When I was very young I used to go to my grandparents’ house that was in a very old neighborhood in Tabriz. The house consisted of many rooms that were built all around a courtyard. I still remember the sweet scent of the grapevines hanging from several grape arbors that were placed over small gardens in the courtyard. I loved going there all the time but I especially loved summers for the fruit trees and the late summer and fall for the sweet golden grapes that I used to eat right off the grapevines. Most Persians love to plant trees, flowers and depending on where they live they love to plant fruit trees, and grow vegetables and herbs.
Another common trait among Persians is that they use all the fruit, culinary herb or vegetable that they plant. The harvest from one’s backyard is eaten fresh and shared with friends and family. The rest is frozen or dried, so as a norm you won’t see fruit rotting on the tree because no one wants to pick it and you won’t see overgrown yellowing herbs littering a garden. Besides all the golden grapes that we used to eat in late summer, my grandmother used some of the grapes when they were unripe and sour (ghooreh) in some meals such as Eggplant Stew in early summer. She also used the young and tender grape leaves right around the same time for making Stuffed Grape Leaves that is called Dolmeh Barg in Farsi and Yarpakh Dolmasi in Azeri.
Not all the grape leaves are suitable for making Dolmeh Barg. Some grapes have sweet tasting leaves that will result in sweet Dolmeh Barg and should be avoided. The best grape leaves are tender and tart and light green in color. These make the perfect Dolmeh that cooks in a reasonable amount of time without getting mushy inside and the tartness adds just the right flavor to this delicious traditional food. The Thompson Grapes provide the best leaves for making Dolmeh but there are other varieties that work as well. The tender leaves are usually found closer to the tip of the grapevine. The ideal size is about 5 inches across; however, unless you have many mature grapevines in your yard chances of finding enough leaves of perfect size to make a batch of Dolmeh is slim, but you can put two smaller leaves side by side and let them overlap slightly then roll them as you would with a single leaf. This is a vegetarian recipe made with herbs, grains, legumes and spices, but I also have a recipe with meat in the stuffing and I will be posting it in the future also.
If you Pick light green, tender and tart leaves. Remove the stems. Blanch the leaves by placing them in a colander and briefly submerge them in a bowl of hot water until they change color. Transfer the colander to a sink and drain completely. Set aside.
Mix the ingredients as described in the recipe below. Line a deep 3-Qt pot with couple of leaves to prevent the Dolmeh from sticking to the pot.
Stuff and wrap all the leaves and place them very snugly against each other in the bottom of the pot, making sure there is no space between them; this is to prevent the Dolmeh from shifting and opening during cooking. Sprinkle each of the two bottom layers lightly with salt. Next adjust the salt of the remainder of the stuffing mix to taste and continue with wrapping the rest of the leaves until all the leaves and stuffing mix is used up. Place a heat proof plate upside down over the top of the Dolmeh. Pour 1 cup of water, cover the pot and simmer according to the instructions in the recipe.
Carefully transfer all the Dolmeh Barg one at a time to the serving platter. Drizzle some garlic yogurt on top and sprinkle the mixture of crispy fried onions and Zereshk (barberries) on top. I have added some grape tomatoes for color. Serve with extra garlic yogurt on the side and flat bread; pictured is Sangak which is a Persian flat bread. Enjoy!
- 5 ounces fresh leaves (May substitute with the grape leaves in brine from a jar)
- ⅓ cup Jasmine rice
- ¼ cup medium bulgur
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- ¼ cup yellow split peas
- 1 TBSP unsalted butter
- Water to cook the split peas
- 1 ½ cups sliced scallions (both white and green parts)
- ¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ cup chopped fresh dill
- ¾ cup chopped fresh summer savory (may increase the amount of the other herbs by ¼ cup to substitute for summer savory)
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin and fried to golden brown (about 3 ounces fried onions)
- ¼ cup vegetable oil for frying the onion
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 TBSP crushed dried rose petals
- 3 TBSP firm whole fat yogurt
- 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
- FOR GARNISH
- 1 medium yellow onion sliced thin and fried golden brown
- 3 TBSP oil
- 1 TBSP butter
- ⅛ tsp turmeric powder
- ¼ cup zereshk (dried barberries)
- Few grape tomatoes cut in half (optional, for color)
- FOR GARLIC YOGURT
- 12 ounces low fat plain yogurt
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped very small
- Remove the stems from fresh or pickled leaves. If using fresh leaves, fill a large bowl half way with hot boiling water. Add the fresh leaves to a colander and submerge in the hot water. Immediately the color will change from green to yellowish green. Take the colander out of the bowl and let drain. Set aside. If using the leaves from a jar place the amount you need in a colander and rinse under cold water and drain.
- Rinse the split peas, add to a small saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the peas. Add butter, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until tender but very firm, about 15 minutes.
- Rinse the Jasmine rice and bulgur under cold water. Add to the saucepan with the par-cooked split peas and bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Most of the water will be absorbed into the ingredients. Stir a few times. Do not overcook.
- Peel and slice the medium onion and fry to golden brown. Set aside.
- In a large bowl add the prepared herbs, crushed garlic, salt, spices, rose petals, the split pea/rice/bulgur mixture. Toss to combine.
- Add the melted butter and fried onions to the ingredients and toss to coat.
- To wrap grape leaf: Place one of the grape leaves on a plate. The leaves are going to be different sizes and it takes anywhere from 1 tsp to 1 TBSP of stuffing to stuff them. Bring the edges of the leaf from four sides and overlap to cover the stuffing snugly to create a small square bundle no larger than 1 ½ inches. Cover the bottom of a small 3-qt saucepan with couple of leaves to prevent the stuffed dolmeh from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Place the square bundle of dolmeh with the overlapping side down. Continue making the rest of the dolmeh and place them next to each other very tightly until the bottom of the pot is completely covered without any space between the bundles of dolmeh. This is to make sure that the bundles do not shift and open during the cooking process. Sprinkle the top lightly with kosher salt, about ⅛ tsp. Repeat the same process with the second layer and sprinkle with salt. Once the two bottom layers are done adjust the salt in the remaining stuffing mixture to taste and continue with wrapping and layering the dolmeh in the pot. If using grape leaves from a jar skip adding salt to the layers but follow the rest of the directions.
- When all of the dolmeh's are wrapped and layered, place a heat proof plate over the top layer, this is also to prevent the dolmeh from shifting and opening.
- Pour 1 cup of water over the top and cover. Bring it to a boil over medium heat and immediately reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 30 minutes.
- Now reduce the heat to the mark between medium low and low and cook covered for another hour.
- Make the garlic yogurt couple of hours before serving: Mix yogurt with finely chopped garlic thoroughly and refrigerate.
- Make the garnish: Peel and slice the medium onion very thin. Heat 3 TBSP oil and 1 TBSP butter in a medium nonstick skillet. Fry the onions to golden brown over medium heat. Add ⅛ tsp turmeric and continue frying for 2 more minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the barberries and stir. Set aside and warm again over low heat briefly right before topping the Dolmeh.
- Drizzle the cooked Dolmeh with garlic yogurt and top with the garnish. Add the rest of the garlic yogurt to a bowl and serve it on the side. Add a few optional grape tomatoes to the serving platter for a colorful presentation. Serve Sangak or lavash (Persian flat breads) or toasted wedges of pita bread on the side.
Zereshk is red sour berry of an edible barberry bush and is sold in Middle Eastern markets.