This one’s absolutely my favorite! No need for an introduction paragraph, here it is, with all its glory, a unique Istanbul delicacy. Olive oil meets onion, rice, pine nuts, black currants, herbs and spices and the delicious sweet and sour filling is embraced by grape vine leaves and garnished with sour cherries. Divine! I’ve always wondered who came up with this idea first? To roll all that goodness into the leaves of some climbing plant. I wish I could thank him/her for making me fatter! Anyhoo… Making stuffed vine leaves in olive oil with sour cherries is not that hard, it is just time consuming and needs great attention to detail.
40-50 grape vine leaves, preferably thin ones without veins, you can find these in the Greek, Turkish or the Middle Eastern section of your supermarket, I suppose.
6-7 medium size yellow onions, finely chopped,
1 cup of virgin olive oil (200ml),
1 cup of sour cherries (don’t have to be pitted),
2 cups of rice, washed and drained,
A handful of pine nuts, 40-50 grs,
A handful of black currants,
2 teaspoons of salt (reduce if the vine leaves are in brine),
3 teaspoons of sugar,
1 teaspoon of allspice powder,
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper,
0.5 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon,
2 teaspoons of dried mint or half a cup of finely chopped fresh mint,
1 cup of finely chopped parsley,
Juice of 1 lemon,
1 tablespoon of sour grape syrup or sour pomegranate syrup (substitute with juice from half a lemon)
3 cups of boiled water
The amount of onions might sound a bit too much, do not hesitate, it’s the trick of the recipe. Place onions and pine nuts into a steel pot with half of the olive oil and put it on medium heat with the lid on. Remember to stir once in a while so that it does not burn or caramelize.
When the onions turn a pinkish yellow color, add the rice, salt, sugar, allspice, cinnamon and black pepper.
Cook them stirring on medium heat for 5 minutes then add lemon juice, 1 cup of boiled water and black currants. Put the lid back on and cook till there is no water left and the rice is half done. Again don’t forget to stir. The filling should look like a pilaf, but not a well-done one.
Remove from the stove, mix in the mint and the parsley. Stir gently. Let it cool off. The filling is ready.
If the vine leaves are fresh, then boil them in 1 liter of salted water for 5-10 minutes. If they are in brine, then soak them into warm-hot unsalted water for 3-5 minutes, to take away excess salt and to soften them up a little. Cut the stalks and the leaves are now ready to welcome the divine filling.
The rough side should remain inside the rolls, shiny and smooth part outside. The rolls should be the size of your thumb. Lay the leaf flat on a clean surface (as if I need to mention “clean”). The rough side should be facing up. The edge near the stalk should lie closer to you and you should put one teaspoon of filling 2 cms away from the edge. Fold the edge that is parallel to your body first, then fold the sides and roll it forward. It’s done. Easy, huh? No? I know, my description of how to roll the leaves is horrible, so check out the video on this link to find out. It’s in Turkish, but don’t worry, all you need to do is watch.
Roll all the leaves like this and if any leaves are left, lay those and any excess stalks to the base of a steel pot, a wide shallow one is better. Line the rolls into this pot, as tight as possible but do not try to squeeze them, you can make two layers at most, not three, to cook them evenly.
Spread the sour cherries onto the rolls (sarma). Pour the rest of the olive oil into the pot. Add the sour grape syrup / pomegranate syrup and more salt if you think it is necessary.
Place a heat-proof flat porcelain or glass plate onto the sarma to keep them intact and in place while cooking. You should have 2 cups of boiled water left, remember? Add that too. Cook the sarma on low heat with the lid on till they absorb all the liquid and begin to shine. Remove from the heat. Remove the plate carefully as it will be hot.
Let the stuffed vine leaves rest at least 12 hours in the pot with the lid on before serving. You can serve the sarma like you see in the photo or garnish with parsley, fresh mint, or just lemon. You won’t believe how delicious and delicate this recipe turns out. Sour cherries give a pinkish color to rice and a sweet tangy aroma and looks so classy. Sultans can’t be wrong!