Appetizers & Side Dishes · Beef · European (Western and Eastern) Cuisine · Mediterreanean Cuisine

Stuffed Grape Leaves (Sarma)

The term ‘bundles of joy’ normally is associated with little kids or pets. In my case, these sarma are my bundles of joy. Nothing makes me break out in my happy dance like good food and this is just one of those foods.

I’ve attempted at making sarma six times; all attempts were edible but the results were nothing similar to the home-cooked sarma made by a lovely lady from Macedonia. Using hers as my benchmark, I scoured through recipes and different cooking methods until I finally merged a few recipes…and voila! Finally, sarma that boasts the flavor of the meat, the herbs, and the grape leaves. Need I mention the dollop of sour cream as well?


  • 1 jar preserved grape leaves, drained (I bought the 16 oz jar and only used half of the leaves)
  • 1/2 cup long-grain rice
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2  onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds lean ground lamb or ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper or 1 teaspoon of vegeta seasoning
  • 1/4 cup of grated or finely crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 lemon sliced, for garnish
  • Mint leaves, chopped, for garnish
  • Sour cream, for dipping


Carefully separate the grape leaves, place in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let the leaves soak for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse to remove excess salt. Drain the leaves, snip off the stems (reserving stems), and lay the leaves on a towel to dry.

For the rice: In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil, and stir in the rice. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook rice until water is absorbed, about 17 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet, add the onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute one more minute, until aromas are released. Add the meat, oregano, paprika, and cayenne, and 1 tsp vegeta (if using) and cook until the meat is well browned, breaking it apart with a fork while cooking, about 15 minutes. If not using vegeta, add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the feta and remove from the heat. Stir in the rice, parsley and mint.

Place one leaf on a flat surface, vein side up, shiny side down. Place a 2 rounded teaspoons of filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and form into a roll. Squeeze lightly in the palm of your hand to secure the roll. Repeat process with remaining leaves and filling.

Line the bottom of a 3 quart heavy saucepan with reserved stems, trimmings and any leftover or torn grape leaves, and arrange bundles seam sides down, packing them close together in layers.

Combine the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil with 3/4 cup water, the sugar, and lemon juice, and pour over the stuffed grape leaves. Place a small, heatproof plate on top of the stuffed leaves, cover the pan and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until leaves are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Serve warm, garnished with lemon slices, mint leaves and sour cream.


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