This post was originally published on January 16, 2008, and I am updating the recipe today with the video from my new YoutTube Channel – AZCookbook with Feride. Please SUBSCRIBE to it and share it with your friends.
No Azerbaijani table is complete without stuffed grape leaves, dolma, or yarpag dolmasi. They are little morsels of deliciousness, in which tender grape leaves (fresh or canned) are wrapped around a flavorful filling made with ground meat, onion, rice, herbs, and a dash of seasoning.
Many variations of dolma are made in some countries around the world, too, including Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Greece, and others. But at the expense of sounding biased, I have to confess my favorite dolma is the one made the Azerbaijani style. “What makes is different from the rest?” you may ask.
First and foremost, the difference is in the size and shape. Azerbaijani dolma is much smaller and has a round shape (except, in the Azerbaijani city of Ganja, the dolma is slighly oval and is a bit bigger), unlike its foreign cousins that usually have a long, tube-like shape. In Azerbaijan, the smaller the dolma bundles, the better. Tiny bite size.
The second distinct feature is the use of copies amounts of fresh herbs in the filling, including cilantro, dill, and mint. They add so much flavor to the dolma bundles, making them fresh tasting. So good!
I have a feeling you are ready to try making your own stuffed grape leaves. I say go for it! Don’t be intimidated by the leaf-rolling part. It is much easier thank you think. My recipe will guide you through.
So, let’s roll those leaves, shall we?
WATCH HOW TO MAKE AZERBAIJANI-STYLE STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES, DOLMA:
- • 1 pound ground lamb or beef (or a combination)
- • 1 medium onion, passed through a meat grinder or grated
- • ½ cup medium-grain white rice, thoroughly rinsed (do not use long grain rice, such as Basmati!)
- • ½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- • ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill
- • ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
- • 1 teaspoon salt
- • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- • About 100 small-size or 50 medium-size fresh grape leaves (or frozen grape leaves, or canned leaves (about ¾ of a 16-ounce can)
- • 3 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee) or unsalted butter (add more if meat is lean), or olive oil
- • Plain Yogurt or Garlicky yogurt sauce, to serve (recipe follows)
- First, prepare the stuffing. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the stuffing (add less salt if using briny canned leaves). Mix with your hand until well combined.
- If using fresh grape leaves, boil slightly salted water in a medium saucepan and blanch the leaves in small batches (about 10 at a time) in the boiling water for about a minute (less if the leaves are very tender). This will soften the leaves and make them easier to roll and faster to cook. Remove the leaves from the pan using a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Cut off the stems.
- If using canned leaves, put batches of them in a colander, rinse well under cold water to remove the salt, and drain. If the canned leaves feel too thick, blanch them in boiling water for about a minute, then drain. Otherwise, do not blanch. Cut off the stems.
- Have a medium saucepan ready. If using medium-size mature leaves, cut them in half. Small, young leaves can remain whole.
- If there are any torn or damaged leaves, do not discard—use them to patch holes in other leaves as needed. Also, arrange some of the damaged leaves flat on the bottom of the saucepan. If you don’t have damaged leaves, line the bottom of the saucepan with unused whole leaves to cover.
- Now stuff the grape leaves. Hold a leaf (or half, if cut) shiny side down on the palm of your hand. Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling at the stem end of the leaf. Fold the top down, then the sides over the filling and roll up tightly to shape it into a 1-inch round bundle. Arrange the stuffed leaves, seam side down, on the bottom of the pan. Continue until all the leaves and filling are used, arranging the stuffed bundles snugly together in the pan, making several layers.
- Dot the top with butter and pour in water to cover the dolma halfway. Place a small lid or a small ovenproof plate on top of the stuffed leaves to keep them tight and to prevent them from opening. Cover and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 hour 30 minutes, or until the leaves are tender, the filling is cooked, and there is little liquid left (if the liquid is completely absorbed at some point during cooking, add more water and continue to simmer).
- Serve immediately with bread and plain yogurt or garlicky yogurt sauce to spoon onto the dolma to taste.
- Garlicky Yogurt Sauce: To make garlicky yogurt sauce, in a bowl, combine 1 cup or more plain yogurt with 2-4 cloves garlic, crushed with a garlic press.