Sarmi are a very tasty dish, very popular in the Middle east and Southeastern Europe. It is one of the Bulgarian classics which every local family cooks at home. It might sound peculiar to make a dish with grape leaves but they are actually very tasty! Other than the leaves, you need just few common ingredients and some spices to make them just right! Read on to find out how you can cook this wonderful dish at home.
What kind of dish is this
This dish comes from the Otoman Empire but has become very popular even in many eastern European countries. The word “sarma” means “wrapped” in Turkish and it describes very well the meaning of this type of meal. In Bulgaria there are two main types of Sarmi: with grape leaves and with pickled cabbage. Both can be cooked with meat or without.
Where does this recipe come from
The current recipe is for Bulgarian style grape leaves sarmi with minced meat. I know it from my mom. It may not have the exact same taste like the sarmi you would eat in Bulgarian restaurants as my mom uses very few spices. I will explain, however, the spice options in the notes below, so you can choose exactly how to make your sarmi the way you would like them the most.
Where to find grape leaves
The best is if you manage to find fresh grape leaves from a farmers market. You just need to place them in boiling salty water for 1-2 seconds and they are ready to be used in sarmi. Alternatively you can buy grape leaves in jars. Normally the big supermarkets have them in their international section where Greek or Turkish cuisine is. You can also order them from Amazon. However not all leaves in jars are excellent quality: some are easy to break, too salty and overall hard to work with. But even with easily breaking leaves you can make good sarmi: they just won’t look as beautiful. You can use 2 leaves at once to wrap the rice stuffing so it doesn’t come out. Always place the sarma with the wrapped side downwards.
🥣 Recipe tips
- This dish is cooked in a pot on the stove. The sarmi are practically boiling in the water. To avoid any breakage and leakage of stuffing, place a small plate upside down on top of the sarmi in the pot. This will prevent them from moving while being cooked.
- In addition make sure you cook them at medium heat and don’t allow the water to boil violently.
- It is best to use a mix of pork and beef minced meat for this dish. If you want to make vegetarian sarmi, you can simply skip the meat.
I hope you will enjoy this recipe! Let me know in the comments what you think of it. If you made it, please share how it went!
Check out also other stuffed vegetable recipes which you may like:
Stuffed Grape Leaves (Sarmi)
- 60 grape leaves fresh or canned (see notes)
- 1 pound/ 500 g minced meat see notes
- 1 cup/ 180 g rice
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes or 1/2 cup tomato puree
- 2 tbsp olive oil or other vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- dried savory to taste
- salt to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the onion in it. Add the meat and cook it until brown, breaking it with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Add the rice and cook it for 1 minute to toast it. Pour about 1 cup of water and lower the heat. Cook until the whole water evaporates - about 5 minutes. Season with salt, parsley and dried savory, mix and remove from heat.
- Stuff each grape leave, depending on its size, with about 1-2 teaspoons of the mixture. If you find broken leaves, use 2 at once.
- Arrange the sarmi in a pot, with the wrapped part facing the bottom. You can make several layers, depending on how many you will end up with.
- Pour one cup of water into the pot and place a small plate upside down on top of the arranged sarmi. The plate will act as a weight and will prevent them from floating in the pot when the water boils.
- Cook at low to medium heat for 40-50 minutes.
- Serve hot with some plain yogurt aside.
- If you use fresh grape leaves, choose thin ones, without thick veins. Before stuffing them, you need to place them in a bowl and then pour boiling water on top to make them softer.
- If you use canned grape leaves, you would need about 1,5 pound or 700 ml jar.
- The best minced meat to use is a mix of pork and beef.
- Optional spices: some people like to add dried spearmint and cumin to sarmi. I personally never use them for this dish. Dried spearmint is a very popular spice in Bulgarian cuisine, often added to bean soups and other typical meals.