The traditional cold vegetarian dolma stuffing involves spiced rice with currants and pine nuts. In recent years, Turkish chefs have started replacing the currants with sour cherries, which contribute great colour as well as flavour. They may think they are doing something new, but actually a sour cherry-stuffing recipe appears in the first published Turkish cookbook, Melceu’t-Tabbahin (The Cook’s Shelter) from 1844—of course, those adventurous Ottomans thought of it first. This recipe was inspired by my friend Batur, whose yaprak sarma is a signature dish at his scholarly Ottoman restaurant Asitane (see).
If you are using dried sour cherries, soak them in warm water for 1 hour. If frozen, thaw for 30 minutes. If tinned, rinse to remove the syrup. Halve the sour cherries. Set aside. Zest the lemon half, and squeeze the juice. Set both aside.
If you are using fresh vine leaves, place them in a bowl, cover with boiling water, add
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and fry for 2 minutes. Finely slice the onions, add to the pan and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Wash the rice under cold running water and then add to the onion mixture. Grate the tomato into the rice, sauté for 2 minutes and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir in the cherries, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, salt, lemon zest and sugar. Add
Pat the vine leaves dry with paper towel. Snip off any stems and, if the spine in the centre of the leaf is woody, soften it by crushing with the back of a knife. Put aside the five least attractive-looking leaves.
Next, stuff the vine leaves. Put a leaf on a board, shiny side down. Put a strip of rice mixture in the middle of the vine leaf, fold over the base of the leaf, then fold over each long side and roll into a çigar shape, about
Place a bread and butter plate face side down in the bottom of a saucepan. Spread the five reserved vine leaves over the back of the plate. Arrange the stuffed leaves in a tightly packed spiral shape on top of the plate. Thinly slice the half lemon and scatter over the vine leaves. Put another bread and butter plate on top. Add
Remove from the heat, leave to cool and then serve, or keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
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