This dish is Iraqi and variations are by definition a default So many Israeli Arabs make their own version of this excellent dish. It’s important to use large onions because the layers have more surface area, making them more suited for stuffing and rolling. The number of onions required will vary depending on how many layers you can get out of each onion.
If you like them more meltingly soft, you can cook them for a little longer. The dolmas are easy to make, but you do need to make sure the onions are blanched enough to be very pliable. The stuffed onions are usually cooked with other dolmas, such as Vine Leaves with Bulgur, Figs & Nuts but never cabbage leaves, as they’re too similar in appearance to onions, potentially confusing diners.
In several restaurants you have this dish and in almost all the restaurants the chef makes a change or doesn’t keep himself on the original recipe and it’s also not needed.
This recipe takes about 2 hours to make and it’s a bit complicated (26 steps). With other words, you need to follow the instructions carefully. And this recipe if fully open for any customization you can think of.
- 250g/9oz minced/ground lamb
- 55g/2oz/¼ cup short-grain white rice or risotto rice
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp dried mint
- 1 tbsp tomato purée/paste
- 1 tbsp pine nuts (optional)
- about 1 tbsp sea salt, plus extra for seasoning
- 4–5 large white onions
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste
- juice of 1 lemon
- freshly ground black pepper
- Greek yogurt, to serve
- green salad of your choice, to serve
- Put the lamb, rice, spices, mint and tomato purée/paste in a mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper.
- Toast the pine nuts, if using, in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat for 1–2 minutes until golden and fragrant, shaking the pan often.
- Add the toasted pine nuts to the lamb mixture and mix well to incorporate.
- Half-fill a large saucepan with water, sprinkle in the salt and bring to the boil over a high heat.
- Meanwhile, slice off the tops and bottoms of the onions.
- Without cutting right through them, cut the onions in half length ways, stopping about halfway through each one.
- Remove the skin, then gently remove the root strands and any shorter layers that will be too short for stuffing and rolling.
- Set these aside for use in the stuffing later. You should have 5–6 outer layers per onion to work with.
- Once the water reaches the boil, add the onion layers that are suitable for stuffing, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the onion layers begin to soften and come apart.
- You want them to be pliable enough so that they are easy to roll.
- Remove the onions from the pan using a slotted spoon, reserving 480ml/16½fl oz/2 cups onion broth.
- Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Meanwhile, finely chop a small onion’s worth of the reserved shorter onion layers.
- Add the chopped onion to the meat mixture and mix well. (Any leftover onion layers can be transferred to a zippable bag and kept in the refrigerator for use in other recipes, or finely chopped and frozen.)
- Once the blanched onion layers have cooled, gently separate the layers, being careful not to tear them.
- Working with one layer at a time, place a spoonful of the stuffing into each onion layer (the size of the spoon will depend upon the size of the onion) and roll tightly, following the curve.
- If you are preparing the dish ahead, you can freeze the stuffed onions at this point, if you like.
- Transfer the stuffed onions to a deep, ovenproof, heavy-based pan, about 32cm/13in in diameter, and layer them snugly, seam-side down.
- Put the tamarind paste in a bowl and stir in most of the reserved onion broth.
- Add the lemon juice and season with salt, then pour the mixture over the onions.
- Put a heatproof plate on top of the mixture to prevent the onions from moving around and losing their shape.
- Put the pan over a medium–high heat and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low.
- Cover with a lid and simmer for 1 hour or until the onions have softened, the rice is tender and the juices have somewhat reduced.
- Remove the lid and the plate and cook, uncovered, for a further 15 minutes.
- During the last 10 minutes of cooking, change the oven setting to grill/broil (or heat a separate grill/broiler and move the pan into it), then grill/broil the onions on high for 5 minutes until they are golden brown and lightly charred, adding some of the remaining reserved broth if they appear to be drying out.
- Serve with yogurt and a green salad.
Instead of stuffing the whole thing in an onion, you can also stuff the onion in the lamb or serve it next to it.