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Turkish Sarma (Stuffed Vine Leaves)

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Turkish sarma or stuffed vine leaves with ground meat and rice served in sauce, a popular dish in many parts of the world.

Stuffed Vine Leaves with Ground Meat and Rice

What is sarma?

Sarma is a version of dolma. Dolma refers to all vegetables stuffed with meat and rice, for instance, eggplants, peppers, zucchini, and so on. It can also mean pieces of meat (like chicken or beef) and even seafood (calamari tubes) filled with meat or rice.

Yaprak Sarma refers to vine/ grape or cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, meat, and rice or only rice and other vegetarian ingredients. Or stuff them with fish and bacon as well, for an unorthodox but thoroughly delicious version.

They are a staple of Turkish cuisine and are immensely popular all over the Balkans, Middle East, Central, and Eastern Europe. Basically, regions that were once occupied by the Ottoman Empire.

The Romanian sarmale, for instance, is our national dish. And we also stuff vine leaves with ground pork, or with rice and mushrooms for fasting time meals.

Stuffed Vine Leaves with Ground Meat and Rice

What do you need?

Vine leaves:

  • The leaves can be bought pickled in jars or vacuumed. I definitely prefer those in jars, I find the vacuumed ones too tough even after preparing.
  • I had exactly 32 rolls and needed about 40 leaves to be able to roll that number.
  • Think generously when preparing them for filling, many in the jar will be too small, broken or will break while you try to roll them.
  • In this case, use two smaller/broken leaves to form one roll.

Rice:

  • I prefer to use short grain rice for any kind of sarma, dolma or stuffed anything. It might be just a matter of personal preference, but I feel that the short-grain rice absorbs the liquid better, it becomes plumper, softer, and more comforting when used in fillings.
  • However, long-grain rice should be fine as well.

Meat:

  • Beef or lamb.
  • I use beef most of the time because ground lamb is not available at all around here. I did ground the lamb myself once and the stuffed vine rolls were delicious, but normally I just stick to beef.
  • Don’t use the leanest beef, it should still have a fair amount of fat.
  • For an Eastern European version of the stuffed leaf rolls, use pork or a mixture of pork and beef.

Herbs:

  • Fresh dill and parsley, and dried mint.
Stuffed Vine Leaves with Ground Meat and Rice

How to fill sarma?

Prepare the vine leaves:

  • Carefully unroll the leaves, they are usually rolled into small bundles. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Simmer them gently for about 3 or 4 minutes. Drain well and leave until cool enough to handle.

Prepare the rice:

  • Cook the rice, but only half the time of what is indicated on the packet’s instructions. For instance, my rice needs to be cooked for 20 minutes, so I only cook it for 10 minutes. Drain the rice well and let it cool slightly.

Filling:

  • Cook the finely chopped onion for about 3-4 minutes and let cool slightly. Mix with the meat, rice, grated garlic, herbs, and spices, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Roll:

  • Place a vine leaf on the working surface. If too small or broken, arrange two of them over each other to have a larger surface or to cover the holes.
  • Add about 2 teaspoons of the filling in the middle-lower part of the leaf.
  • Fold the left and right sides of the leaf over the filling, then form a roll, starting to roll at the base of the parcel.
  • Place the roll with the seam facing down in a cooking pot. Repeat until you have used all the filling, arranging the rolls nicely and tightly in the pot.
vine leaves on a board being filled with meat and rolled

Cook:

  • Boil some water in the kettle and pour it over the rolls to barely cover them.
  • Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes, if the rice is not perfectly soft yet, give a bit more time.
  • Carefully remove the cooked rolls from the pot and keep them warm in a larger, deeper serving dish.
  • You will need their cooking liquid to make the sauce.

Sauce:

  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Sprinkle the flour and stir well for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add tomato paste and stir well again.
  • Slowly start adding the cooking liquid while whisking continuously. Add a little chicken stock or vegetable broth if you feel that you don’t have enough cooking liquid.
  • Simmer for 1-2 minutes stirring continuously.
  • If the sauce is too thick, add a little more broth or stock.
  • Adjust the taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
  • Pour the sauce over the stuffed vine leaves and serve immediately.
Stuffed Vine Leaves with Ground Meat and Rice

How to store?

