Stuffed Vegetables

Prepared with great labor, hot and cold stuffed vegetables are downed in a flash. That is why they take always pride of place on the table as the tastiest examples of Turkish cuisine.

Hot and cold stuffed vegetables are the top stars of Turkish cuisine. Although this cooking technique is found in cuisines all the way from Central Asia through the Middle East to the Mediterranean, in Turkish cuisine it has gone deeper. It will therefore be useful to define the terms ‘dolma’ (stuff or fill), and ‘sarma’ (wrap), which are so widely used in Turkey. ‘Dolma’ is the name given to fresh or dried vegetables, tubers and even fruits that have been stuffed. ‘Sarma’ on the other hand refers to leaves that have been wrapped around a filling. Both varieties can be prepared in two ways, either with olive oil (using cooked or uncooked seasoned rice or bulghur as filling and served cold), or with meat (again using either cooked or uncooked seasoned rice and ground lamb or veal and served hot). Not only that but animals such as whole lambs or kids and even game meat can be prepared in this way. These dishes however are usually offered either on special ceremonial days or at large feasts.


Worldwide. the best known dolma or sarma technique is that of vine leaves wrapped around a seasoned rice filling. And the results are as tasty as the process is time-consuming. What’s more, stuffed vine leaves, which can be served cold as well, have also been produced industrially for years due to high demand on world tables. There’s no denying their irresistible taste and aroma. Thanks to the Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and Turks that have emigrated to the West over the centuries, westerners have also made the acquaintance of these tasty treats. But stuffed vine leaves are known around the world as ‘dolma’, a term that is easy to remember. In Turkey however there are many dishes that come under the heading of ‘dolma’ and ‘sarma’.  We could list any number of leaves from which either the olive oil or the meat-filled variety of sarma or ‘wraps’ are made: cherry, hazelnut, pepper, horse chestnut, borage, kale, beet, cabbage, chard, wild chard  leaves to name just a few. Meanwhile among the fruits and vegetables that can be stuffed either with a meat-rice filling or with rice and cooked in olive oil are apples, celery root, whole cabbage, squash of all kinds, bell peppers, okra, eggplant, artichokes, gherkins; not to mention mussels, fish, squid, anchovies and liver.

The basic filling ingredients of olive oil sarma and dolma in Anatolia is bulghur - despite the fact that rice is grown in western Turkey. The other main ingredient after rice and bulghur is onions, which are used in rather prodigious quantities especially in the olive oil varieties. But the most important factor in a tasty olive oil sarma or dolma is that the onions, sliced in circles and used to line the pan, be cooked long and slow with great patience over a low flame. For it is the sugar in the caramelized onions that gives the dish its flavor. The fresh herbs and spices and other flavorings (such as pine nuts, currants and gum mastic) that are added to the two main ingredients, rice and onions, may vary with the season and according to taste.

The dolma recipes found in cookbooks compiled in the 19th century write that meat broth from which the oil had been skimmed off was used to make olive oil sarma and dolma in Ottoman cuisine. It is crucial that the oil be skimmed off since otherwise it would congeal when the dish was cooled, producing a rather unappetizing result. But skimmed broth is no longer used today. The balance of sweet and sour in olive oil dolma and sarma is a taste peculiar especially to the Turkish palate. While onions are used to balance the sweet side, the sour element is supplied by lemon, or, when in season, by additives such as green plums, sour apples or their juice, sour pomegranate syrup, dried plums or dried sour cherries.

Spring is almost here. And when it comes, seasonings such as green onions, dill, mint, parsley, and blackthorn or sloe are added to the rice filling which is then wrapped in leaves of romaine (aka Cos lettuce) and presented as a ‘spring dolma’. This dolma filling, which is special to spring, is also stuffed inside young artichokes whose leaves are still tender to make the famous Izmir-style gum mastic stuffed artichokes. This tradition continues in Izmir today whereas spring dolmas are no longer made.

