Sarma – stuffed grape leaves

Sarma, small roulades made of grape leaves (sometimes also other plant leaves) and rice, also with meat, are a typical Turkish starter. Very similar preparations can be found in many countries of south-eastern Europe and we will show an example from Greek cuisine here shortly.

Our sarma are a vegetarian or even vegan dish. We find the bitter note of grape leaves particularly interesting.

At our home, we can’t just pick grape leaves, so we have to buy them in already pickled form. In the countries where sarma comes from, they harvest tender grape leaves of nice shape, wash them and then pickle them in hot salt water. So you can easily do that yourself, too.

Before processing, the pickled vine leaves must be freed from the salt again by soaking them in water for 20 minutes. We also change the water once after 10 minutes.

Our recipe describes the quantities for about 20 thick or 30 thin rolls. We clearly prefer the thin version, perhaps also because thick ones are always sold in tins.

The rice is washed and then poured through a sieve. Shallots and garlic are peeled and chopped very finely.

Then it’s the turn of the herbs: parsley and mint are also washed and briefly shaken dry. The quickest way to separate the leaves from the stems: Hold one stem at its end and lift it vertically into the air. Then you can easily chop off the downward pointing leaves with a sharp knife, from the suspended stem. All it takes is a bit of momentum.

The separated leaves are finely chopped. The stems go into the fridge with the other leftover vegetables and will soon flavour our next vegetable stock.

In a saucepan, place olive oil with butter over medium-high heat. For the vegan version, replace the butter with more olive oil.

Sweat the shallots and garlic in it for about 3 minutes until translucent. Then add the sesame seeds.

The washed rice is also added, along with salt, cinnamon and cumin. We also like to season with a pinch of chilli powder.

Everything is mixed well and stirred in the oil for 2 – 3 minutes, just like a risotto. When the rice is well coated with the oil and spices, vegetable stock is poured in, a small amount to cook the rice only about halfway.

After 8 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that nothing burns, the liquid is absorbed by the rice and the pot is removed from the heat. The chopped herbs are mixed in.

When the rice has cooled down a little, it is time for rolling:

Each grape leaf is briefly dried on a clean cloth and then spread out with the shiny side facing downwards. The slightly duller side is on top, which is also the side where the veins of the leaf are more prominent.

A natural beauty

The place where the veins of the leaf converge can be removed for a finer result, with the tip of a knife or fingernails.

Then a tablespoon of rice filling is placed on the sheet. For thin rolls, a little less than a whole spoonful. Since each leaf has a different size and shape, you have to work with intuition and gain experience at this point. But you will soon get the hang of it.

Then roll up the sheet just like a spring roll: First, fold the leaf over the filling from below. Then fold the two sides towards the middle.

Now all you have to do is roll it up from the bottom and you have a perfectly packed rice filling.

That is not difficult at all

The rolls are placed in an ovenproof dish, with the seam facing downwards. Close together so that they do not open during baking.

Unlike the Greek version, Turkish sarma are usually cooked in a tomato fond.

For those who do not have the time or desire to make such a fond: The list of ingredients at the end describes a quick alternative.

We bring our tomato fond to the boil briefly and add lemon zest. We didn’t want to throw away a chilli that was no longer quite so fresh, so we cut it open lengthwise and added it too. It didn’t harm the dish.

The fond is poured over the rolls….

…and baked covered (with a lid or aluminium foil) in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes.

The sarma soak up the tomato fond almost completely and the rice is fully cooked in the process.

Warm or cold, an absolute delicacy!

Enjoy.

And may the taste be with you.

Ingredients (for up to 6 people as a starter):

For the stuffed vine leaves:

200 g round grain rice, e.g. Italian Arborio

4 – 5 shallots

3 cloves of garlic

½ handful each of parsley and mint leaves

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter (or another tbsp olive oil)

2 tbsp sesame seeds

240 ml vegetable stock

Salt

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1 tsp ground cumin

Optional: a pinch of chilli powder

20 – 30 pickled vine leaves (20 thick or 30 thin rolls)

For the sauce:

140 ml tomato fond

Alternative for quick cooking: 140 ml boiling water in which tomato paste is dissolved, seasoned with salt and pepper, to taste (this is how it is usually done in Turkey).

2 – 3 strips of lemon peel

Optional: 1 fresh chilli

1 tbsp olive oil

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