Wine is the best gift that the grapevine can give us, but it’s not the only one. We also have the leaves. They are edible, and very delicious. In this blog post, I’ll share my favourite recipe with grapevines and its wine pairing suggestions.
Sarma is stuffed grapevine leaves. It’s a dish with a long history behind, dating back to the Ottoman Empire period. Being such a rich dish, it’s still alive in many cuisines today, mostly in the Middle East, Balkans and Central Europe. Of course, every country has a way to do it and it’s called differently. In Turkish, it’s called sarma, it comes from the verb “sarmak” which means to roll.
Apart from the differences between countries, there are regional differences in Turkey for recipes of sarma. Ingredients, including leaves and fillings, styles of rolling and cooking vary depending on the region.
One of the lightest sarma recipes is “zeytinyağlı yaprak sarma” – rolled grapevine leaves with olive oil and it has no meat in it. It’s generally served lukewarm or cold. The classical version has all spice, dried black currant and pine nuts in its filling, which gives it a sweet flavor. Another version has meat inside, usually minced meat, but in some regions finely chopped meat and served hot in a casserole.
The best sarma is done with fresh leaves of Sultana grapevine. Young leaves of the vines are collected in summer, when they are green and tender. Some of them are sold as fresh immediately and the rest are kept in brine to be able to use during the winter.
The filling of sarma is very rich, it’s full of spices, fresh herbs and tomato which gives flavors to the rice. Moreover, it’s a vegan and gluten-free recipe.
- Vine leaves (fresh, if you can find, otherwise in brine)
- 2 cups of white rice
- 4 tablespoons of concentrated tomato paste (if you can find replace 2 tablespoons with red pepper paste)
- ½ bunch of parsley
- ½ bunch of dill
- 1 big white onion
- 1 big tomato
- ¼ cups of olive oil
- Paprika powder
- Black pepper
- Red pepper flakes
1- First prepare the filling. Cut the tomato and onion in small dices and chop the green herbs (parsley and dill) and mix them with rest of the filling ingredients (rice, tomato paste, olive oil, spices and salt).
2- Once the filling is ready, start rolling. Put the vine leaves on a plate in a way that the veins will stay up, the shiny side will be down – this way after we roll it the shiny side will stay out.
3- Roll it precisely and find the perfect tightness to obtain a perfect sarma: If you roll too tight, when the rice is cooked, as it’ll get bigger, it might rip the leaves. On the contrary, if you roll it too loose, the filling might slop over. If you cannot have it done at the first trial, don’t worry – you will get better as you roll more than a hundred of them.
4- Once they are all rolled, align them carefully on the pot, and add water ¾ of the sarma is covered with water. If you have an electrical stove, you might want to put a couple of leaves on the bottom of the pot to avoid any burning.
5- Before starting to cook, it’s important to put a plate on top – this sounds weird, but if we don’t, all the sarma would float in the water and open up. We don’t want that. So, after putting the plate on top, cook it for around forty minutes. Once it’s done, leave it another half hour without opening the cover. Bottom part will always cook more than the upper part, so when you open up the cover, if the top layer is cooked, that means it’s all cooked.
6- You can eat it while it’s warm, but it’s even better after it waits overnight in the fridge, served cold as meze.
Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc
It’s not very easy to be paired with wine, since it might have a special bitterness coming from the leaves. Moreover, depending on the amount of spices that you put, it might get even more complicated. However, if the leaves are fresh and if you don’t go extreme with the spices, it’ll pair nicely with a fresh dry white wine.
For an international pairing, my selection is a glass of Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. Sauvignon blanc stands out with its high aromatic characteristics and high acidity, so does sarma. This wine and sarma complemented each other both in terms of acidity, and flavour intensity.
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