Sarma is cousin to the Greek Dolmades, however this Armenian staple has a very unique and incredibly delicious flavour. Armenian Sarma has that thousand-watt lemon and olive oil taste– and this recipe adds an upgrade of tomato, hot pepper paste, Aleppo pepper and another zing of pomegranate molasses. The flavour is unbelievably delicious. I strongly encourage you to take the time to make this impressive vegan appetizer if you haven’t already.
A Labour of Love
Sarma isn’t difficult to make, it’s simply time consuming. This is one of those dishes where you grab your best friend or partner and you sit together rolling juicy cigars from grape leaves while you ‘chenneh’ or gossip about the latest. There is another Sarma that has ground beef and rice in it, which I will definitely make for this blog, however I always hoped that the Sarma I found on the table at our family gatherings was this vegetarian version.
This is my grandmother’s recipe. She sometimes left out the pine nuts, replaced them with walnuts or she even made them with chickpeas from time to time. I absolutely LOVE pine nuts. This is definitely a great recipe to make one or two days before a dinner party as the flavour just gets better as it chills in the fridge. You serve this one cold!
But really, who needs a dinner party to make these? They won’t last long.
Armenian Sarma: Cooking and Rolling Techniques
I’m privileged to live in a part of Toronto that has many incredible middle eastern grocery stores. I really love living here. Hopefully you can find grape leaves that are bottled in brine, otherwise you can pick them straight off the grapevine in early spring/summer when they are tender and then blanch them in boiling water. I would strongly advise avoiding fresh leaves that have been sprayed with pesticides.
Rinse the brine off of the leaves after you pull them out of the jar. I usually soak the leaves for a few minutes, then rinse and repeat 2-3 times. You will find that some of the grape leaves are torn– save these and line the bottom of your heavy cooking pot with them. Also save a few ‘imperfect’ leaves to cover the top of your Sarma, to protect them as they cook.
For the roll, take a sharp knife and remove the stem and place it shiny side down. Place a heaping teaspoon of your mixture close to the stem. Roll one bottom up, followed by the other. Then fold over each side and apply gentle but firm pressure as you roll. This is to prevent the Sarma from falling apart as it cooks, and you also can’t roll too tightly as they might explode!
Line the Sarma over the leaves in your pot and when you add the next layer, align them in the opposite direction every time you add a level. When you’re done wrapping, cover the rolls in the pot with a layer of grape leaves. Pour over your lemon juice and olive oil bath, and then add a heat-proof plate (face down) to the top of the rolls. Top up the pot with just enough water to ensure all of the Sarma is submerged. Cover with a lid, letting steam escape. Bring to a boil and then reduce temperature to a low simmer and let the Sarma cook for 60 minutes. The rolls will absorb all of the lemon/oil/water and become morsels of flavour-magic.
For the best flavour, allow to cool and place in the fridge before serving. Please tag me if you’ve tried this! It’s such a special recipe. Անուշ Ըլլայ!
Armenian Sarma / Stuffed Grape Leaves
These vegan stuffed grape leaves are flavourful and easy to make. Every bite delivers a delicious mouthful of lemon, olive oil and middle eastern flavours.
- 1 jar grape leaves in brine
- 2 cups long grain white rice, washed and drained
- 1 cup pine nuts
- 1 large ripe tomato, puréed (or 1/2 cup crushed tomato)
- 1 head of parsley, washed and finely chopped
- 3 cups chopped white onion
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons hot-pepper paste
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 3/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- Cooking bath
- 1 1/2 cups of olive oil
- 1 cup lemon juice
Rinse grape leaves and soak, repeat 2-3 times. Drain leaves. Set aside imperfect leaves to line your pot.
Mix olive oil and lemon juice . Set aside.
Combine all filling ingredients. Taste for seasoning.
With a paring knife, remove the small tough stem from the grape leaf and place shiny side down. Add a heaping teaspoon of filling to the bottom of the leaf, close to the stem. Fold up one bottom of the leaf, followed by the other.Fold in sides and gently, but firmly roll while tucking in the sides.
Align Sarma rolls closely along the bottom of a heavy pot that has been lined with the imperfect leaves. Keep layering Sarma in opposing directions.
Add another protective barrier of leaves to the top. Pour over the olive oil and lemon bath and add just enough water to submerge your rolls. Place a heat-proof dinner plate on top to hold the Sarma in place while cooking. Place a lid on top. (I allow steam to escape.)
Bring to a boil and then lower heat to low, allowing it to simmer for 60 minutes.
Test the Sarma to ensure rice and leaves are cooked through.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Cool in refrigerator, then serve.
I usually start to check the Sarma at 45-50 minutes to see if they're cooked through. The liquid will evaporate as they cook, so you have to make sure the top ones are cooked!