Archive 2008 - 2019

Day 181

by Sarah R. Commerford

When I was pregnant with my second son, I had a whole slew of bizarre food cravings. I couldn't stand the smell of Chinese food (which I love), couldn't get enough mangoes, and Italian food of any kind was my preferred dinner. I also had a brief love affair with tuna subs (with pickles, of course). But the random craving that most stands out was an intense 15-minute binge on stuffed grape leaves a.k.a. dolmas. On one particular trip to the grocery store, the craving was so overwhelming that I single-mindedly hunted down a container in the refrigerated section, ripped the oily package open in the isle and dug in, impervious to the bemused looks of my fellow shoppers. Okay - I was eight months pregnant and way, way past the "isn't she cute" look -- I was huge, desperate and had no shame. So, although Turkey has virtually hundreds upon hundreds of incredible dishes of all kinds, I had to make dolmas, because, well, I have an emotional attachment to them and have never tried to make them...until now...........

Located in Western Asia (Anatolian Peninsula) and East Thrace in Southeastern Europe, Turkey is bordered by Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria as well as the Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus, Aegean and Black Seas. A democratic, secular, constitutional republic, Turkey's ancient cultural heritage maintains its traditions along with a strong economic, military and regional presence, owing in part to its strategic location at the crossroad of Europe and Asia.. The country's rich history includes, but is not limited to, Alexander The Great's conquests, Achilles' famed battle against the Trojan's in Homer's Iliad as well as the site where the Ottoman Empire fought legendary battles. Some of the world's most extensive remains of the Roman Empire are preserved in this beautiful country. One of the world's oldest continually inhabited countries, the vast majority of Turkish people are Muslim and speak Turkish, but Kurkish and Zazaki are also spoken by Kurds and Zazas who account for about 18% of the population. A little known fact about Turkey is that the tulip was first cultivated in the Ottoman empire.

Cuisine in Turkey is influenced by Ottoman, Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan traditions, but varies greatly by region. In the Aegean area, food tends to be lighter in it's use of spices and extensive use of seafood. In the Black Sea region, fish is a staple and to the southeast, Kebabs, mezes and bakalava are enjoyed. Still to the west, olive oil is used extensively, and is actually considered as a category of cooking all its own. Of course, stuffed grape leaves, or Dolma (means stuffed or to be stuffed), are regularly eaten in most households. When stuffed with a meat and rice mixture, they are served hot with yogurt and lemon. When stuffed with rice, they are generally served at room temperature.

Rice, pine nuts and mint for the filling - I used brown rice because that's what I had

Grape leaves packed in water and salt - rinse, drain and pat dry

Minced onions and garlic are sauteed in olive oil until soft

Dried mint and dill

Finely chopped parsley - oops, I forgot to add it to the filling mixture

Mix ground lamb with rice, onions and spices - I gave up on the spoon and used my hands

1.Turn leaf shiny side down



2. Roll up



3. Fold one side over



4. Fold other side over



5. Roll the whole thing up


Tower of Dolma Beauty

Place dolma seam side down in a heavy dutch oven lined with grape leaves, add broth

Place a heavy plate or weight on top of dolma to keep them from opening up while simmering

Serve warm with lemon and yogurt . These are wonderful as an appetizer or main dish.

Dolma Stuffed Grape Leaves with Lamb (Recipe Courtesy of Epicurious)
*Can be adapted to vegetarian by omitting lamb and increasing rice to 1 cup*

1 lb ground lamb or beef
1 jar grape leaves
2 medium onions finely chopped
1 clove garlic finely chopped
3 T olive oil
2 T pine nuts
1 T dried mint
3 T minced Italian parsley
1 t dried dill weed
1/3 C uncooked long-grain white rice
2 C beef broth or bouillion
2 T fresh lemon juice
Lemon wedges


Sauté onion and garlic in 2 T olive oil until softened. Combine in large bowl with raw lamb or beef, herbs, rice, and pine nuts.

Unroll, wash and pat dry the grape leaves and trim off stems. With shiny side down, placed small amount of filling in center of each leaf and roll up, tucking in the sides. Arrange in layers, seam side down, in a large Dutch oven. Pour beef broth, lemon juice, and remaining T olive oil over the stuffed grape leaves, and lay a heavy heat-proof dish or press over them to keep them from unwrapping. Simmer uncovered 1 - 1-1/2 hours. Serve with lemon wedges - either hot or room temperature.

Makes 3-4 dozen, depending on size of grape leaves and amount of filling for each