Spicy Meat Dolma from Samarkand

Very few things I can make without a recipe, and dolmas are one of them. Why? Well, when I was a vegetarian for a decade, I taught myself how to make dolmas because, people, they were so freaking tasty, and if I made them myself I could guarantee that they were meat-free and low on oil. Nowadays, the meat doesn't matter, which is a boon for this recipe, for I am telling you, friends, this is all meat. All meat wrapped up in a grape leaf.  And I couldn't be happier.

I snatched up this cookbook a while back, and I don't cook from it nearly enough. This fabulous glimpse into the cooking of the Caucasus region leaves one mouthwatering and aching for dill, eggplant, beets, cucumber, mint, rose petals, and pomegranates. Caroline Eden and Elanor Ford take you on a culinary tour, and they promise that you will not only not get lost but also that there will be delightful stops along the way.

For my first stop, I went with this recipe, for it was an old standby with a new twist for me, and I was not disappointed. Because I like meat now. Lots of it. And it's even better when it is well spiced, wrapped in a grape leaf, and boiled in yummy spices.  The perfect dinner. And then takeaway lunch the next day. I'll take it, with or without a recipe.

One Year Ago: Polenta with Winter Salad, Poached Egg, and Blue Cheese

Spicy Meat Dolma

Adapted from Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus

12 Dolmas

7 ounces beef 
1 shallot, finely chopped 
1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped 
1 Tbsp dried cranberries or barberries 
½  tsp paprika 
¼ tsp cayenne pepper 
¼ tsp ground cumin 
Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves 
16 grape leaves, in brine
Tbsp olive oil 
1 onion, sliced 
1 carrot, sliced 
4 tomatoes, diced 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Greek yogurt, to serve

1. Mix the minced beef with the shallot, chile, cranberries (or barberries), spices and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Set a small amount of the mixture aside, then use your hands to shape the rest into 12 sausage shapes. 

2.  Put the grape leaves in a colander and pour over hot water to rinse off the brine. Choose the 12 largest grape leaves and remove the stalks. 

3.  Lay a leaf on the surface with the stalk end towards you. Sit a sausage on top, roll up the leaf to just cover the filling, then draw in the sides and continue rolling to make a neat parcel. Repeat with the remaining leaves. 

4.  Choose a casserole pan that will accommodate all 12 dolmas snugly in a single layer. Heat the oil and add the reserved meat mixture to flavor the stock. Cook over a medium heat until golden, then add the onion and caramelize. Add the carrot and tomatoes and cook for a further minute or two until beginning to soften. Season with salt.

5.  Place each dolma on top, seam-side down. Add enough hot water to the pan to come three-quarters of the way up the dolmas. Cover with the remaining grape leaves–broken ones that would not work for stuffing are perfect here–then use a plate a little smaller than the pan to weigh the stuffed leaves down. 

6.  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook the dolmas for 40 minutes. Leave to cool in their cooking juice. 

7.  Drain and serve at room temperature with Greek yogurt.


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