Stuffed Grape Leaves (Sarma)

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cmzaha

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150 stuffed grape leaves happily cooking in the pot. Yum :) These are Olive Oil, Rice and Onion Sarma. My husbands family calls them cigars! Go figure I am the only one in the family that makes them since their mom passed away and I am not Armenian :). Of course my oldest daughter was supposed to help and did not as usual.
 

Seawolfe

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holy wow 150? That has to be a HUGE pot. Do you cook them in tomato based sauce?

Do they freeze well in case you wanted to save some for someone later perhaps? :D
 

cmzaha

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LOL, wonder whom that would be...never tried freezing them. That is not really many for our family. No they are cooked in just water with a touch of lemon juice. These are filled with just onions and rice, with cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, paprika and nutmeg for the seasoning. I have never had another grape leaf with the cinnamon and allspice other than my MIL and it makes a world of difference, so I am thinking it is regional. None of us like the meat filled grape leaves. Let see after Christmas, maybe I can share some, otherwise I will probably make them again Easter
 

shunt2011

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Wow that's a whole lot of work. Kudos to you! I've only had the meat studded ones. Bet yours are delicious!
 

navigator9

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I looove grape leaves with the rice filling. My aunt's Portuguese neighbor gave me her secret recipe for her chicken and rice that I fell in love with, and there's cinnamon, as well as a handful of other spices in it, and it's amazing! Since eating that recipe, I've come to love cinnamon in savory dishes. So good.
 

Soapmaker145

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After reading cmzaha's post, I put dolmas on the menu for New Year's eve. The recipe we use is a hybrid recipe with elements of middle eastern and Armenian/Georgian cuisine. The filling is mostly ground beef with a little chopped fresh tomatoes, sauteed onions and partially cooked rice. It is seasoned with a middle eastern 7 spice mix that is heavy on the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. It is baked in the oven. There is nothing remotely similar to the flavor of grape leaves. Too bad it takes so much longer to roll them than it takes to eat them.

Since my mom is visiting, we are also making a vegetarian version stuffed with a modified Tabbouleh mix (chopped fresh parsley, mint, onion, tomatoes, rice, and garbanzo beans (soaked in water, cracked and skin removed) with plenty of olive oil, lemon juice and the 7 spice mix.
 

cmzaha

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After reading cmzaha's post, I put dolmas on the menu for New Year's eve. The recipe we use is a hybrid recipe with elements of middle eastern and Armenian/Georgian cuisine. The filling is mostly ground beef with a little chopped fresh tomatoes, sauteed onions and partially cooked rice. It is seasoned with a middle eastern 7 spice mix that is heavy on the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. It is baked in the oven. There is nothing remotely similar to the flavor of grape leaves. Too bad it takes so much longer to roll them than it takes to eat them.

Since my mom is visiting, we are also making a vegetarian version stuffed with a modified Tabbouleh mix (chopped fresh parsley, mint, onion, tomatoes, rice, and garbanzo beans (soaked in water, cracked and skin removed) with plenty of olive oil, lemon juice and the 7 spice mix.
Your vegetarian ones sound good, but my hubby's family will only eat the onion rice version. Cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice just give them a flavor that cannot be replaced in my opinion, it just brings out the flavor of the grape leaf. I try sarma/dolmas anytime I see them and no one in our area uses the cinnamon spice seasonings and they just do not taste the same.

I have a question for you, when you bake them do you completely cover them with baking juice? I have always cooked them stove top like my MIL did, but I really think I would like baking them better. I will be making some more pretty soon, just for us and thought I would try baking them. I am not always happy with the way the simmered ones turn out. But then I am my own worst critic, I was not completely pleased with this batch, but they sure disappeared fast. Think I ended up with about a dozen for us, so I guess they were fine :). You might think in the 30+ years I have been making them I would have tried baking them
 

Soapmaker145

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Your vegetarian ones sound good, but my hubby's family will only eat the onion rice version. Cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice just give them a flavor that cannot be replaced in my opinion, it just brings out the flavor of the grape leaf. I try sarma/dolmas anytime I see them and no one in our area uses the cinnamon spice seasonings and they just do not taste the same.

I have a question for you, when you bake them do you completely cover them with baking juice? I have always cooked them stove top like my MIL did, but I really think I would like baking them better. I will be making some more pretty soon, just for us and thought I would try baking them. I am not always happy with the way the simmered ones turn out. But then I am my own worst critic, I was not completely pleased with this batch, but they sure disappeared fast. Think I ended up with about a dozen for us, so I guess they were fine :). You might think in the 30+ years I have been making them I would have tried baking them
Yours sound so lovely. I'll take rice and onion stuffed in grape leaves with all those spices anyday. The vegetarian version is middle eastern and is normally stuffed in swiss chard but I put it in grape leaves. It is hard to get the right swiss chard leaves for stuffing.

We buy the pickled grape leaves (salt pickled) from a middle eastern store. We drain and rinse them in cold water and then wash them for few minutes in boiling water before wrapping. It removes the salt/preservatives and softens the leaves for wrapping.

It took a while to get the baking working properly. We line a heavy cast iron pan all the way around with with 3 to 4 layers of overlapping leaves. We use the thicker leaves that aren't good eats. I also put any short stems I can cut off the leaves on the bottom beneath the leaves. The lid is very heavy and tight. If it weren't, I would wrap the edge in aluminum foil before baking to avoid evaporation. We don't add any cooking water. We precook the rice partially. How long depends on the rice you use. It finishes cooking from the juice of the meat, onions and tomatoes. It took few tries to get the proportions right. We use 90% lean beef and add olive oil to it. I squeeze a little lemon juice between the layers if I remember. We cover the top with several layers of leaves. The whole is wrapped fairly well to avoid evaporation. The outside leaves look dry and a little torched but the rolls are just perfect. They come out perfectly moist with intense flavor from the grape leaves and spices. If you want the proportions for the meat stuffing, I'll get them from DH. He makes the stuffing and I do the rolling.

