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July 24, 2009

Chilled Stuffed Grape Leaves

Yalanchi means “liar.” Normally grape leaves are stuffed with ground lamb and rice. I prefer this version, without meat, and served chilled, as an appetizer. I have yet to encounter anyone who has tried these Sarma without telling me they are the best they have ever eaten.

Just like Mexican families who gather at Christmas and make tamales, or Chinese families who get together to make dumplings, Armenians sit around the table and roll grape leaves. All these special, labor-intensive foods have a way of creating harmony and togetherness. These days I enlist my friends and my daughter’s friends to help.

Yalanchi Sarma (Chilled Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Nancy Mehagian, Siren’s Feast An Edible Odyssey

1/3 cup olive oil
3 large onions, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
½ teaspoon paprika
1 bunch parsley, chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup white rice, medium grain
½ cup tomato sauce
½ cup pine nuts
2 cups water
1 jar of grape leaves, 16 ounces (about 50 leaves)
2 lemons

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot and sauté onions until soft. Next stir in garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper and sauté a minute longer. Add the rice and tomato sauce, stirring well. The add one cup of water. Reduce heat to lowest flame, cover with a tight-fitting lid and partially cook the rice for 10-12 minutes, occasionally checking to make sure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat and allow to stand until cool.

Remove grape leaves from the jar (retaining liquid) and rinse in fresh water to remove the brine. After rinsing leaves, allow them to drain. (You may remove excess water with a paper towel.) Lay each leaf on a plate, with the veins up and the stem side towards you. If the stems are thick or tough, cut them off near the leaf. Place about 2 teaspoons of the rice mixture in the center of the leaf. Leaf size will vary so adjust amount of rice accordingly.

Fold each side in and roll up leaves, cigar fashion. Try to roll each grape leaf as tightly as possible, tucking as you roll, so the rice mixture will stay inside while they cook.

Stack the stuffed leaves in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. The best arrangement is in a circular fashion, starting around the perimeters of the pan, covering the bottom, then stacking subsequent Sarma on top until you have used all the filling. (Remaining grape leaves may be returned to jar and stored in the refrigerator.) Add one cup of water and the juice of one lemon over the top. Cover the lid and cook over low heat about 30 minutes, or until all water is absorbed.

Allow the stuffed grape leaves to cool, then arrange them on a platter and refrigerate until cold. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the top and slice the remaining half very thin, placing on top of Sarma. Garnish with whole parsley.

Makes 50.

From the staff at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

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