Armenian Stuffed Grape Leaves: A Vegan Appetizer
My grandmother was from the village of Sivrihisar, which was part of Armenia back at the turn of the century and is now part of Turkey. Because of the Armenian Genocide, the Turks forced her from her homeland with nothing but her faith, clothes on her back, and a few family recipes that she had memorized.
This is my grandmother's recipe. I have taken on the tradition of making this dish for family gatherings now that my grandmother has passed away. The combination of sweet and savory and the creamy texture of the rice and tang of the lemon make it a sensory delight.
This recipe is enough for a large party. As yalanchi sarma is a lot of work, you will want to make a large batch. Since there is no meat in the recipe, they save well in Tupperware.
I have also calculated the PointsPlus value on this recipe to 1 point per sarma. So if you're watching your weight, they're not as sinful as they seem. Enjoy!
- 2 jars of grape leaves (or one large jar of about 100 or so grape leaves)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5 medium onions
- 3-4 lemons
- Calrose (short grain) rice
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 cup black currants (if not available, you can use chopped raisins)
- 3 ounces pine nuts
Step One: Prepare the Leaves
- Carefully open the jars and remove grape leaves, being careful not to tear the leaves.
- Unfurl them (they'll be bundled), and place them in a large bowl and rinse with cold water to loosen.
- Keep the leaves soaking in the water while you prepare the filling. This will help loosen any sediment and remove the brine.
Step Two: Make the Filling
- In your food processor, or by hand, finely chop 5 medium yellow onions.
- In a large soup pan, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil and add the onions, sauteing them for about 10 minutes until the onions are somewhat transparent.
- Add 2 cups of Calrose rice to the onion mixture and 2 1/2 cups of water (for the time being), and stir.
- Lower the flame and let it cook a bit, stirring often adding up to another 1/2 cup of water to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The rice should swell and be tender but not completely soft.
Step Three: Add the Spices
- Carefully wash parsley and trim, getting rid of the stems. Dry with paper towels.
- Finely chop. You should have about 1 1/2 cups of chopped parsley. A little more or a little less will not matter.
- Add the parsley, 3 ounces of pine nuts (you can purchase cheaper at a middle eastern market, but Costco has them too), and 1 cup of black currants (also at the middle eastern market).
- Stir until mixed. Note: You don't want to go crazy stirring because the rice is very sticky and breaks down easily. But don't be afraid of it either.
Next, add your spices:
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons dill weed (loosely measured not packed)
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- Juice of one lemon
Step Four: Check in on Your Grape Leaves
- Revisit your grape leaves. Rinse them, and one by one, use a paring knife to cut the stems close to the leaf.
- As you trim the stems, stack them, veiny side up (shiny side down) on your work surface. While you're working, you'll notice there are leaves that are very course and tough in texture....set those aside. Also, remove any damaged/torn leaves as well. Keep those aside because you're going to line the bottom of your pan with them later.
Step Five: Get Ready to Roll!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Step Six: Stack Your Sarma: Get It Ready to Cook
- Once you've rolled all your sarma, you have to cook them on your stovetop. But first, you have to arrange them carefully in the pan. Use a 5 quart large pan or soup pot.
- Divide your "reject" grape leaves in half and line the bottom of the pan with them. If you don't have too many, you can slice a washed potato evenly (1/4" slices") and line the pan with the potato slices first. This will keep your sarma off the bottom of the pan. But if you do have enough grape leaves, then line the bottom going slightly up the sides of the pan as well.
- Start by arranging the sarma side by side, closely, across the bottom of the pan and the side areas. Then turn your pan slightly and do the same on top of the first layer, stacking close as you go. Continue stacking until you've arranged all the yalanchi sarma. When you've finished, cover the top with more of your leftover leaves
Step Seven: Cook, Serve, and Enjoy
- Add enough water, one cup at a time, until you see the level of water at the second layer (from the top) of sarma.
- Invert a stoneware plate on top of your sarma to keep them from floating or moving during the cooking.
- Put a heavy lid on your pan and turn on your stove. With a low flame, allow the sarma to cook for an hour.
- Turn off the flame and let rest.
- When the yalanchi has thoroughly cooled, squeeze the juice of a large lemon over the whole thing (it should soak down through the top leaves...if not, then allow the lemon juice to run down on the sarma. Do not remove sarma from the pan when warm.)
- Refrigerate the whole thing....pan and all. Sarma is best cooked a day or two ahead of time. This allows ample chilling and marrying of the flavors.
- The following day, remove the lid, the plate and the protective leaf covering and one by one, remove the sarma and stack them on a plate.
- Garnish with lemon. Some people like theirs more lemony. If that's the case, squeeze another lemon over your finished sarma.
Typically, yalanchi sarma is served as an appetizer along with olives, string cheese, pita bread, hummus, fresh cilantro. Enjoy!
If you have any questions at all, let me know.