The Turkish sarma keep well in the fridge for 2-3 days and can be reheated in the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of water or broth.

You can also freeze them. Place them on a plate or baking dish and freeze them. Once solid transfer them to freezer bags or containers. Defrost in the refrigerator and reheat gently. Add some broth or stock to the pot when reheating.

How to serve?

Serve the Yaprak sarma with a dollop of Turkish or Greek yogurt. We also love sour cream, smetana or crème fraiche instead.

Fresh crusty bread is the most fitting side. But boiled or mashed potatoes are lovely as well.

Stuffed Vine Leaves with Ground Meat and Rice

More Turkish recipes:

Turkish Meatballs – Beef Kofta Recipe

Spinach Borek

Easy Turkey Kebabs

Turkish Meat Rolls

turkish sarma with rice and beef on a plate

Turkish Sarma (Stuffed Vine Leaves)

Yield: 6
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Turkish sarma or stuffed vine leaves with ground meat and rice served in sauce, a popular dish in many parts of the world.

Ingredients

  • Rolls:
  • about 40 vine leaves from a jar (Note 1)
  • 2 tablespoons short-grain rice
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 450-500 g/ 1–1.1 lbs ground beef (Note 2)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dill
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon ground sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • a few splashes of vegetable broth or chicken stock, only if necessary (Note 3)

Instructions

Vine leaves:

  1. The jarred vine leaves are usually rolled together into small bundles. Unroll them very carefully, they are delicate.
  2. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the vine leaves and simmer gently for about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Drain well and leave until cool enough to handle.



Filling:

  1. Place the rice into a small pot, cover it with water, bring to a boil and cook for half of the time indicated by the packet's instructions. For instance, my rice needs to be cooked for 20 minutes, so I only cook it for 10 minutes. Drain the rice well and let it cool slightly.
  2. To make the filling chop the onion very finely. Heat the oil in a small pan and cook the onion until softer, about 3-4 minutes. Let it cool slightly.
  3. Combine the ground beef, rice, onion, grated garlic cloves, finely chopped dill, and parsley, dried mint, sweet paprika, salt and pepper. Mix together very well.



Rolls:

  1. Place a vine leaf on the working surface. If too small or broken, use two to get a large filling surface or to cover the holes.
  2. Add about 2 teaspoons of the filling (depending on the size of your leaf) in the middle-lower part of the leaf.
  3. Fold the left and right sides of the leaf over the filling, then form a roll, starting to roll at the base of the parcel.
  4. Place the roll with the seam facing down in a cooking pot.
  5. Repeat until you have used all the filling, arranging the rolls nicely and tightly in the pot.



Cook:

  1. Pour boiling water (from the kettle) over the rolls, they should be barely covered in liquid. Cover, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  2. After about 30 minutes, try one roll to see if the rice is soft, if not, prolong the cooking time.
  3. When the vine leaf rolls are cooked, carefully remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon. Place them on a deeper serving platter and keep warm.
  4. You will need their cooking liquid to make the sauce.



Sauce:

  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and stir well for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir well again.
  2. Slowly start adding the cooking liquid from the vine leaf rolls while whisking continuously. Add a little chicken stock or vegetable broth if you feel that you don't have enough cooking liquid.
  3. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes stirring continuously.
  4. If the sauce is too thick, add another splash of broth. Adjust the taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  5. Pour the sauce over the stuffed vine leaves in the serving dish and serve as suggested above.

Notes

  1. I had 32 rolls but needed more than 32 vine leaves. Prepare some more than you actually need, some will break and some will be too small for filling. In such a case, use two vine leaves to form one roll. Place the two leaves over each other in order to cover the broken parts or make the filling surface larger.
  2. The beef should not be too lean. Ground lamb can be used instead. For an Eastern European version of sarma, you can use ground pork or a mixture of pork and beef.
  3. Only needed if you have too little liquid in the pot to make the sauce or if the sauce turns out to be too thick. Also useful when reheating the rolls.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 32 Serving Size: 1 roll
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 69Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 87mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 5g

Nutritional information is not always accurate.

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