This Assyrian Iraqi variation is made with meat and will serve a family of six people as a main dish.  The grape leaves and a variety of vegetables are all stuffed with the same mixture and then cooked together in one large pot.






Skill level

Average: 4.7 (106 votes)

When they are cooked, the pot is upturned onto a tray, with a spectacular end result. If you’re not quite sure how to do it, check out Aedah and Samah preparing and cooking their dolma at

Dolma was always an important meal for us back home. Every Sunday, my family would gather around a large tray of dolma and you would hear nothing but the sounds of spoons clashing and silent moans savouring this deliciously satisfying dish. I come from an Assyrian Iraqi family. Growing up in Baghdad, food was an essential part of what brought our community together. In 2003, when the US entered Iraq, we fled to the North towards our ancestral village of Alqosh. In the midst of the fear and uncertainty of losing our home or our friends and family, 21 of our family members gathered in a one-room stone house to share our daily meals. As a child, I remember watching my mother cook the most amazing meals. 

Dolma, because of its complexity and variety of ingredients, would usually be cooked on special occasions such as celebrating a holiday, the homecoming of a relative or large family gatherings. It is not a simple dish - it is complex with multiple layers and ingredients and often requires a co-chef. It was also cooked for funerals; comforting the family and loved ones of the deceased. At 13, while we were in the northern region waiting to return to our homes in Baghdad, I watched my mother prepare dolma more often than we were used to. Food for us was the constant comfort during a time that we felt displaced. My family and I have been in Australia for one year now, and this feeling is still true today. We are taking each day as it comes and we make dolma on the hardest of days. My mother’s desire to bring us together and recreate a feeling of home will always be present in her recipes. It is truly a community meal. -Words from Samah, the daughter of this recipe's chef.


  • 500 g rice
  • 500 g minced beef
  • 4 long eggplants
  • 4 long zucchinis
  • 3 medium sized green capsicum
  • 4 small to medium onions
  • 500 g grape leaves (use as required)
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 potatoes
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste, dissolved in small amount of water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2.5 tbsp crystallised lemon or preserved lemon, chopped finely
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper/paprika/chilli flakes (depending on taste and availability)

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


You will need a large saucepan, a metal tray if possible, and a plate that fits neatly inside the pot. 

1. Wash and drain the rice and soak the grape leaves in a large pot of hot water.

2. Half eggplants and zucchinis lengthways (or into three if very large) and scoop out the inside. 

3. Slice off the top of the tomatoes and capsicums and scoop out the insides. Retain the tops for later. 

4. Peel the onions, cut off the ends and make an incision to the core from the top to the bottom. Put a teaspoon of salt on the ends of each onion and set aside for a few minutes. (This helps separate the layers for stuffing). 

5. Make the stuffing by mixing the rice, meat, garlic, salt, black pepper, tomato paste and olive oil together in a bowl. 

6. Peel and cut the potatoes into medium slices and place at the bottom of the saucepan with the vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of crystalised/preserved lemon and pepper flakes. 

7. Stuff the grape leaves by putting a small amount of stuffing along the stem line leaving space at both ends, carefully fold over the ends of the leaves, then roll the sides around. It should be stuffed tightly enough so that the stuffing doesn’t come out. (Samah says: search “how to stuff vine leaves” on YouTube if you need help with this part!) 

8. Stuff tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and zucchini to ⅔ full - as the rice will expand as it cooks. Replace the tops of the tomatoes and peppers. 

9. Place each zucchini with an eggplant, their stuffing sides against one another. This stops the filling from escaping. 

10.  Remove the inner layer of the onions. Pull out and separate the remaining layers and stuff individually, again to ⅔ full. 

11. Place one layer of stuffed grape leaves on the bottom of the pot (on top of the potatoes), then place the peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini in neat layers, then place the rest of the grape leaves on top. 

12. Add the remaining crystallised lemon to the top and cook on a medium heat on the stove for 5 minutes.

13.  Place a plate on top of the food inside the pot, and fill the pot with water until it reaches the plate. Leave the pot on high heat until the water boils, then lower the heat and cook for a further 10 minutes. 

14. If you have a simmer mat, place the pot on top and cook for five minutes. If not, reduce to the lowest heat and cook for five minutes. 

15. When cooked, dolma is traditionally served on a large metal tray. You can simply remove from the pot and serve (draining any excess water first) or if you’re feeling ambitious, place the tray on top of the pot and swiftly turn the pot on the tray upside down without spilling. This is where a co-chef comes in handy! Your end result will be stunning, showing each delicious layer in turn.  

16.  Serve with a salad and natural yoghurt. 


To find out more and purchase a copy of Share a Meal, Share a Story: Celebrating Refugee Stories head to the Refugee Council of Australia website here.

World Refugee Week is June 14-20, 2020. Share a Meal, Share a Story is a community fundraising initiative of the Refugee Council of Australia. We are encouraging people to get together, share a delicious meal and share stories that help build empathy and understanding of refugee experiences. In light of COVID-19, you can host your event either in-person or online. You could host a Zoom where you share a story from our website and each eat a meal in your own homes!