Unlike Greek dolma, which are slightly sour and lemony, and have a fresher, ‘less-cooked’ taste to them, Iranian dolmehs are more decadent and rich. They have a hint of sweetness and are stuffed with rice, ground lamb and sometimes tart barberries or walnuts. Slow cooking makes the leaves a little sticky – really more-ish as well as Moorish.

In season, the villagers would bring wooden crates of grapes to our home. The grapes nestled in between large beautiful leaves, which the cooks would snap off and make ready for dolmehs. The elaborate preparation and the quantity (usually a lot!) gave the ladies of the house an excuse to gather round to chat and gossip while stuffing and rolling the leaves like mini cigars. Dolmehs are usually served as an appetiser.

For the stuffing:
see Dolmeyeh Felfel (stuffed peppers, page 152)
For the sauce:
see Dolmeyeh Felfel (stuffed peppers, page 152)
50–60 vine leaves, fresh or canned
olive oil, for oiling
lemon wedges, to serve

Prepare the stuffing and leave it to cool. Prepare either of the sauces. If you are using fresh leaves, blanch them in batches of 3–4 in boiling water just for a minute or two. Remove them and pour some cold water over them. Let them dry. For canned leaves, drain off the brine, rinse them in cold water and set aside to dry. Take a large wide pot or an ovenproof dish and oil the bottom well.

Line the bottom of the pan or dish with leaves: use about three layers. Now take some more leaves and clip the stalks with a sharp knife or scissors. Stack the leaves, vein side up (the presentation side needs to be smooth). Take a leaf and add one rounded tbsp of the stuffing. Roll slightly, then fold both sides in and continue rolling until you have a fat ‘cigar’. If the leaves are small, overlap them so that you can wrap the stuffing comfortably. Place them in the pot or dish you prepared, laying them with the flap facing down. Lay them on top of each other as they start to fill the pan, packing them together snugly so that they don’t fall apart during cooking. Pour the sauce over the dolmehs and place a smaller ovenproof dish on top so that the weight keeps them from expanding and falling apart. Cover the dish and either place it in the oven at 180˚C/350˚F/ Gas Mark 4 for 1½ hours; or cook on top of the stove on a medium-low heat for about an hour or until the leaves are tender. Arrange the dolmehs on a serving dish, spooning over some of the sauce to make them look glossy. Serve with the rest of the sauce on the side, plus lemon wedges.