Dolmades (called in Bulgarian ‘Sarmi’) are perceived as a strictly Greek dish, which is a kind of misunderstanding. Rice stuffed grape leaves (which are vegetarian and very tasty) or meat stuffed vine leaves are specific for all the countries on the Balkan peninsula and are widely served in Bulgaria and Turkey. In fact, they are probably part of the heritage of the Ottoman cuisine (even the word 'dolma' used in Greece has a Turkish origin) and every nation has adapted the recipes in line with the specific taste of the population. Stuffed grape leaves take a little bit of time to prepare and require some patience, but nothing is as tasty as the slow food prepared at home. Meat dolmades are served warm with a dollop of yogurt and vegetarian dolmades are served cold. Another very tasty dish prepared during the winter months in every Bulgarian home are the Sauerkraut rolls with chopped meat. Unlike most of the popular recipes for stuffed vine leaves I pre-cook the rice and the minced meat which provides a far better and intense taste.
· 30 preserved vine leaves, packed in brine
· 600 g (20 oz) ground beef
· 2 Tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
· 1 small onion, finely chopped
· 100 g (3 oz) short grain rice
· ½ tsp salt
· freshly ground black pepper
· 1 tsp red pepper flakes
· ½ cup olive oil
· 3 Tbsp butter
· 2 cups heated vegetable stock
· 1 tsp salt
· 2 lemons, cut in wedges or 1 cup yogurt for serving
Make the filling:
Put olive oil in a pan and turn heat to medium. Add onion, sauté for 3-4 minutes until softened and stir in the rice. Cook for 2-3 minutes and add the minced meat, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. After 2-3 more minutes take the pan off the heat and fold in the chopped dill. Leave to cool slightly while you prepare your vine leaves.
Gently unroll the vine leaves, carefully separate them from each other and put them on a flat surface. The veins shall be facing upwards and the stalk end facing towards you. Put a heaped teaspoon of the meat mixture in the middle close to the stalk end of the leaf.
Fold the stem end up over the filling then fold both lateral sides towards the middle and roll up completely like a small cigar. Don't roll too tightly because the rice will expand and dolmades will break. Repeat until you roll all dolmades.
Arrange meat stuffed dolmades into a pot and boil:
Take a medium pot or a deep frying pan with a lid and cover the bottom with one layer of vine leaves (this will prevent dolmades from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan). Arrange dolmades seam side down and close together in one or two layers depending on the dimensions of your pot. Add the hot vegetable stock and top with diced butter.
Place a shallow plate on top of the dolmades bottom side up to weigh them down. Cover with a lid and simmer for about half an hour until cooked. Remove plate from the pot and serve dolmades with some cooking liquid poured over as a sauce. Serve with some lemon wedges or some yogurt.