“Dolma” is a Turkish word that means “stuffed with meat.” “Yalanchi” is also a Turkish word: it means “lie” because one anticipates ground meat inside those rolled grape leaves, but in fact there’s only rice and vegetables. “Sarma” yet another Turkish word, means “rolled” or “rolling” and applies to anything rolled up with meat.
I asked Zee and her husband Rafi why so many Armenian foods are referred to in Turkish, and he explained that many Armenians were forbidden to read or write in their own language during the Ottoman Empire. My own ancestors primarily spoke Turkish, for reasons I now understand.
After my linguistics lesson, Zee and Rafi also showed me the proper carving tool for dolma, pictured below. This tool will help you get the insides out of zucchini and eggplant without tearing the precious gourds to pieces. Not only does it save time, it also yields prettier dolma. (For Fresno readers, I bought mine for $1.75 at International Market on the NE corner of Sierra & Blackstone.)
All in all, it was another great lesson, complete with a killer dolma recipe, linguistics lesson, and new kitchen tool. I’ve been paying forward my thanks with dolma sampler plates, and a wonderful harvest celebration it has been!
- 4 Japanese Eggplants, halved
- 4 zucchini
- 3 bell peppers
- 7 tomatoes
- 1.5 lbs ground beef Zee uses "kheyma" meat, which is ground very fine and can be purchased from a specialty butcher, but my husband can't get used to this texture, so we use the regular supermarket grind. I also use leaner meat (90/10), but Zee would probably recommend 80/20.
- 3/4 cup Cal Rose rice
- 1 handful Italian parsley
- 1 handful fresh mint
- 1 handful fresh basil
- 2 small yellow onions Or 1 large.
- 8 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp Allspice Optional
- 1 tsp red pepper Optional, if you like heat
- 8 oz. tomato paste
- 1 tbsp. Red pepper paste Zee uses the Sera brand.
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 2 tsp butter For finishing
- 1 dash dried mint For finishing
- Wash vegetables and halve the eggplants. For the zucchini only: cut off the top third, dip it in salt (as if you were salting the rim of a margarita glass) and let it sit while you work on the other vegetables.
- Carve out the insides of the other vegetables using the carving tool pictured above. For the tomatoes, I find that a grapefruit spoon works best, as pictured here. Set aside the insides of the tomato for your filling.
- Carve out the zucchini last; the salt will have drawn out the excess water, but be careful as it's fragile and can crack around the edges; and, as Zee says: "It would be nice if you don't break it."
- In a food processor, pulse the onions, herbs and tomatoes about five times. The mixture should be somewhat coarse.
- In a large bowl, combine the contents of the food processor with the ground beef and rice.
- Add the spices, tomato paste, red pepper paste, salt, garlic, and half of the lemon juice. If the mixture does not appear too wet, add the remaining lemon juice. Use your hands to mix well.
- If you aren't afraid of raw meat, taste the mixture and add additional salt if needed.
- Fill the dolma by pressing the meat mixture into the vegetable cavities with your thumb and index finger. Fill each dolma to about 3/4 full, leaving some room at the top for the mixture to expand as the rice cooks.
- Arrange the dolma in a large pot -- put the heartier vegetables like the bell peppers at the bottom, and the tomatoes on top.
- Splash any remaining lemon juice on top of the arranged dolma, along with a mixture of 2 oz. tomato sauce, 6 oz. water, and 2 tsp. salt.
- Next, pour enough water into the pot to almost cover the dolma and invert a plate on top. It should look like this:
- Put the lid on the pot, bring to a boil on the stove, then simmer for one hour. After it has cooked, add a little dried butter to the top of the dolma and sprinkle some dried mint to finish.