It’s impossible to talk about Turkish cuisine and not mention their wonderful social eating customs. As you have noticed, both dishes I’ve made so far this week are finger food. Food meant for the center of the table, food meant for sharing. And so is this Sarma, you might also know it as Dolma. A cute little bundle of yumminess wrapped on a tangy grape leave.
Sarma is just one dish among many small dishes that compose a table of Meze. An old tradition of appetizer-like foods that are served at a table. A single table of meze can be filled with dozens of different dishes all meant to be shared by the people around it. In my opinion, the best way to eat there is, period.
Although Sarma is one of the most popular dishes for meze, is not specific for it. They often serve it alone as a snack or as a side dish to a meal. But be careful, they can be addictive. It takes quite some time to make and some dexterity too, reason why people often buy them pre-made. So why bother? Well it wouldn’t be Boil without the Trouble, would it?
Sarma is not specific to Turkey either . Although very common there, it is also hugely popular throughout the Arab World, the Balkans and Greece. It is better known as Dolmas but in Turkey they called them Sarma. Dolmas mean “stuffed things”, so it includes a wide range of dishes that are … well … stuffed. I quick internet search for dolmas will show stuffed peppers, eggplants, cabbage leaves, etc.
The word “sarma” means “wrapped things”. So it actually describes the dish better by minimizing the list of “stuffed things”. But then there’s the list of favorite things to stuff the grape leaves with. Everybody has their preference, that varies from region to region and even from household to household. The shared tendencies between them all is rice, a protein such as lamb or beef, or a combination of both. The differences are lay on seasonings and vegetables used to flavor the sarmas.
Of course, today’s feature is a Turkish style Sarma with rice only, so it’s perfect as a vegetarian option. And while they kind of gave me a hard time to make, I enjoyed my time making them. In Turkey some say they measure people’s ability to cook by their ability to wrap sarma. They should all be of the same size and shape, and there’s a lot of contention as to what the “right” shape for Sarma should be. I really really tried my best to make them as pretty as I could considering it was my first time. So, if you are Turkish, please don’t judge me by the exterior of my Sarma, look inside it… It’s yummy!
- 2 tbsp olive oil + 1/4 cup
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 cup rice
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp ground paprika
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 5-6 mint leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
- juice of one lemon + lemon slices
- 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
- 60 - 70 grape leaves in brine
- In a deep skillet heat 2 tsps olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook stirring until they are translucent about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Add the rice, cumin, salt & pepper, tomato paste and paprika. Mix well. Add the water and cook for about 5 minutes until the tomato paste dissolves. Add the parsley, dill and mint. Cook for 2 more minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the rice mixture to a bowl. This is just a kick start for the rice, it should be cooked all the way through.
- Take the grape leaves out of the brine and place the in a bowl with plenty of water for 20 minutes. Take them out, rinse them again to remove any leftover brine and drain them well.
- Line the bottom of a heavy pan or a dutch oven with big grape leaves.
- Cut the stem off each leaf. Prepare the Sarmas by placing about a tbsp of the cooled rice mixture near the bottom of a grape leaf, next to where the stem was. Cover the rice with the bottom flaps of the leaf, then bring the sides of the leaf towards the center and roll the leave up.
- Arrange the Sarmas inside the pot very snuggly and orderly. This would prevent them from opening up and lose their shape while cooking. Once done, place 4 - 5 slices of lemon on top of the Sarmas, cover it all with more grape leaves and pour boiling water on them just until they are completely covered. Place a dish over the Sarmas to keep them submerged and the put a lid on the pot. Cook at low temperature for 30 minutes until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Turn off the heat.
- Remove & discard the top leaves and lemon slices from the pot. Pour about 1/4 cup of olive oil over the sarmas. Cover again and let them cool to room temperature. Serve with lemon wedges and/or yogurt sauce sprinkled with ground paprika.