I give my husband 100% of the credit for developing the baking process. I used to cook them on top of the stove with water and lemon juice. I would still be doing it if it weren't for him.

I had no idea what we were going to make for New Year's eve until I read your post. Thank you so much. I hope you had a lovely Christmas and I wish you a great year.
 

CaraBou

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Oh man you guys are making me hungry! I love rice stuffed grape leaves, which I know as dolma. In Anchorage I could get some pretty good ones but here they're tougher to find. I assume they are similar to what you are describing, but I'm unfamiliar with the term sarma. I didn't detect any cinnamon though, so maybe they're a little different. I bet I'd like them though!

Anyone want to share a recipe? I may have to mail order the grape leaves but it might be worth it just to eat them again.
 

Soapmaker145

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Here is our recipe for the meat stuffed grape leaves: Please see my post below explaining the process of preparing the grape leaves and lining the pot for baking)

2.5 lb to 3 lb 90% lean ground beef
1 lb fresh tomatoes (about 2 medium or more to taste), diced small. Add to the meat.

2 medium onions diced, sauteed in oil until soft and translucent. Add a TBS of 7 spice mix towards the end of the cooking and let the spices bloom in oil until fragrant. Let cool a little before adding to the meat. (Can be prepared a day in advance.)

1.5 cups rice (we use a short grain rice that we get at the Japanese store but parboiled rice works great for this type of recipe.) Rinse the rice well and cook it half way in a little boiling water and some salt. It should still be much harder than al dente. Drain and let it cool. If you have the time, soak the rice for up to 4 hours to rehydrate it as much as possible. It helps preserve the resistant starch (ie soluble fiber) that is naturally present in rice. Can be prepared a day ahead. Mix with the onions and let them cool.

1 tsp salt or to taste. (we don't use much salt, you may like more. Also, remember that the grape leaves will be a little salty even after washing in boiling water.)
1/4 cup olive oil optional
1 lemon optional, to squeeze on the rolled leaves between the layers
1TBS 7 spice mix (a second one.)
2 Jars of salt pickled grape leaves

Mix all the ingredients well. You can cook a small patty in a skillet to taste for salt and spices and adjust if needed.

Roll in grape leaves like little cigars. You want the shiny side of the leaves on the outside. Make sure to cut the little stems that are left on the leaves and use them to line the pot. Line the stuffed grape leaves in rows and rotate the pot about 90 degrees so the rows crisscross. It helps keep the leaves tightly rolled. This mix fit in a 7 quart cast iron pot. You can easily make half. The cooked grape leaves last in the refrigerator for about a week or you can freeze some for later.

Put the pot in a cold oven and bake at 300oF for 1.5 to 2 hours. You can taste it along the way to decide when it is ready. Baking time depends on the quality of grape leaves. Older leaves need longer cooking. Allowing the meat to come to cooking temperature slowly will help prevent the rubbery texture that comes with high heat.

Note on the type of rice: I wouldn't use Basmati or Jasmine because the flavors will compete and the texture will be wrong. I also wouldn't use Arborio or other short grain Italian type rice because they are too starchy and wouldn't hold up well in this type of cooking.

My parents buy the spice mix at a small ethnic shop. Here is my best approximation for it. Please note that it doesn't have cumin, coriander, or ginger. I find that they compete with the delicate flavors of the grape leaves. You may like other mixes. This site has suggestions for similar spices from the region. http://www.adventuressheart.com/2011/07/arabic-seven-spice-baharaat.html

Middle Eastern 7 Spice Mix:

1 TBS Black Pepper ground
1TBS Allspice ground
1 TBS Cinnamon (if you have both types of cinnamon, use in equal amount)
1 tsp clove
1 tsp galangal
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp star anise

This mix is mild. You may want to add some cayenne pepper to taste. The basic mix has black pepper, allspice and cinnamon. Everything else is optional.
 

CaraBou

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That's awesome Soapmaker; thanks for sharing.

About soaking the rice for a few days ahead of time: is that before or after you cook it halfway?

It's interesting that the olive oil is optional. The dolmas I've purchased from grocery delis have a distinct olive flavor, so I think of it when I think of dolmas. But I can believe that this source is probably not the most authentic, even if they are yummie.
 

cmzaha

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The above are quite different from what we make and like. Mine are 3 cups chopped onions sauté in olive oil until light brown. Add 1 cup boiling water, 3/4 cup washed long grain rice, cover and simmer 20 min or until water is absorbed. Season with 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp Near East red pepper or paprika mixed with a little cayenne. I personally double to triple the allspice, cinnamon and add in nutmeg. Stuff and roll grape as described above. I cover the bottom of a heavy pan with large tough leaves. Arrange stuffed leaves side by side in layers in the pot and place a heavy plate, bottom side up, over the rolled grape leaves to keep them in place. Pour over grape leaves 1.5 cups wager, 1-2 tbs lemon juece and 1/2-1 tsp salt. Simmer 50-60 min until rice is cooked. Cool in the pot
 

Soapmaker145

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CaraBou, I soak the rice for up to 4 hours hours before cooking (not days). I got that tip off of a bag of Basmati that I bought. I started to do that for all rice dishes. It improves the texture and the taste. Now you got me curious what would happen if I soaked it overnight.

I add olive oil because we use lean ground beef. Commercial operations add a lot more to make the grape leaves shiny and more appealing. You can always add as much as you like. I imagine original recipes would have animal fats.
 

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