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Turkish Stuffed Vine Leaves, Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Sarma or Dolma

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After seeing quite a few bad examples of stuffed vine leaves or even Greek dolmades, I thought it’s time I did something about it. I always have a jar of the leaves in my pantry just in case I get in to the mood. Yes, it is time consuming and getting it right is difficult especially if you don’t have gas kitchen but once it is done properly, they are just divine.

There are many different styles of stuffed vine leaves in Turkey. One of them is the mince one and that one is served warm with garlic yoghurt. Non-meat version on the other hand is light and lemony although in certain parts of Turkey many use chickpeas, bulgur or even lentils instead of rice. From the area where my father’s family come from, there is even a semi-raw version. Actually, best leaves come from that area too.

Ingredients:
33 pieces vine leaves in brine
1 cup medium-grain white rice, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp dried currants
½ tbsp dried spearmint
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley (leaves only), finely chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil or processed olive oil (the variety that you can cook with, not extra virgin)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Method:
• Place the vine leaves in a large bowl and fill it up with hot water. Soak them for 20 minutes.
• To make the filling; place the rice, onion, oil, parsley, mint, pine nuts, currants, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well.
• Remove the leaves and squeeze any excess water out, cut off any stems –some leaves come with stems still attached and some don’t. Reserve 3 leaves to line the saucepan.
• Get yourself 2 large flat plates; one for the rolling process and the other one for rolled ones. I actually don’t like to work on a chopping board as it is messier that way.
• Lay a leaf glossy/smoother side down on the plate –stalk end should be at the top. Place 1 tbsp of filling at the base of the split and spread the filling, making sure that it is a long line, not a fat and short one. Fold the tops over the filling –they should overlap a little–then the left and right sides into the middle. Roll firmly towards the tip. Pop it onto the other plate and repeat with the remaining filling and leaves.
• Judging by the number of stuffed leaves; choose the right size of a heavy-based, stainless steel saucepan. Mine was 18cm in diameter. Line the bottom of it with the reserved vine leaves. Drizzle with a little bit of oil. Pack the dolmas tightly in one layer and then another. Boil some water, pour it over the dolmas and cover with an inverted plate although I used 2 saucers as my breakfast plates are a little big for the job. The reason for this is that you need enough water to cook the rice in the filling but once it starts boiling dolmas start to float around. To make things worse, it doesn’t matter how tightly they are wrapped, they release their content into the water.
• Put the lid on and bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until all that water is absorbed and the rice is cooked thoroughly.
• Pour freshly squeezed lemon juice over and set aside to cool. Remove the dolmas with fork and spoon once they are cool. Arrange them on a serving plate and serve cold with lemon slices.

Note: Any unused leaves should be stored in brine in the fridge. Depending on the salt content they last for quite some time until you are brave enough to make another batch of stuffed vine leaves.

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