Stuffed grape leaves are one of Nature’s perfect foods, and stuffing them with a mushroom and natural wild rice filling is a great variation on the classic, more well-known version with lamb, known as dolmas or dolmades.
Vegetarian stuffed grape leaves are nothing new, but most of the time they use a filling relying on rice and dried fruit and nuts, especially sour cherries and walnuts. This version is a nod to that classic, but with a Midwestern cast, using high quality wild rice, onions, garlic, black walnuts, spices, and, of course, mushroom duxelles, that you could make out of any species of wild mushroom you like.
I’m going to go over a couple key tricks for getting firm, tight stuffed grape leaves here, but first, the grape leaves themselves. I’m using lacto-fermented grape leaves here, and they’re a completely different ingredient if you’re used to having pickled grape leaves from a jar, which are often much too heavy on the vinegar for my tastes. See my method for fermented pickled grape leaves.
To get a firm, tight roll
Mushroom duxelles are rich, and eat a bit like meat, but they lack the structure meat has, and will never bind a mixture like ground meat, so, naturally these stuffed grape leaves will be a little bit more delicate than ones made from meat, but I have a couple tricks for ensuring they stay together and yield, firm, tight rolls.
Wild Rice Flour
Wild rice flour, or another, non-glutinous flour acts as a binder here, and helps to mimic the binding properties of ground meat. You don’t need a lot-just a couple tablespoons, but it really helps here. I describe how to make wild rice flour in the recipe, although any similar flour can be used.
Soaking the rice is the big secret. While you could make stuffed grape leaves out of fully-cooked rice, it’s not the same. Specifically, soaking or par-cooking rice as some recipes call for is the key for getting plump stuffed grape leaves that are perfectly filled out.
For a long time I thought that using soaked or par cooked rice was an annoying folk-tradition that was hard to execute properly, but it really isn’t, and my steaming method I describe below is fool-proof. You have a couple different options for cooking the rolls, but I prefer to steam them to avoid them coming into contact with too much liquid.
Wild Rice-Mushroom Dolmas
- Lactofermented grape leaves as needed
- 8 oz mushroom duxelles
- ½ cup natural wild rice + 3 tablespoons separated (you cannot use black paddy rice here)
- 2 tablespoons dried mushroom powder such as porcini or black trumpet
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 oz chopped fresh Italian parsley or cilantro big handful
- ½ cup chopped black walnuts
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1 medium yellow onion 6 oz
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground cumin or 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup feta cheese Optional, consider adding the cheese if you don't make a dip to go alongside the dolmas since it helps to add salt
- Fresh grated lemon zest, or finely chopped preserved lemon rind, to taste optional
- Lemon yogurt *see note
Soak the rice
- Soak the rice in 3 cups of water overnight.
- The next day, drain the rice and reserve.
Make the filling
- Finely chop the onion and sweat in the oil, seasoning with a pinch of salt and pepper. When the onion is translucent, add the mushroom powder and grate in the garlic cloves with a microplane grater (they can be mashed to a paste, alternately) and cook for a minute more, then transfer to a bowl with the mushrooms duxelles and remaining ingredients except the grape leaves. Taste the mixture to judge the seasoning and adjust to your taste (the rice will be crunchy) keep in mind that it should be heavily seasoned if you will eat them cold.
- Rinse the grape leaves and pat dry, then spread them out in batches, vein-side up. Put a tablespoon of the filling into the middle of each leaf then loosely roll up into packages.
- Lay the rolls into a pot lined with a steam insert, or put them on a baking sheet with a rack, filling the tray with 1 inch of water.
- Steam the stuffed grape leaves for 45 minutes, testing to make sure the rice is tender, then cool and store. The finished rolls will last for 4 days in the fridge, and can be frozen.