So, the originally vegan sarmi are a central part of the Bulgarian Christmas Eve table. Sarmi can also be prepared with cabbage leaves – both pickled or fresh cabbage. However, stuffing for cabbage sarmi is often made with meat. As opposed to stuffed grape leaves, which are traditionally made vegan.

Also check: Easy vegan leftover rice and quinoa stuffed peppers

The preparation of this dish is a simple, two-step process. The stuffing is easy and quick to make. All you need is a cup of white rice and some of your favorite veggies. You have to be careful not to over-boil the rice in the stuffing as the stuffed grape leaves will be baked afterwards.

veggies for stuffed grape leaves
Veggies for stuffed grape leaves

You can use various products for the stuffing along with white rice. In this case, I have added leafy greens, olives, onion and walnuts. You can mix and match as you please. A good option for dolmades stuffing is spinach, fresh cubed tomatoes, mushrooms, quinoa and many others. 

Another traditional dish for Christmas Eve in Bulgaria – sweet potato filo pie

You can also try to mix the white rice with red or black rice, but you have to be careful with the boiling time. I usually mix the rice with quinoa and the end result is just as delicious.


  • 1 jar of grape leaves
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 2 onions – 1 red and 1 white
  • a handful of walnuts
  • a handful of chopped pitted olives
  • some leafy greens – parsley, cilantro, dill
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil


I start by preparing the stuffing first. It’s very easy and quick. I chop all the veggies I have prepared for the stuffing and sautee them for 3-4 minutes in a big pan with some olive oil.

stuffing for grape leaves 2
Stuffing for grape leaves

When the veggies soften through, I add the cup of rice and 2 1/2 cups of water. You shouldn’t let the rice cook too much – we will be baking the stuffed grape leaves afterwards. Let the stuffing take in all water and set aside to cool down.

When the stuffing has cooled down enough to handle, I start filling and rolling the grape leaves and placing them in a baking pan.

Start with pre-heating your oven to 450 F / 230 C. Grease your pan and set it aside. Open your jar of grape leaves, remove the water and take them out one by one careful not to tear them apart.

Unroll the leaf, place a spoonful of the stuffing mixture in the middle. Roll the bottom of the leaf up, tuck in the sides of the leaf and carefully turn it upside down, so the tucked sides are on the bottom. Place in the oiled baking pan and continue rolling all leaves.

how to stuff a grape leaf
How to stuff a grape leaf

When ready, bake for about 30 minutes at 450 F / 230 C. The ready stuffed grape leaves can be served both hot or cold. They are great as a side dish, garnish or a main dish.

Typically in Bulgarian cuisine, sarmi are served with bread and yogurt.  If you find some good non-sweet vegan yogurts, you can give it a try. I like to serve them hot with a big salad.

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