When I first visited my family in law in Istanbul, they set about crafting yaprak sarmasi in honour of my visit and Murat’s return. His three sisters and mother gathered around, stuffing and rolling leaves while nattering excitedly. Quite the excuse to get together and pitch in, I’ve now mastered this traditional recipe much to Murat’s delight.
This recipe results in succulent sarma, with subtle heat and meaty goodness. It is absolutely authentic and often eat in Turkish households. This version is best served warm with a dollop of cooling strained yoghurt, however stuffed vine leaves can also be made without meat and with the addition of pine nut, sultanas and dill, usually served cold.
1 packet of vine leaves (you can buy them salted and packaged from Mediterranean food shops.)
500g minced beef
1/2 cup rice
1/3 cup bulgur wheat
1 large / 2 small white onions
1 handful fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tsp dried mint
1/2 a lemon – cut into slices
1 heaped tbsp tomato or pepper puree & 1 heaped tsp for sauce.
1 tsp red chilli flakes (pul biber)
2 tsp sea salt
Freshly milled black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp light olive oil
1 cup hot water
Soak the vine leaves in warm water over night, changing water at least once.
Mix rice, bulgur wheat and chopped onion in a bowl and rinse with cold water. Drain, then add chopped parsley, beef mince, mint, chilli, salt, pepper, pepper paste, red pepper /tomato puree and sunflower oil. Mix by hand, folding and pummeling the until mixture smooth.
Drain leaves and squeeze to get rid of excess water. Pick off stalks, careful not to rip leaves. My mother in law rolls the sarma on her palm, but for less experienced rollers best to prepare a clean, flat surface.
Lay with underleaf facing upwards. Take a teaspoon of meat mixture and place on lower leaf (where stalk used to be.) Arrange meat into 1cm length, then fold over bottom of leaf and edge edges, and roll into cigar shapes, tucking sides in neatly (as per photos). Your rolls should be about 8cm long and no more than 2 cm wide.
Arrange snugly into a pan and place lemon slices and olive oil on top. Mix 1 tsp pepper / tomato puree with 1 cup hot water and add this to the pan.
Cover and heat over a high flame until boiling. Turn heat down (if you don’t, rolls will explode!) to a slow simmer and cook for 1 hour, until sarma are soft and succulent.
Serve warm with a dollop of strained yoghurt. Yaprak Sarmasi are better left a day or two for the flavours to mature.
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