TURKISH STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES

Turkish Stuffed Grape Leaves

The stuffed grape leaf, oftentimes referred to as dolma, is an under appreciated member of the meze family.  In favor of the ubiquitous hummus and pita or cucumber and yogurt salad, stuffed grape leaves tend to get passed over.  In fact, one of my closest friends and my own mother find this Middle Eastern staple off-putting.  I, too, remember a time when I shied away from stuffed grape leaves based solely on the fact that the dish involved the use of a leaf. (Then again, I was 9-years-old; I’m not sure what their excuse is.)  Expecting a vegetal, grassy flavor, I was caught off-guard by the savory, sweet, and sour flavor packed inside of each tiny bundle.

Having made many different versions of stuffed grape leaves, no recipe renders more consistent and flavorful results than that of Claudia Roden’s in her spectacular cookbook, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon.  After making these from scratch you’ll find that the flavor of a homemade stuffed grape leaf is light-years away from those that come from a can.

TURKISH STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES

From Claudia Roden’s, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon

Making stuffed grape leaves can be a time consuming process, but the end result is well worth the effort as you are left with an especially elegant appetizer.  Also, cooking with grape leaves can be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never worked with them before. When soaking the preserved leaves, I like to use a large bowl and have a kettle of just boiled water handy to pour over each leaf as I remove them from the jar.  This technique makes sure that each individual leaf is surrounded by water, thus ensuring the removal of the salty brine.  When it comes time to roll them, be patient.  This seemingly difficult task becomes easier with practice.  Make sure to gather the side leaves in toward the center in an effort to keep the rolls symmetrical.  Finally, taste the rice mixture for salt before rolling it up in the leaves. If your seasoning isn’t correct at this point, there will be no way to fix it later on.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pound grape leaves
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup short-grain or risotto rice
  • 2 tablespoons currants
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon, or to taste

METHOD

  1. If using grape leaves preserved in brine, remove the salt by putting them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Make sure that the water penetrates well between the layers. Leave them to soak for 20 minutes, then rinse in fresh, cold water and drain. If using fresh leaves, plunge a dew at a time in boiling water for a couple of seconds only, until they become limp, then lift them out. Cut off and discard the stalks.
  2. For the filling, fry the onions in 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat until soft.  Add the pine nuts and stir until they’re golden. Stir in the tomato paste until well incorporated, then add all the rest of the ingredients down to and including the chipped dill.  Mix well and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. On a plate, place the first leaf, vein side up, with the stem end facing you. Place one heaped tablespoon of filling in the center of the leaf near the stem end. Fold  that end up over the filling, the fold both sides toward the middle and roll up like a small cigar. Squeeze the filled roll lightly in the palm of your hand and place seam side down on a plate. Fill the rest of the leaves in the same way.
  4. Line the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pan with the tomato slices and any leftover torn, or imperfect grape leaves, then pack the stuffed grape leaves tightly on top.
  5. Mix the remaining olive oil with 2/3 cup of water, add the sugar and lemon juice, and pour over the stuffed leaves. Put a small plate on top of the leaves to prevent them from unrolling.  Cover the pan and simmer very gently for about 1 hour, until the rolls are thoroughly cooked, adding more water occasionally if the liquid in the pan becomes absorbed. Let the grape leaves cool in the pan before turning them out.

Serves 8 or more as an appetizer

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    • Deniz
    • September 16th, 2009

    Hi there, that’s nicely explained but you do provide a wrong detail. “Dolma” is what we call stuffed paprika, the name in Turkish does explain it, “Dolma” means more or less stuffed or filled, where the grape leaves cannot be stuffed or filled, one can only wrap something in to grape leaves and that is why we call it “Sarma” because the verb “sarmak” means “to wrap something in…e.g. grape leaves”.

    You might want to correct it now you know the real terminology explained to you by a Turkish guy who also is a passionate and talented cook.

  1. Your grape leaves are folded so perfectly!! I have tried to make a meze like this several times but I can’t find grape leaves when I need them. They seem to be one of those elusive foodstuffs that appears when you least expect them.

    • Gary
    • September 16th, 2009

    This is one of my favorites! Save me some if you can.

  2. I know what you mean about finding the elusive leaves. Lucky for me, there are a few Middle Eastern groceries that carry them here in San Francisco. I’ve definitely had the best results with Orlando brand grape leaves. They are tender yet sturdy and definitely large enough to accommodate a good amount of filling.

  3. Deniz – I appreciate the information; I was curious about the nomenclature myself. I avoided calling them Dolma in the title for that very reason, but I do often hear them (mistakenly) referred to by that name here in the Bay Area. Whatever they are called, they are certainly delicious.

    • Deniz
    • September 17th, 2009

    @ Mike
    True, I do appreciate you advise to use virgin olive oil (didn’t know you call it virgin oil in the US, sounds funny to European ears, we call it olio extravergine, Italian style). My dad and I are olive oil producers in Turkey (me curretnly living in Germany though) and olive breeders, breeding big olives with a diameter of about 2 inches for delicatessen shops. So we appreciate people using “pristine quality” olive oil brands no matter who the producer is as long as people buy good quality products.

    Well, as for the Bay Area people, why don’t you go ahead and teach them the right nomenclature adding you have been taught how to call it the righty by Turkish people.

    Additional detail: The origin of the word Dolma is Turkish, has been spread throughout the history to all oriental countries. That was the beginning, Sarma became more popular later on but some people still used Dolma instead of Sarma which also explains why in some areas people still call this Dolma instead of Sarma, e.g. in Azerbaijan or Armenia (Tolma). All other countries use the correct nomenclature; Albania: Sarmë, Turkey: Sarma, Romania: Sarmale, Persia: Dolmeh, okay the Greek say Dolmades or Dolmadakia but hey, since the Turkish invented Sarma we think one should use the right word because if you ever visit Turkey one day and you order Dolma and get stuffed paprika, don’t be surprised. 😉

    Have a good day.

    P.S. just became a reader of your blog, going to continue ‘coz I like it.

  4. Glad to have such a knowledgeable reader. As you will see in upcoming posts, I too love olives and hope to try some of your pristine olive oil one day here in the states. Thanks again for the great information.

    • Jay
    • May 29th, 2010

    Hey guys, I am part Turkish and part Persian, I am from the states as well, and have come to realize that Dolma is the Arabic word for it, whereas the Sarma is the Turkish one! : ) Good luck everyone!

    • jackie
    • January 8th, 2011

    me encantan son mis favoritas