Trader Joe’s Dolmas

Trader Joe's Dolmas

Yes, they really open from the bottom. It’s hard for me to express how much this offends my aesthetic sensibilities. Just put the label on the other way around, man!

Ah, the dolma. It’s easy to over look the Greeks as purveyors of strange delicacies, but the dolma is certainly that. It’s rare, outside of Asia (and, I suppose, salads), to be fed straight up leaves as food, yet that is precisely what a dolma is – a broad, boiled grape leaf rolled into a tube and stuffed with seasoned rice.

The dolma is something of an acquired taste thanks to an interesting mingling of flavors. Like any local, traditional dish, the stuffing of a dolma can vary dramatically from region to region. Most commonly, however, you’re going to find them looking like the Trader Joe’s variation here – with plenty of dill and mint mixed into the rice. Dill and mint are not two tastes that are generally thought to go together very well, justly I might add, and complicating matters further is the grape leaf itself. Something of the wine-ness of the grape is also present in the grape leaf. Even after being boiled and stored in oil for god knows how long, the grape leaves have a subtle but lingering wine-like taste that muddles into the dill and mint scrap up. Essentially, a dolma is a tiny flavor battlefield where different flavors keep coming out on top. The amazing thing is this is one of those flavor combinations that actually works, making for a fascinating side dish and excellent compliment to tzatziki sauce.

I’ve only had a few experiences with domas before now – one particularly favorable memory involving a nice Greek salad – so I was game to try them again when Trader Joe’s presented me the chance. This initial willingness was first checked when I picked up the tin they were packaged in. I have very few iron-clad eating guidelines, but one of them is not to neat anything that comes packaged in a sardine tin. I was willing to bend that rule this one time based solely on my regard for the Trader Joe’s name – so much have I come to respect this gentle, supermarket giant.

No sooner did I peel back the metal tab on top (or bottom, strangely) of the dolma tin then did I regret making this exception. Trader Joe’s dolmas look positively unappetizing – shimmering, glistening leaf rolls swimming in the viscous soybean oil which fills the canister to the brim. Soybean oil is just straight vegetable oil – which is to say, it’s 100% pure liquid fat – and while I understand that soybean oil is, in some ways, more healthy than other vegetable oils, I also know that no food should be served in so much oil that it makes Dubai look poor.

The taste of the dolmas themselves was more or less on target – but the texture and execution turns them from something I should enjoy snacking on into something I had to force myself to eat. The soybean oil completely permeates the dolma, bloating every grain of mushy rice with pure oil and running off the leaf to pool on your plate. Combine this with the no-frills, low-quality, upside-down tin and you’re left feeling like you’ve just picked up something from the bottom shelf of the off-brand supermarket.

From the weird tin to the copious use of oil, this just doesn’t feel like a Trader Joe’s product. It’s well known that Trader Joe’s sources nearly all their offerings from various manufacturers around the world, but in general the quality is so uniformly high that I never think twice about it. It’s only when I pick up something like this that the illusion starts to show at the seams and I suddenly get a vision of the crappy factory in Turkey where leaf rolls are dumped off a conveyor belt into tins alternatively marked Trader Joe’s and Tesco.

Dolmas are great and delicious, and I’d recommend you try them sometime – just not here, not like this.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: To Eastern European grandmothers who grew up during the Cold War and other people who don’t mind oil-packed, tinned foods, yes. To everyone else, no.

Would I Buy Them Again: No, There have got to be better dolmas than this out there.

Final Synopsis: A tasty dolma brought low by a cheap, oily presentation.


21 Comments on “Trader Joe’s Dolmas”

  1. Linda says:

    I wiped off the oil, warmed them up a bit in the microwave and sliced up a generous heaping of Marzano tomatoes and enjoyed these immensely for lunch. I can’t wait to buy them again – several tins of them, because, as you know, things go missing at Trader Joes all the time. By the way, I have eaten many dolmas, including the ones I’ve made, and these are great considering I didn’t have to go through the time-consuming and tedious task of rolling up grape leaves. I’d recommend to Eastern Europeans and anybody else with a paper towel, microwave, and a couple tomatoes.

    • Dee says:

      I appreciate your post, i was having doubts from other negative reviews. Since I bought the tin, I was determined to try them, and you have given me the ‘courage’ to do so. The tomatoes sound like a delicious addition. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. nola says:

    It opens from the bottom so the seasonings and flavor aren’t trapped at the bottom when you open the can. The soybean oil is a downfall, but the flavor was surprisingly good. Anyone knows how Mediterranean food is rightly slathered in olive oil, which is what I did after fishing the dolmas out of the can. You clearly don’t have much prior experience with dolmas, and don’t like eating anything out of a can, including sardines which are the best power food ever.

