Here are the leaves I picked a few days ago after it stopped raining.
From the vine in our Assos garden.
It’s been a very wet spring and this past week was punctuated by thunderstorms and pouring rain. But the garden has loved it. The leaves on this vine were perfect for rolling: young and fresh. This is ideal as later on they toughen up and become difficult to roll.
You can also buy these leaves preserved in brine. If so, soak them thoroughly in hot water and leave for ten minutes to remove the salt. Rinse under cold running water. If you buy fresh leaves which aren’t necessarily the first ones of the season, do the same to soften them up: just a few minutes in hot water will suffice before rinsing.
These are called sarma in Turkish because they are rolled and not stuffed. If they were, they would be dolma!
This recipe is with meat so they are eaten hot with yogurt as the main course. When the filling comprises only rice, they become a zeytinyağlı or olive oil dish, and always eaten cold without yogurt.
The idea of this filling is basically minced lamb or beef with onion and a little rice, with other flavours added to the mix. Personally I think lamb is better here. As with all these savoury dishes, I wouldn’t worry too much about exact quantities.
One of the several recipes for this that I browsed through happened to mention that if those little sour greenplums are available – which they are – scatter a few on top of the sarma. Their taste changes dramatically in the cooking and I really recommend following this tip! TT remembers his mother doing this.
One last point: to be honest, rolling these vine leaves is a bit fiddly especially the small ones. Not difficult but a little time-consuming until you get the knack. But if you have made sigara börek or rolled up chard leaves, you’ll find it very similar. And practice makes perfect! After the first 10 or so, you’ll be rolling like a pro!
I started out with 32 vine leaves. I ran out so had to pick another 10, still had extra filling so had to rush out into the garden for the third time! In the end I must have made about 50 sarma.
- Before starting, line the base of a heavy saucepan with some torn or otherwise spoilt vine leaves (this is to prevent sticking)
- Prepare the vine leaves as above and then snip off the stalks and the main vein if tough. If left, the leaf will tear when rolled.
- Place the minced beef or lamb in a bowl and stir in the onions, herbs and spices. Add the grated tomato and tomato paste if using. Season, combine with 1 tablespoon olive oil and knead well.
- Lay one of the vine leaves with the matte side facing you on a flat surface and spoon some filling in the middle of the leaf.
- Pull the leaf over the filling, fold in the sides, then roll into a tight log (try not to overfill, as the filling may ooze out).
- Arrange the vine leaves, seam side down, in a deep wide pan.
- Pack them tightly together, layer by layer. Scatter the green plums if using.
- Mix the remaining oil with 1 cup (8 fl oz) water, then pour over the vine leaves. The water should almost cover the top layer, so you may need to add more.
Place a heavy plate over the rolls and put the pan on medium heat.
- Once it starts to bubble, lower the heat, cover and cook gently for about 40 minutes, until the rice and meat are cooked.
- Serve hot with yogurt and a slice of crusty bread.