No Azerbaijani table is complete without DOLMA, the all-time favorite, and my favorite too as a matter of fact. The word DOLMA means “stuffed” in Azeri. Variations of this dish are present in cuisines of several other countries, including Middle Eastern, Persian, Turkish and Greek. I’ve tried different versions but still there is something special about Azerbaijani dolma. There is this irresistible flavor of aromatic fresh herbs mixed with that of meat and rice. Also, it is smaller and rounder (or squarer) in shape than its foreign counterparts that usually have longer tube-like shapes. I like my dolma to be of a bite-size, neither too small nor too big. Try it with a scoop of creamy garlic-yogurt sauce on top and you will promise to yourself to make this dish again as soon as possible! Warning but a harmless one. Rolling the leaves may require a bit of effort and time - but hey the result is WORTH it, I PROMISE!! Note: You can find canned grape leaves in gourmet food stores and in most Middle Eastern/Persian stores. Are you ready to cook? Let’s roll!. I mean, let’s roll the leaves:)
Grape Leaves Stuffed with Meat (Yarpag Dolmasi)
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound (450g) ground lamb or beef
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup short or medium grain rice, washed and drained
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
½ cup chopped fresh dill
½ cup chopped fresh mint (you can substitute with 2-3 tablespoons dried)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon or to taste, pepper
80 small or 40 medium size fresh grape leaves or canned leaves (about ¾ of 16oz can)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup water
Garlicky Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt, mixed with 2-3 gloves peeled and crushed garlic
1. To prepare the filling, in a mixing bowl combine meat, onion, rice, fresh herbs, salt (add less if you are going to use salted canned leaves) and pepper and knead thoroughly.
2. If using fresh grape leaves, blanch them in small batches (about 10 at a time) in a pot with boiling water for 2 minutes. This will soften the leaves and make it easer to roll them and faster to cook. Remove the leaves with a slotted spoon and drain. Cut off the stems or any hard veins.
If using canned leaves, put them in batches in colander and place the colander under a sink, then rinse the leaves under cold water and drain. Cut off the stems. If using medium or large leaves, cut them in half. If there are any torn or damaged leaves, do not discard - use them to patch holes in other leaves. NOTE: If canned leaves are too thick, blanch them in boiling water for about a minute, then drain and proceed as directed in the recipe.
3. Hold a grape leaf shiny side down on the palm of your left hand, and place 1 or 2 teaspoons of the filling at the stalk end of the leaf. With your right hand, fold top, then the sides over the filling and roll up tightly.
5. Pour butter over the grape leaves and add water. Place a small lid or a small ovenproof plate on top to keep dolmas tight and to prevent them from opening. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium to low and simmer for 1 hour 30 minutes, or until the leaves are tender and the filling is cooked. There should be little liquid left, reduced to the oily consistency.
6. Serve hot with garlic-yogurt sauce scooped on top, fresh salad or pickles and bread!