Girl on Fire – making sarma

I think you guys already know that I am a terrible chef.  In fact chef is a word that really should not be used when describing the food that is plated up by me at any time but over the past few days I have had the opportunity to learn a few other recipes that I hope I can make by myself over the coming weeks.

With my sister in law right next door the sound of my name “J-j-ja-a-a-n-n-e-e-e” calls me to drop what I am doing and come next door.  It is a win-win situation as I learn something and I eat something.  I prefer just to eat but learning something is good too.

Songul was preparing hundreds, literally hundreds, of sarma (stuffed grape leaves) for a school excursion and needed help with the preparation.  Honestly I was not really sure that I would be doing anything useful but I have now learned that if you do something over and over . . . and over again, you get pretty good at it.

The first part of my lesson was stealing vine leaves.  Yes I was sent on a stealth mission to pilfer vine leaves from the neighbour’s vines.  Up and down the street I went with My Hurley Dog and Songul’s 4 year old to grab vine leaves under cover of taking the dog for a walk (stealing vine leaves is a big sin here as everyone loves their sarma).  After collecting 3 bags full we returned home and started separating the leaves and collecting them into groups.


Making the dolma is actually surprisingly easy.

Ingredients –

Vine leaves, 2 bags of rice, diced onion, grated tomato (which included part of my hand unfortunately), Nene’s chilli paste (not hot), parsley, sumac, cumin, salt, pepper, dried mint and lemon salt (mincemeat optional)


Lemon salt is an excellent invention I had never heard of before.  I actually brought some at the market quite by accident, put it in my salt grinder and nearly vomited.  As salt it is filthy but Songul puts it in water for 5 minutes and it becomes a strong lemon juice equivalent without wasting a precious lemon.  Aahhh so that’s what you do with it, shame I threw mine out after the first disaster.

First things first.  Boil some water and drop the vine leaves in it for mere seconds.  This will soften them.


Mix all ingredients (sans vine leaves) in a bowl and you are ready to roll (literally) and once I got started I was cracking at the rolling.  Really simple.  Vine leave, small handful of mixture, roll ‘em up.  Get in time with the Turkish music that’s blasting in your ear and you really have the motion.


Now remember that we had to make hundreds of these things so I spent the next 3 hours on the floor rolling vine leaves.  As a fine art I could whip out two a minute.  Every 10 dolmas I would wrap in string and place in the pot.  Once the pot was full it was filled with water (maybe 1 cm above the top sarma) and boiled for 30 minutes.  We ended up filling 4 pots for the school excursion the next day.  I was told that the sarma was excellent (of course) but that mine were particularly sensational (I know they were just being kind).


I often wonder why I never did a cooking course or why my mother never taught me to cook (although she too was no chef – I didn’t really know green beans were green before I moved out of home as they were always brown *sigh*).

16 thoughts on “Girl on Fire – making sarma

  1. Great post! And at long last I know what to do with that lemon salt I bought and has been sitting at the back of my cupboard. I thought it was sea-salt, too, and it completely ruined my experiment with making salted butter – it was absolutely foul! I’m most impressed at your patience, spending 3 hours rolling those things, your hands must have been aching afterwards.


  2. I love my dolma! My MiL though hates when I make them 😦 I don’t really like the leaves, so I make mine big & fat (she calls them ‘American Dolma’). So I make mine and pack them separate :))))


  3. GO GIRL! very educational. I hope that you were allowed to take some home for yourself and to show “The Turk & Daughter” ( do they have names? it feels a little rude of me to say this) that YES, YOU REALLY CAN COOK!
    Yeah. Also on the plus side looks like you had fun and spent some quality time with your sister-in-law. Cooking together does seem to bring people together. (sometimes)
    Thanks again Janey. and great pictures.


    • They really do have names but anonymity suits them just fine (although I admit Daughter is in just about every photo).

      Yes we had a plate full which disappeared pretty quickly along with some Cecil peynir and a nice red wine.


  4. I never heard of lemon salt. Sounds interesting. I have eaten Dolma before, but it has been awhile. Ummm now that I think of it it may have been the Greek equivalent. Looks yummy though! glad it all turned out so well.


  5. Pingback: It’s Not Easy Being Yesil | janeyinmersin

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