The technique of wrapping leaves around a filling requires a deft hand and plenty of time. Practice is needed to acquire the technique. Made small and thin, sarma are a feast for the eye as well as the palate. Prepared with great labor, they are consumed at the table in a flash. Nor can the same flavor be obtained by cooking the ingredients without wrapping them. The aroma of the ingredients when wrapped in the leaves is preserved as a result of cooking under pressure inside the leaf. When the cooking is finished, an intensified flavor emerges inside the wrapped leaves. Man’s habit of cooking something inside a leaf arose in very ancient times when leaves, which are at least partially resistant to fire in nature, were used as cooking ‘vessels’. The method developed in time into today’s techniques of dolma and sarma.

Veal and lamb are the main ingredients of meat-filled dolma and sarma. Other ingredients are onions, bulghur and  rice. The seasonings vary with the season and the region. There are several methods of making such dolma and sarma in Turkey. They may, for example, be served either plain or given a spicy or sour flavor with tomatoes, the juice of unripe grapes, apple juice, red pepper paste, tarator, lemon-yoghurt sauce, sour pomegranate syrup or sumac.

To give flavor and to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan, meat-filled dolma and sarma are arranged over a layer either of bones, lamb chops or lamb’s trotters. In the Ottoman period the feet of wild grazing goats were used for this purpose.
Dolma and sarma constitute one of the most widespread techniques in Turkish cuisine. The opportunity they create to make use of seasonal ingredients adds variety to Turkish cuisine and keeps it from being monotonous. The ecologically healthy foodstuffs offered by nature are thereby turned into tastes that create a veritable feast at the table.

Tarifler  Recipes
Fresh artichokes wrapped in vine leaves

4 fresh artichokes (peeled)
8 vine leaves (soaked in water to remove the brine)
1 tomato, thinly sliced
1 cup olive oil
1 sheet of wax paper
juice of one lemon
1 tsp salt
2 cups of water

Preparation of the stuffing:
Heat the olive oil in a pot and brown the pine nuts slightly. Add the chopped onion and saute 8-10 minutes. Add the rinsed and drained rice to the pot and saute 4-5 minutes. Add all the seasonings and stir. Pour one cup of boiling water over the mixture in the pot and mix well. Then cover the pot. Cook over low heat until all the water is absorbed. When cool, add the chopped parsley and dill.

Stuffing ingredients:
500 gr onions, chopped fine
150 gr rice
1/2 cup olive oil
20 gr pine nuts
15 gr currants
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp dried mint
1/4 bunch parsley, chopped fine
1/4 bunch fresh dill, chopped fine

Preparation of the dolma:
Fill the cleaned artichokes with the stuffing and close with a slice of tomato. Wrap in the vine leaves. Wrap again in oiled wax paper and arrange on a baking sheet. Add the olive oil, salt and water. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve cool.

Stuffed quail

10 quail
10 quail livers
150 gr rice
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp currants
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp allspice
1/4 bunch fresh dill, chopped fine
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sour pomegranate syrup

Pluck the quail and clean out the insides. Wash well and let drain. Melt the butter in a pot and add the pine nuts. When slightly browned, add the onion and brown 3 minutes, then add the livers. Add the salt, pepper, allspice and currants and brown together for 2 minutes. Add two cups of water or broth and let boil. Rinse the rice in lukewarm water and drain well. Melt the butter in a pot and add the rice. Saute for 7-8 minutes.  Pour the onion-liver mixture over the rice. Mix well and cover the pot. Cook over very low heat for 8-10 minutes. (The rice should not be squishy.) Add the dill to the stuffing ingredients. Fill the quail using a spoon and arrange in a baking pan. Drizzle with sour pomegranate syrup and olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour 1/2 cup water in the baking pan and bake at 160 C. for 40-45 minutes. Serve piping hot.

For the sauce:
2 cups of meat broth
1 tsp flour
1 tbsp yoghurt
yolk of one egg
juice of half a lemon
1/4 tsp salt

Preparation of the sauce:
Bring the broth to a boil. Mix the flour, yoghurt, egg yolk and lemon juice in a separate bowl. Add one ladleful of the hot broth and mix well.
Add the mixture slowly to the boiling broth. Add salt and continue boiling 3-4 minutes. Pour over the stuffed quail and bake in a 150 C. oven for 20 minutes.