Last week I decided to try out something new and prepare a meal from a region I have never visited , which I heard of just a few of times in my life and that presents a total mystery to me. However, being a fan of mysteries and new experiences, the decision was quick and it meant visiting the mall for some ingredients. In the case you are wondering, the meal I am preparing is called sarma (or dolma in Turkey) and it is a staple food in the whole region of Balkans in the southwestern Europe.
However, I decided to go for the Mediterranean version of the dish, prepared mostly in Greece and Turkey, but it is not unknown to other parts of the Balkan Peninsula, like Bulgaria, Serbia or Macedonia. The Greek version of sarma (which is basically minced meat rolled up in sour kraut, vine leaves or some other green leaf) is made with vine leaves and it is a spicy (but not as spicy as the sour kraut version) and fresh meal, usually presented as an entree dish in Greek tradition.
So, the first thing you need to do is get yourself some vine leaves, which might be a mission if you live in Manhattan (although I am sure there are more than a few Greek restaurants whose owners will be willing to lend a hand), but, if you have an uncle who lives in the country and has a small vineyard, this will be a piece of cake. The other necessary ingredients are minced meat – lamb is a staple in Greece, although it will not be a mistake to prepare sarma using beef – onions, rice, dill, parsley, mint, olive oil, salt and pepper and a bit of fresh yogurt to serve. All these ingredients are easy to find in any store.
You will need to prepare the meat before rolling up the sarmas in the leaves. Mix up the minced meat with chopped up onions, herbs and spices and a little bit of oil. My grandma used to pour just a little bit, maybe 3 or 4 tablespoons, of mineral water with gas, just to make the mixture „fluffier“, so to speak. After that, your job will be to put meat in the vine leafs (which you’ve washed, of course) and roll them up into a tight log. Then, use a deep and wide pan to arrange your sarmas and pack them together tightly. Now you have to prepare the sauce. Mix up the remaining oil with some water and pour it over the sarmas, just enough so the water covers them up. Cook them on medium heat for about 40 minutes and serve them hot with some yogurt and crusty bread.
I am sure you will enjoy this meal as much as I did. It is simple to prepare – it’s fresh and tasty and it has that power to transport us to another place. From the first bite you will feel as if you teleported to a sunny Greek beach, enjoying the smell of the sea and pines, having a bite out of your vine leaf treat!