Sarma Dolma: Stuffed Grape Leaves with Caçik Yogurt Sauce
Also known as Sarma Dolma, stuffed grape leaves are a celebratory food on Eid day in many Muslim countries, particularly around the Middle East and Turkey. I learned this recipe while living in the Southern part of Turkey where local dishes sing the praises of the hot pepper (aci biber) and its paste, as well as tomatoes, lemons and lots of bulghur, sometimes preferred over rice.
Truly Mediterranean in essence, this recipe from the Aegean coast of Turkey is one of my favorites, although it does take time and effort, and in my opinion, it is best done with family and friends because you can have some really great conversations while rolling the grape leaves!
Sarma Dolma: Stuffed Grape Leaves
Ingredients for the Filling
Makes approximately 24 grape leaves (serves 6)
1 pound fresh or brined grape leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup short grain rice, uncooked
3⁄4 cup bulgur wheat #2 (medium)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh mint (or 1 tablespoon dried)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried)
2 tablespoons fresh dill (or 1 tablespoon dried)
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1.5 teaspoons sumac
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1.5 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (optional)
1 tablespoon plain tomato sauce
2-3 fresh tomatoes, sliced thick
1 lemon, sliced thinly
For the Sauce
1⁄2 tablespoon tomato paste
1⁄2 tablespoon red pepper paste
1.5 cups hot water
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup olive oil
1. Soak brined grape leaves in water to remove any excess salt. If using fresh grape leaves, blanch in hot water for about 15 seconds. Remove and allow to cool before using.
2. Gently heat oil in a frying pan and add the rice, bulgur, fresh herbs, dried spices, pomegranate molasses, tomato sauce and water. Cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently to combine, until onions are translucent and the grains are glossy. (The grains will not be fully cooked but will finish cooking during the remainder of the cooking process). Remove from heat. Let cool for about 15 minutes.
3. Lay each grape leaf vine-side up and add approximately one tablespoon of the filling to the lower end of each leaf. Bring the sides inwards and roll tightly upwards.
4. Line a stock pot or Dutch oven with the sliced tomatoes. Add the stuffed grape leaves in an organized way, each one sitting on top of the tomatoes. Once all the grape leaves are added, place the sliced lemons on top of the stuffed grape leaves.
5. To make the sauce to be poured on top, mix tomato paste and hot pepper paste with the hot water and salt, using a whisk to properly combine. Pour over the grape leaves in the pot.
6. Bring the pot to the stove top and heat on medium high. Bring the liquid to a boil, then immediately reduce to low, simmering for 45 minutes to one hour, covered.
7. Halfway through the cooking process, remove the lid and pour the olive oil on top. Cover and allow them to continue cooking.
6. Remove the pot from heat and remove the lid to allow the steam out. Serve grape leaves while warm with the yogurt sauce on the side.
2 cups whole milk yogurt
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons each fresh mint, dill, and Italian flat leaf parsley
Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste
¼ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
To a medium bowl, add the yogurt and mix well with a whisk to get out any lumps. Add the fresh herbs, garlic and lemon juice. Add the salt and pepper and taste. Taste and adjust, if necessary.
Serve a heaping two heaping tablespoons of the yogurt on the same plate for every four grape leaves served.
Eid Mubarak & Afiyet Olsun!