Azerbaijani Stuffed Leaves: DOLMA

recipe + photography courtesy of ZEMA AHMADOVA

Makes about 50 dolmas

1 pound ground lamb or beef (or a combination)
1 medium yellow onion, passed through a meat grinder or grated
½ cup medium-grain white rice, thoroughly rinsed
½ cup finely chopped fresh mint, cilantro, dill
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
About 50 medium-size fresh grape leaves or canned leaves (about 1 [16-ounce] can)*
2 tablespoons butter or gee
Plain yogurt for serving

*Fresh and canned grape leaves can be found in most Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Turkish markets.

Mix the ground meat, onion, rice, greens and spices in a large mixing bowl. Next, soak the fresh grape leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes. This will soften the leaves and make them easier to roll and cook faster. Remove the leaves from the water and prepare to roll them. If using large to medium-sized leaves, cut them in half. Small leaves can remain whole. If there are any torn or damaged leaves, don’t throw them away—they can be used to patch holes in other leaves as needed.

Hold a leaf shiny side down on the palm of your hand. Place about a teaspoon of meat at the stem end of the leaf. Fold the top down, then the sides over the filling and roll up tightly to shape it into a 1-inch-round bundle.

Arrange the stuffed leaves seam side down on the bottom of a medium-sized pot; continue until all the leaves and filling are used. Arranging the stuffed bundles snugly together in the pot, making several layers. The number of layers depends on the size of the pot.

Dot the top with butter and pour in water to cover the dolmas halfway. Place a small heat-resistant plate on top of the stuffed leaves to keep them tight and prevent them from opening. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 hour 20 minutes. If the liquid becomes completely absorbed during cooking, add more water and continue to simmer.

Serve immediately with bread and yogurt to spoon onto the dolmas.


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