Perhaps some of the 70,000 Armenians who now live in Istanbul would raise an eyebrow to this dish. Pine nuts and raisins are only used for stuffing green peppers but not for stuffing grape leaves! We at Istanbul Modern SF think the idiosyncrasies of different dishes and culinary traditions are things to celebrate, bringing people together rather than to set them apart. Perhaps a recipe for this familiar dish is too prescriptive, though, we will provide one. Here’s how our Dalida’s dolmas should look, taste and feel:
The dolmas should be shiny, evenly cooked and evenly wrapped. The leaves should fall apart upon chewing but not upon touch, firm but delicate. They should be tart yet not too briny or salty. The shallot and rice filling should be unctuous yet not heavy. Pine nuts should be tender, rice should be falling apart, currants should be plump and shallots should be loaded with the flavor of the aromatics, spices and the grape leaves.
This is one of our favorite mezes we serve at Istanbul Modern SF. It’s a one-bite-wonder (or two, depending on how ambitious you are). It’s luxurious and humble at the same time. It’s the only recipe that Laura and I have not modified or modernized. It not only packs a lot of flavor but also history and tradition.
Afiyet olsun, bon appetit!
Recipe: Turkish Dolmas
Origin: Dalida Ozyilmaz, mother of Sayat Ozyilmaz of Istanbul Modern SF
Yield: 30 dolmas
Shallots, 400 g Minced
Short grain rice, 100 g
Pine nuts, 20 g
Currants, 10 g
Dill, 25 g
All spice powder 1 g, to taste
Dried mint 5 g, to taste
Salt, 6 g, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, as necessary
Sugar, 3 g
Lemon, as necessary
- Sweat your shallots on medium heat with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. Stir frequently and lower the heat.
- Season with salt, sugar, all spice powder and mint.
Add rice and keep cooking further until rice is coated evenly with oil and becomes translucent or hydrated.
- Add pine nuts and currants. Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning. The filling should be homogenous and cohesive, it should stick together.
- Spread the filling thin and let it cool.
- Lay out the leaves, seam side down, and portion the filling one table spoon per leaf depending on size.
- Wrap the leaves firmly but do not pack too much. Account for expansion of rice.
- Line up the stuffed grape leaves over the leaves that were not fit to use for stuffing. This will infuse more flavor and prevent burning.
- Cook on low simmer at least for an hour on a single layer. Press the dolmas with a light plate to prevent bursting.
- Depending on how tart the leaves are squeeze lemon juice over the cooking pan.