Every Azerbaijani has their own favourite type of dolma, or stuffed vine leaves, but each variety is welcome at any casual, festive or modern table. Baku-based foodie, restaurant expert and cook Natalia Golumb shares her recipe for a classic dolma dish of stuffed chardonnay grape leaves
There are plenty types of dolma in Azerbaijani cuisine. They can be filled with colourful vegetables or fruit and with various fillings of meat and rice enriched with herbs or nuts. Just imagine how many combinations of taste and flavour are possible, all coming together in one delicious, perfect taste melody….
Today, I want to share a recipe for Yarpaq Dolmasi (yarpaq means ‘leaf’, while dolma means ‘stuffed’). In this particular iteration, grape leaves (fresh or preserved, the choice is yours) are tightly wrapped around small bundles of lamb meat, rice and aromatic herbs. Traditionally we use the ‘Ag Shani’ type of vine leaf, but why not trying something new, which is why I have used chardonnay vine leaves and the result is also perfect.
I have also experimented with sangiovese and merlot vine leaves, but it’s important to note that the best outcome is from white vine leaves as they doesn’t add any dark colour to the finished dolma. Fresh vine leaves are, of course, the most sought after, and produce the most flavourful dish. They are picked in the late spring and early summer when they are soft and tender. You can also use canned grape leaves. Ultimately, you can use whatever type of vine leaf you find available in your local supermarket – it will still be delicious.
You will need:
For the dish:
3 tablespoons ghee
Approximately 100 smallish grape leaves
1-2 cloves of garlic
200–300 grams plain yoghurt
1 pound minced lamb
1 or 2 grated onions (depends on size)
0.5 cup rinsed white rice
0.5 cup chopped fresh cilantro
0.5 cup chopped fresh dill
0.5 cup chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Mix all the stuffing ingredients well (best done by hand) and set aside to rest while you prepare the vine leaves.
Next, if using fresh leaves, blanch them in small batches in boiling water. This will make them softer and more pliable. Let them dry a bit and cut off the stems.
Take a medium saucepan and put some leaves in a single layer on the bottom of the saucepan.
Now you can start wrapping your dolma. Take a leaf and place it shiny side down on the palm of your hand.
Place a small amount of stuffing at the stem end of the leaf. Fold the top down over the stuffing, then the sides, and roll up tightly to create a cylindrical bundle about one inch in diameter.
Arrange your stuffed leaves seam side down on the bottom of the saucepan, arranging snuggly as you go, to build up several layers.
When finished, put some ghee on top and pour in some water. It should come up about halfway. Place a small ovenproof plate on top of the dolma to prevent leaves from opening, then cover the saucepan and bring to the boil.
Once boiling, reduce the heat to low-medium and simmer for approximately an hour and a half. By then, the stuffing should be cooked through, the leaves should be tender and only a small amount of liquid left in the pan.
Serve your dolma with garlicky yoghurt sauce (blitz together the garlic cloves with the yogurt, or crush them and mix well by hand).
This is a classic recipe, but I have added some modern tunes to this song. To add a crispy texture, it can be fun to serve dolma on deep-fried rice paper. Now you can pour some good chardonnay or cabernet savignon into your glasses and enjoy an utterly perfect combination of tastes and textures.
A die-hard foodie, Natalia Golumb graduated from the Oil Academy, and spent many years working in the field of international relations in the banking sector. It was during her extensive travels that she began to experience an irresistible craving for the art of gastronomy and decided to put herself through culinary school. Golumb believes that gastronomy is actually the alchemy of love, and that food can affect our emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing and awaken love. She works as a consultant on the creative development of restaurant businesses and has published a book, Metbex Couture, on the culinary scene in Azerbaijan.
Image courtesy of Richard Haughton