Have you ever thought what would be the best thing that you can do with grapevine leaves? Use them as decoration on your charcuterie boards? Dry them, frame them and hang on your wall? Good ones, but no! The best thing to do with grapevine leaves is simply… sarma!
Sarma is a dish with a long history behind, which dates back to Ottoman Empire period. Being such a rich dish, it’s still alive in many cuisines today, mostly in 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” means to roll.
Apart from the differences between countries, there are even regional differences in Turkey for recipes of sarma. There are actually many different recipes, with different ingredients, including different leaves and different fillings; as well as different styles of rolling and cooking.
My favourite one “zeytinyagli yaprak sarmasi”, rolled grapevine leaves with olive oil and it has no meat in it. The classical version of it has all spice, dried black currant and pine nuts in its filling, which gives it a sweet flavor. This can be served warm and cold as well. Another version has meat inside, usually minced meat, but in some regions finely chopped meat and served hot in casserole.
Since I have been living far from home in the last 7 years, sarma became the dish that I have been missing the most. As you can imagine, my mom makes the best sarma, and it’s never the same when I eat it somewhere else. However, to at least have a taste of it, I’ve decided to cook it myself at home in Canada. Luckily I was able to find some grapevine leaves in brine here, so I’ve started working on it!
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 is sold as fresh immediately and the rest is kept in brine to be able to use along the winter.
The filling of sarma is very rich, it’s full of spices, fresh herbs and tomato which gives flavors to the rice. And before we start cooking, I want to give the good news: This is a vegan and gluten-free recipe!
- Vine leaves (fresh, if you can find, otherwise in brine)
- 2 cup 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
How to prepare
Preparing the filling is easy; we’ll cut the tomato and onion in small dices and chop the green herbs (parsley and dill). We’ll mix them with rest of the filling ingredients (rice, tomato paste, olive oil, spices and salt).
Once the filling is ready, rolling action will start! The important trick is to put the vine leave 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. To be honest, rolling is not very easy: If we roll too tight, when the rice is cooked, as it’ll get bigger, it might rip the leaves. On the contrary, if we roll it too loose, the filling might slop over. So, it’s important to find the perfect tightness to obtain a perfect sarma. If you cannot have it done at the first trial, don’t worry – you will get better as you roll more than 100 of them!
In the following photos you can see the correct form to roll them:
Once they are all ready, we will align them carefully on the pot, and add water ¾ of the sarma is covered with water. If you have an electrical stove like me, you might want to put couple of leaves on the bottom of the pot to avoid any burning. More importantly, before start cooking, it’s important to put a plate on top – this sounds weird, but if we don’t, sarma would swim in the water and they would all open up! We don’t want that. So, after putting the plate on top, we’ll be cooking it around 40 minutes. Once it’s done, we’ll just leave if another half hour without opening the cover. Bottom part will always cook more than the upper part, so when we open up the cover, if the top layer is cooked, that means it’s all cooked!
You can eat it while it’s warm, but it’s even better after it waits overnight in the fridge, served cold as meze.
I can hear you asking: “With which wine I should be pairing it?”
Wine pairing of zeytinyagli yaprak sarmasi
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.
As in the most cases, I’d go with local food & local wine pairing: I would suggest to pair this with a dry white wine from Emir. You can find more information about this variety on one of my previous articles. There are also very well made dry wines from Sultana grapes in Turkey: Eating the leaves of Sultana, and drinking its fruit, I cannot think of a better pairing… If you don’t have chance to find any Turkish wine, my selection would be a glass of Albariño from Rias Baixas or Vinho Verde.
I hope this was enough to convince you that the best thing you can do with grapevine leaves is sarma. Just roll them and pair them with wine!
All images © 2019 by Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.