    • I’m glad someone has an answer for why they open upside down! But if they make the bottom the top, doesn’t the top just become the new bottom?

      At any rate, I’m curious to hear more about the powerful virtues of sardines. Preach on!

      • nola says:

        Well I was thinking that they opened from the bottom to reverse the time spent on the shelf, to put the flavors on top. But this next time I opened the can, after draining it I emptied the whole thing into a bowl, and the dolmas fell out neatly.
        So maybe they’re meant to be “presentation-ready”, like the way a cake comes undone from a spring-form pan.

        As for sardines, to paraphrase Wild Planet brand, ounce for ounce sardines have more protein than steak, as much calcium as milk, more iron than spinach. It’s a good source of omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory to the body and have a lot of important functions.

      • Dorothy Arakelian says:

        TJ’s Dolmas aka Stuffed Grape Leaves are terrible. After reading ur product itinerary I see that TJ’s does not make them. You probably buy them from some low scale meditterean store. TJ’s should really take this product off their shelves. Dolmas are suppose to have rice, parsley, onions, peppers and loads of lemons. The only positive thing I can say about ur Dolmas is the leaf is very tender. I would love to know where your supplier purchases their grape leaves. I use to have my own vines, but since I moved to S. Jersey I no longer have access to fresh grape leaves. I refuse to waste my energy making the stuffing because all the bottled grapeleaves are very very tough, even if I par boil them they are awful. Let me know where I can purchase a good brand; I have tried all the bottled leaves and they are bad leaves.

  3. Leila says:

    First, they were canned in Greece, not Turkey. Indeed, TJ’s used to have Turkish-made stuffed grape leaves that were in olive oil. They were about the same price, but fewer, and were in this really pretty multicornered glass jar sold over by the pickles. I bought lots. They were discontinued some years ago. As other commenters have noted, you don’t appear to have much experience with dolmas or stuffed grape leaves, otherwise you wouldn’t have defined them as you did (stuffed with rice only) or be surprised at the oil. The problem is it’s not olive oil, but it should be. They should still be drained or blotted if you are concerned. I found the flavor surprising good for a version that was not freshly made. Making your own stuffed grape leaves (which I’ve done, Lebanese style) is great, but incredibly time consuming. I bought several of the TJ cans to keep at work for a quick lunch. While I have decided I don’t like TJ’s frozen falafel (also tried for the first time this week), the grape leaves are going to become a staple for times I don’t have hours to dice (rock) and roll.

  4. Dee says:

    Am I the only one who can’t open a can of these without breaking the little tab? Every single can I try to open, I end up having to open by using a butter knife as a lever to open the rest of the top!

  5. […] Trader Joe’s sells stuffed grape leaves. Have you had? I eat them for dinner sometimes (OK, often). […]

  6. I had these recently and they are better than most of the canned dolmas I have tried over the years, but nothing beats the fresh dolmas TJs sold back in the 90s. They came in a plastic tray and had a little more of a tomatoey flavor in their filling I miss those.

  7. Nick says:

    In my Glendale, CA store they told me that Trader Joe’s Dolmas no longer will be available, it’s discontinued. It is very sad, because we just discovered that great and delicious Dolmas at Tradet Joe’s. Now we wil be looking that product in other stores.

  8. Someone please tell me what the sauce is on the can? So frustrating that the can doesn’t tell you what sauce to buy for these because while I’m eating them I always feel like there is something missing. 😦

    • Anonymous says:

      Tzatziki is a Greek sauce served with grilled meats or as a dip. Tzatziki is made of strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, sometimes lemon juice, and dill, mint, or parsley. Tzatziki is always served cold. Wikipedia

      • Jwff says:

        If you use Greek yogurt there isn’t nearly as much straining. American style yogurt has a huge amount of water. The dill and mint that rhe author found so strange is pretty common in Greek recipes

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s called Tzatziki. Tzatziki is a Greek sauce served with grilled meats or as a dip. Tzatziki is made of strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, sometimes lemon juice, and dill, mint, or parsley. Tzatziki is always served cold. Wikipedia

  9. Anonymous says:

    I like to drain the oil off and squeeze a fresh lemon over them. Not the same as homemade but great for a quick fix!

  10. I enjoyed them a great deal and thought they tasted delicious. To each his own I suppose.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m middle eastern and I loved them.

  12. El says:

    Your taste buds are up your hole.

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