Dolma

Dolma means filled or stuffed, in Turkish. Any of you who have been to Istanbul would know of the famous 18th century Dolma Bahce Sarayi. That’s the filled in (reclaimed land from the sea) Garden Palace. I just thought I would stick that in there, because it makes me sound clever, and besides I may have even taught you something.

There are two types of dolma. One with meat and one without. Another name for the vegetarian version is Yalanci Dolma (Fake Dolma) or Zeytin Yagli Dolma (Olive Oil Dolma). These are typically eaten cold and are more of a summer dish. Usually they are made with stuffed bell peppers and the larger of the vine leaves.

Note; Any Turkish dish that has “zeytin yagli” (olive oil) at the beginning of it’s name, is considered a dish that should be eaten cold. These dishes are refreshing in the heat of the Mediterranean, therefore are cooked with olive oil, and as a result will not congeal unlike most meat dishes that usually need to be served hot.

Moving on to the mince meat dolma (Etli Dolma), these are usually made from the smaller of vine leaves, courgettes and aubergines. Obviously because it uses meat, it needs to be eaten hot or warmed up.

My personal favourite meat dolma is the aubergine with lemon and garlic.This is a separate dolma all together. It uses small aubergines and should be kept to a separate occasion to the other two versions.

Now remember (it’s not brain surgery). It really isn’t as hard as you think, just a bit time consuming. So don’t treat your family to dolma during the week, save it for a dinner party or a garden party. That is unless you have all the time in the world in which case eat dolma any day of the week. Who cares? As long as you enjoy……

Vine Leaves

Persevered Leaves
When it come to vine leaves, you should be able to obtain them in most supermarkets in the ‘World food’ section). Failing that, any Mediterranean, North African or Middle Eastern food stores, would defiantly stock them.They normally come in compressed packets, each store will have it’s own quantity per pack. Personally I would say buy two packets, it’s usually better to have some extra and besides you can always freeze any leftovers.

When you open your packet, the leaves will be stuck together, so you will need to separate them and give them a thorough wash as they have been preserved in salt. Now depending on the type you have purchased, it maybe that they will require blanching. This is of course up to you, but some preserved leaves can: 1) be really salty and 2) be really tough. However if you feel they seem to be OK then play it safe and go easy when adding salt to your stuffing, that way you should be fine. Make sure you snip off any stems that have been left on any leaves.

Fresh Vine Leaves                                                                                                                If you or any one you know has a vine tree in their garden, then try to pick the larger leaves for the vegetarian dish and separate the smaller ones for a meat dolma. Once you have harvested your leaves, wash thoroughly then blanch ever so slightly and leave to drain. Do not cook your leaves, just soften them enough so that you can roll them. Remember they are going to be holding your stuffing inside. Don’t worry if they still look raw as they will cook in the pan later. Any leftovers leaves can be frozen, once they have been washed, blanched and drained completely.

Zeytin Yagli Dolma non meat/vegetarian dolma

You will need:

A deep saucepan. Deep enough to cook your bell peppers in and your vine dolmas
An oval shaped dish to serve them in
A large mixing bowl
Obviously Vine leaves approx. 500g
4 colourful bell peppers
2 cherry tomatoes halved (these will be the lids for your bell peppers)
500g regular uncooked long-grain white rice (not Basmati)
50g fresh mint finely chopped
2 tablespoons of dried mint
2 large onions finely chopped approx. 400g
1 tin of chopped tomatoes or 400g of fresh tomatoes chopped finely.
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
(this is optional) if you are using preserved leaves bear in mind these are very salty, especially if you have chosen not to blanch them.
1 teaspoon of All Spice seasoning
(ideally for dolma in Turkey there is a specific seasoning just for this purpose, Dolma seasoning. However, this is not easy to come by so the next best thing is All Spice)
25g dried currants or raisins
(again there is a specific currants just for dolma, (kus üzümü) tiny little currants that are less sweeter than the average current)
30g pine nuts
1 ½  tablespoons of sugar
6 tablespoons of olive oil
Boiling water, enough to cover dolmas in saucepan
1 lemon for wedges

Information: Turkish people use a separate bell pepper all together for this dish. They are slightly smaller from the colourful ones, and are a light green colour. They have a thinner lining of membrane (skin) on the outside which makes it easier to digest. However, they are not easily found (unless you live in Turkey or have a Turkish shop nearby that stocks them). So the colourful supermarket ones will do just as well. If you wish, once your peppers are cooked and before serving you could try removing the outer skin. Your choice. Personally I serve with the skin on and I have never had anyone complain (well apart from my mother who is from Istanbul and is very fussy).

