Traditional Greek beef dolmades recipe
Food and Drink

Try this easy family recipe for beef dolmades, a traditional Greek dish

If Greek food is your thing, you need to try this recipe for traditional Greek dolmades. It makes the perfect mid-week meal, as well as a great side dish for your next dinner party.

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With a month left of summer and garden parties and barbeques with friends back on the cards, it’s the perfect time to start experimenting with new foods and incorporating dishes from warmer climates into your culinary repertoire. 

What better country get inspired by during the summer months than Greece? From fresh bread and olives to grilled fish and gyros slathered in tzatziki, Greek food is always a good choice when the sun comes out. With practice, you can easily perfect some of the country’s most long-standing, traditional recipes.

Dolmades, a lighter take on the stuffed pepper, is a native Greek dish that can be served as a delicious appetiser or filling main. Made up of cabbage stuffed with rice, vegetables and, traditionally, minced meat, it’s a dish that often peppers Greek tables come dinner time.

The Tsakiris’– a Greek-American family behind the cookbook, Sea Salt and Honey: Celebrating the Food of Kardamili in 100 Sun-Drenched Recipes – have been eating dolmades their entire lives, experimenting with different variations until they hit upon the perfect recipe.

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“My late YaYa (grandmother) taught both my dad and I how to make dolmades, so the recipe is special to us,” says Olivia Tsakiris. “My family’s lives are centred around food. I grew up always trying different flavours and my dad is great at transforming traditional recipes into unique dishes, which is the philosophy of our cookbook”

“The word ‘dolma’ is Turkish, which means to be stuffed,” Olivia says. “The dish was traditionally made with vine leaves but the Greek version is called dolmades and it incorporates lettuce or cabbage instead.”

The Tsakiris family have shared their recipe for traditional Greek beef dolmades (as well as a pescatarian and vegetarian option), plus their expert tips on how to make your dolmades taste just like they’ve been served on a beach in Crete.

Ingredients for Greek dolmades

For the dolmades (serves four)

  • 1 large head of green cabbage or romaine lettuce, separated into leaves
  • 2 medium onions
  • 310g ground beef
  • 238g long grain white rice
  • 125g finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 125g finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt flakes
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

For the egg-lemon sauce

  • 2 large eggs
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
Making Greek dolmades tutorial
Greek dolmades are one of the Tsakiris family's favourite recipes

How to make Greek dolmades

  1. Wash the cabbage leaves, then blanch them by dipping them in boiling water for 45 to 60 seconds. Set aside.
  2. Grate the onions using the largest holes on a grater. In a bowl, combine the onions, beef, rice, parsley, dill, olive oil, salt and pepper and mix by hand.
  3. Scoop one tablespoon of the mixture onto the large part of a cabbage leaf – the raised cabbage vein should be on the inside of the roll. Roll for a few turns before folding in the sides. Continue rolling all the way up to the end and set aside. Repeat with the remaining filling and leaves.
  4. Line the base of a small round pot with the dolmades, covering the surface and then stacking them in layers. Pour in 480ml water, bring to a boil then lower the heat and gently simmer for 40 minutes. It’s a good idea to place a heavy plate on top of the dolmades as they cook to keep them in place.
  5. Meanwhile, make the egg-lemon sauce: in a bowl, beat the eggs, adding the lemon juice and cornstarch.
  6. When the dolmades are cooked, ladle some of the hot liquid from the pot into the egg mixture in small amounts, stirring constantly (add the liquid until the bowl feels hot to the touch). Pour the sauce over the dolmades and serve.

How to make dolmades vegetarian/pescatarian

Dolmades are traditionally made with minced meat, but they’re a very versatile dish and can be made both vegetarian and pescatarian without losing any of their incredible flavours.

“Chopped or grated mushrooms, zucchini and carrot is a combination my dad and I love,” Olivia says. All the other steps in the recipe are the same with this variation – just simply replace the meat quantity with the vegetables.

For a pescatarian option, Olivia recommends making dolmades with cod or salmon. “I prefer cod because the texture works well,” she says.

Olivia’s expert tips for making Greek food

Be specific when rolling the dolmades

The rolling technique required for the dolmades can be a little tricky to perfect at first, but their appearance will get better with practice. Olivia usually places the vein of the cabbage of the lettuce on the side of the dolmades, so the surface on the bottom is totally flat. “This makes it easier to roll and it also ends up looking much nicer,” she says.

Make use of all the leaves

“You might have some leftover smaller leaves after rolling your dolmades, but there’s no need to waste them. You can place these at the bottom of the pot so the dolmades don’t get stuck to the pan,” Olivia says. She recommends placing a heavy dish on top of the dolmades while they’re boiling so nothing moves.

Pair dolmades with seasonal sides

Dolmades can be eaten on their own, as a main, or as a side dish because they pair well with so many other types of Greek food. “At the peak of summer, I love eating them with a fresh salad and, in winter, with bread to soak up all the leftover sauce,” says Olivia.

  • The Tsakiris family, authors of Sea Salt and Honey

    Greek family in kitchen
    Credit: Romas Foord

    The Tsakiris’ are a Greek-American family who create recipes inspired by the food they grow in their own garden. Their first recipe book Sea Salt And Honey: Celebrating The Food Of Kardamili In 100 Sun-Drenched Recipes is an ode to the rustic lifestyle of Kardamili, a Greek village of only 450 residents.


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