|Region or state||Ottoman territories|
|Serving temperature||hot or room temperature|
|Main ingredients||cabbage leaves, rice, mince meat|
|Variations||With cabbage leaves, mince meat and rice filling (served hot)|
Sarma (Turkish for wrapped; Cyrillic spelling: Сарма), commonly marketed in the English-speaking world as stuffed grape leaves, stuffed vine leaves, or stuffed cabbage leaves, is a food in Southeastern European and Ottoman cuisine made of vegetable leaves rolled around a filling of grains (such as rice), minced meat, or both. The vegetable leaves may be cabbage, patience dock, collard, grapevine, kale or chard leaves. Sarma is part of the broader category of stuffed dishes known as dolma.
Terminology and etymology
Sarma made with grape leaves are called yaprak sarması (lit. 'leaf sarma') or yaprak dolması (lit. 'leaf dolma') in Turkish, yabraq (يبرق) in Arabic, yaprak dolması (lit. 'leaf dolma') in Azerbaijani, and dolme barg-e mo (دلمه برگ مو, lit. 'vine leaf dolma') in Persian and waraq 'inab (ورق عنب) or waraq dawālī (ورق دوالي) in Arabic. In Assyrian it is called ܦܪܵܟܼܹܐ (prakhe) which refers to the fact that the rice is rubbed in the grape leaves. In Armenian, they are called մսով տերեւափաթաթ (missov derevapatat), տերեւի տոլմա (derevi dolma) and տերեւի սարմա (derevi sarma). In Greek they are generally called ντολμάδες (dolmades) but may also be known as γιαπράκια (yaprakia), γιαπράκια γιαλαντζί (yaprakia yalandzi), ντολμαδάκια (dolmadakia), ντολμαδάκια γιαλαντζί (dolmadakia yalandzi), σαρμάδες (sarmadhes), or σαρμαδάκια (sarmadhakia).
In Bulgarian, Macedonian and Romanian, cabbage and grapevine leaves are not usually differentiated.
A grapevine leaf roll is a dish consisting of cooked grapevine leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings. Stuffed vine leaves without meat are sometimes called yalancı dolma, which means "liar's dolma" in Turkish. Vişneli yalancı dolması is a variation of stuffed vine leaves where the rice is seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, and mint. The dolmas are slowly cooked together with morello cherries (vişne), and plums may be used also.
Vine leaves may also be used to wrap stuffed celery root. Before wrapping, the celery root is stuffed with rice that has been seasoned with cinnamon, salt, pepper, allspice, pine nuts, and sugar (this type of rice is called iç pilav). Dried fruits like fig and apricot may be added to the rice mixture before the celery root is stuffed, wrapped, and baked in the oven. Some variations may include quince.
Regional and national variants
In Albania, sarme is cigar-shaped and is often made in the northern regions, but can be found all through. It is typically made of cabbage or grape leaves and filled with meat, rice, and spices. It can be served with yogurt or a yogurt-based drink. It can be a meal for special occasions or during the winter. In southern Albania, a lemon slice can be added while cooking the stuffing.
In Bulgaria, besides the two main rolled varieties—cabbage sarma (usually eaten in winter) and vine sarma (in spring and summer)—there is also a layered variety called drob sarma (дроб сарма, literally 'liver sarma'). Drob sarma is a dish of finely chopped offal (liver and lung), rice, browned onions, herbs, baked in an oven, and after a while covered with a mixture of eggs and yoghurt and baked again. The dish may be covered or even wrapped in fat netting before being baked. All sarma dishes can be served with fresh yoghurt on the side.
In Croatia sarma is common throughout the country though there are regional variations. Sarma is always a meat dish. Croatian sarma is filled with a combination of beef and pork and rice and the sarma is always wrapped in sauerkraut leaves. In some regions, cabbage leaves are used. There are many regional variations. Sinjski arambašići, from Sinj, is ground beef wrapped in sauerkraut leaf with no grains and no pork. Sarma is a winter staple and is also traditionally served on New Year's Eve. In Croatia, sarma are eaten with mashed potatoes, bread, corn bread, sour cream, or even a special horseradish sauce. The horseradish relish is a combination of horseradish mixed with sour cream, mayonnaise, salt, and apple cider vinegar that helps give the sarma an extra kick in flavor.
