Tomato & Mint Dolma (Yaprak Sarma)
“In my many years of eating stuffed grape leaves, this Cypriot version made with plum tomatoes and spearmint may be my favorite. Don’t be put off by the physical task of stuffing and rolling, as these are relatively straightforward to make and the process has a meditative quality too, so I recommend making a batch during times of stress. (I made them repeatedly in the first weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown, but that’s another story.) I didn’t grow up learning how to make stuffed grape leaves, so used to find them a bit intimidating. Thankfully, during the course of writing this book, I think I’ve finally cracked it. The tricks are to not overfill the leaves, to roll them tightly, and to approach each one with utter confidence.
“I was shown how to make these with yoga teacher Çizge Yalkın and her grandmother Nahide Köșkeroǧlu; we stuffed half the mixture into zucchini flowers and, if you ever get the opportunity to use some, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, you can find brined grape leaves in just about any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean store. This recipe makes 30 to 35 dolma depending on the size of the leaves and I like to serve it with thick plain yogurt on the side. The dolma keep well in the refrigerator for about three days, in a covered container. I often warm them up in a saucepan with a drop of water, to take the chill off them if they’ve been refrigerated.” —Yasmin Khan
For the dolma:
1 cup Turkish baldo rice, or calrose (you can also use basmati)
1 small white onion, grated (about 7 ounces)
1¼ cups canned whole peeled tomatoes, very finely chopped or blitzed in a food processor
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried mint
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle
1 package or jar brined grape leaves
salt and black pepper
For the broth:
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup cold water
full-fat, strained plain yogurt, to serve
1. Place all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl with 1¼ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper and mix well.
2. Place 35 grape leaves in a large saucepan filled with just-boiled water. Simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat, then refresh under cold water.
3. Lay a grape leaf on a plate with the vein side up (snap off any stalks) and smooth it out. Then, depending on the size of the leaf, place 1½ to 3 teaspoons of the filling at the bottom and mold it into a rectangle, horizontal to you. Deftly and firmly roll the grape leaf over the stuffing, tucking the side flaps inward as you do so to ensure it is sealed at both ends and will prevent the parcel from opening while cooking. The juice will run out as you squeeze them but that doesn’t matter; just collect it in a cup and add it to the cooking pan later.
4. Place the dolma in a large, shallow saucepan as you roll them and continue stuffing the leaves until all the filling has been used up. Don’t worry if your dolma aren’t a uniform shape or look a bit small, they will plump up after cooking and even out.
5. Once all the stuffed leaves are in the pan, mix the tomato paste and water and pour it over the dolma. Drizzle with another 2 tablespoons olive oil, then place a dinner plate on top of the leaves to cover them and press them down.
6. Place the lid on the saucepan and set it over medium heat for a few minutes until the water comes to a boil (lift the plate to check underneath). Then decrease the heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes.
7. Check a dolma to see if the rice is cooked. If the rice is still a little firm, or the water has all evaporated, add another 7 tablespoons or so of water, cover, and cook for another 10 minutes. If there is still broth in the pan, the dolma will soak it up as they cool.
8. Once ready, let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before serving. I personally prefer to give them longer, until they come to room temperature, and always accompany them with thick yogurt on the side.
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