Place your rice, chopped onions, mint, tomatoes and olive oil into your mixing bowl. Add the All spice, cumin, currants and pine nuts. Then start mixing together, making sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed.

When it comes to assembling, stuffing the peppers or wrapping your vine leaves, be prepared that this is the time consuming part of the dolma process. So sit yourself down on a comfy chair have all your ingredients in front of you, and begin.

Tip: If you have a close friend that lives nearby, or a mum, sister, partner whatever… try and include them in the process, that way, you can get things done much faster and you can turn the whole activity into a social event. You’ll be surprised at the conversations you can have while wrapping dolma. (My mother and I nearly solved the world’s water crisis while wrapping dolmas for this blog). If you’re on your own, be sure to put on some music, or have your kitchen TV switched on.

OK are you ready? Let’s go!

Have your saucepan ready at hand.

Start with the peppers
Wash your bell peppers, dry them, then neatly cut around the stems with the core and discard (keep the pepper of course). Now you need to remove the seeds and any pulp from inside each pepper. So get yourself a teaspoon and start digging, try to remove as much pulp as you can without tearing the pepper. Turn your pepper upside down and give it a good shake to make sure all the seeds are out. Now using your teaspoon again, take your rice mixture and start stuffing. Try not to over fill your pepper as the rice will need room to cook. Once filled, take your halved cherry tomato and put in the centre using it as a lid, then place your completed pepper in one corner of the saucepan. Don’t worry if it topples over, once your vine leaves and the other peppers are made they, will hold each other up.

Now, for the vine leaves.
Grab your self an empty dinner plate, big enough for a vine leaf, a tablespoon would come in handy at this point as well.

Place your leaf veiny side up, shiny side down on your plate, keeping the stem part of the leaf closest to you, so the pointy part of the leave is at the top of the plate. Spoon your rice mixture across the middle of the leaf, making sure not to go near the edges. Now fold up both edges, then start rolling away from you to make a cylinder, so it looks almost like a cigar. Try to keep the opening or pointy end of the leaf faced down, so that they don’t unroll, especially while they are cooking. Once you have completed a few, start placing them into your saucepan carefully around your peppers. Pack them in tightly together, not too tight though, after all you do want them to cook, but at the same time, you don’t want them opening up.

When you have finished, stand back, take a deep breath and and admire your handywork. Then put the kettle on to boil some water, (yes a cup of tea would go down well at this point but have some extra water for the dolmas as well).

Boil approx. 1 ½  pints that’s roughly, or enough to just cover the dolmas, and pour the boiling water into the saucepan containing the dolmas.(Try to find a little gap between the dolmas in which to pour the water, avoid pouring directly onto the peppers or vine leaves). Place a wide enough plate on top of the dolma’s so it can hold down all the ingredients whilst boiling. Put the lid on you saucepan and place on a high heat, until your dolmas start to boil. This should take approximately 10 minutes. Keep checking. As soon as water starts to boil in the pan, turn down the heat completely. Remove the plate and drizzle some olive oil onto the dolmas (add a pinch of salt if you feel that you should). Place the lid back onto the saucepan and cook for a further 30 minutes on a low temperature.

Try tasting a vine leaf dolma, if you feel the rice is still a little bit raw cook for a further 5 minutes, making sure you have enough water in you pan to do so. Do not at this point burn your dolmas! You have come too far for that, so keep checking. Once you feel they are cooked, turn off the heat, and leave to rest in the pan for about 10-15 minutes. When they have cooled down, they are ready to serve. Drizzle any remaining juice (water) over the dolmas once on your serving dish.

You have gone to a lot of effort to make this dish. Now don’t spoil it by not presenting it nicely. It’s up to you of course, but I would suggest, an oval shaped dish. Try placing the bell peppers in the middle of your dish with the vine leaves surrounding and almost keeping the peppers up. Keep the vine dolmas going around the dish until you have covered the entire plate. Place some lemon wedges over a few of the dolmas, then stand back and enjoy looking at what you have made. Afiet olsun.

Now, remember this dish is best eaten cold. In fact some Turkish people say, it taste better the next day, as it has absorbed all the ingredients. This is a matter of opinion of course. Having said that, I do like the idea that you can cook it well in advance, and can simply present the dish at the table when your guests arrive. So I would wait for the dish to cool down completely, place a clean bag or cling film over the plate, and pop it into the fridge. Ready to eat whenever you wish.