Sarma, Dolma or Stuffed Grape Leaves

Low in calories, rich in vitamins and antioxidants: grape leaves stuffed with rice filling are going to steal your heart and mind, if not so already!
This is a very popular dish in the Mediterranean and whatever you may call it, it is a favourite side dish or main dish in Turkey too. According to the latest social poll results, stuffed grape leaves topped the choice for an appetizer among Turkish people around the country. Although Marmaris is not exactly the heart of grape production in Turkey, there are grape vines growing in every backyard in Marmaris, if you look carefully. Fresh grape leaves are picked up for this exotic and healthy vegetarian dish all summer long. But if you do not know how to pick up those leaves, head to the village market in Marmaris or Icmeler to buy some. You may also buy bottled or canned grape leaves for cooking sarma, in that case skip the first step, describing how to prepare fresh grape leaves. If you use the bottled or canned grape leaves that come in a salty solution please rinse them before use.

You will also need some rice (white or brown), olive oil, onion, parsley, tomato sauce (called salca in Turkey), two cooking pots and a little bit of time. Traditionally the women in the house come together to make this dish, as the rolling part of it could be time consuming. When you have two or three women around the table, rolling up grape leaves is great fun, as well as all the talk and gossip that surrounds this activity is part of the culture. Another ingredient that you may not be familiar with is the lemon salt. This is a totally natural ingredient, that adds the sour scent to the leaves when we boil them. We have included the photo of the package, so you know what to look for when you are out shopping.

Wash and rinse your grape leaves first. Have water to boil and add some lemon salt, depending on how sour you want your leaves to taste. Usually one or two teaspoons is enough. Reduce heat and simmer the grape leaves, as shown on the photos. It only takes about two minutes for the grape leaves to soften, so don’t overcook them. Repeat this process for all of your grape leaves and take them aside to cool down.

Once you are done with your grape leaves, cut your onion finely, into small pieces, some even prefer to grate the onion for smoother texture, that will be added to the filling. Cook your onion on olive oil to soften so again it will be only a few minutes for cooking on moderate heat. Add some rice (one glass of rice will be enough for about 30 grape leaves), and cook on olive oil together with onion. When you add salca or tomato sauce make sure to mix it well, or add some water to help it blend with onion and rice. Nicely chopped parsley, some salt, black pepper, red pepper, mint and other spices that add up to the taste like cinnamon or yedibahar (Turkish spice that goes well with dolma). When rice becomes coarse and all your filling is well mixed and somewhat cooked together you are now ready for the fun : the rolling up of your grape leaves 🙂

Lay the grape leave flat with its harsh side on top, as shown on the photos, spoon your rice filling (about 1 tablespoon per leaf) and then fold the bottom and the side parts of the leaf, to roll up into a nice tight roll. When you are finished, drizzle a cooking pot with some olive oil and arrange  the grape leaves side by side, so there are no spaces in between. It could be one or several layers of grape leaves, the more the better 🙂 Once you have placed all, use a plate or any other kitchen ware to press the leaves from top, add water to cover the leaves to the top and cover with a lid. Cook for about 25 – 30 minutes, as you would normally cook your rice. Serve warm or cold, with Turkish yogurt for more flavour.

Afiyet Olsun! Enjoy your meal!

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