In Cyprus koupepia, also known as dolmades, are made with ground beef and pork, rice, and a tomato and cinnamon sauce all wrapped in a grape leaf. Koupepia arrived in Cyprus through Greek culture that was brought over by people immigrating from Greece in 1200 BC. Cyprus koupepia have their unique twist from the Greek version as they use their tomato and cinnamon sauce instead of the avgolemono sauce that the Greeks use. Avgolemono is a specific Greek sauce that is created by mixing eggs and lemons together. It is used to help give the Cyprus koupepia dish a creamy tart taste.
Romania and Moldova
In Romania and Moldova, sarmale are popular in all historical regions, including Moldavia, Transylvania, and Wallachia. This original Turkish dish slowly became integrated into Romania's culture after the Ottoman Empire conquered the Roman Empire which Romania was a part of. The Roman Empire fell when Constantinople was finally taken down by Sultan Mehmed II who was the leader of the Ottomans. Sarmale are a central part of Romanian cuisine and are the national dish of Romania. Romania has a large garden and farm culture and Romanians love to make sarmale as they grow many of the ingredients such as cabbage near their home. Additionally, there have been Romanians such as Păstorel Teodoreanu who have written poems about the sarmale dish comparing it to "A bouquet of spices". Sarmale in Romania are also popular because of their fulfillment which allows one batch of sarmale to last for a long time such as more than a week for multiple people. Each usually consists of minced pork, rice, onion, eggs, thyme, and dill rolled in a leaf, usually a cabbage leaf. The baking dish is lined with chopped cabbage and sauerkraut layered with bacon or pork belly and the cabbage rolls, then topped with more sauerkraut and dill sprigs. The cooking water is poured over the assembled tray, a mixture of sauerkraut juice and seasonings. When preparing this meal for visitors it is critical to have the sarmale soak up the flavor of the smoked meat to have it be as tasty as possible. To do this people will let their sarmales sit with the smoked meat in the baking dish for a couple days. During the fasting season of Lent there are alternative versions of sarmale that might replace the pork with smoked fish and include vegetables such as carrots by grating them. It is typically accompanied by mămăligă (polenta) and smântână (sour cream). It is a traditional dish for Easter and Christmas meals.
In Serbia, a vegetarian version of stuffed cabbage rolls is one of the dishes that can be eaten during the observance of Lent and before Christmas. These vegetarian sarma can be composed of rice, onions, potatoes, walnuts, spices and pickled cabbage leaves as the wrap of the sarma. There is also the classic form that has minced meat which could be pork or beef. In the winter sauerkraut leaves are utilized to wrap the rest of the ingredients to make a sarma. During the spring and summertime there is a replacement of the sauerkraut with grapevine leaves. Grapevine leaves are used during the summer as they are easier to use than sauerkraut which is usually made in the winter. In Serbia, sarma are the first appetizers at celebrations such as the slavas.
Amasya and Tokat, Turkey
In the Turkish provinces of Amasya and Tokat, sarma is prepared in a style similar to maklouba, with different fillings. One version made with fava beans is called bakla sarma. The filling for this variant from Amasya is made with dried fava beans and a coarsely ground wheat called yarma cooked in a seasoned tomato sauce. The wrapped sarma are layered over bone-in lamb chops and slowly simmered in the cooking liquid. The finished dish is served upside down. A similar variation from Tokat is stuffed with a lentil, bulgur, and chickpea filling. Homemade red pepper paste may be substituted for some of the tomato paste.
Crimean Tatars (Crimea, Ukraine)
In the cuisine of the Crimean Tatars (indigenous people of Ukraine) there is a dish called "sarma", which is prepared from grape leaves. The name of the dish means "wrapped in". Stuffing: minced beef or lamb, rice, chopped onion, salt, ground pepper. Sometimes tomato paste, some greens, carrots, and other spices can be added to the filling. Due to the influence of Ukrainian cuisine (holubtsi), sarma is also sometimes prepared from cabbage leaves. Dolma for Crimean Tatars is stuffed pepper, the filling for dolma is the same as for sarma.
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