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Yalanchi Sarma (Armenian Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves) Recipe

Why It Works

  • Precooking the rice al dente makes the filling thick and simple to work with, whereas additionally eliminating the necessity to braise the sarma in an extra of liquid.
  • Masking the yalanchi sarma with further grape leaves whereas they’re baking prevents the grape leaves from oxidizing and turning darkish brown.

Yalanchi sarma, or simply “yalanchi,” is the Armenian model of vegetarian stuffed grape leaves. “Sarma” means wrapped in Turkish, whereas ”yalanchi” means “liar,” a humorous reference to the truth that it is a meat-free model of the extra widespread sarma, which usually accommodates beef or lamb. Because of the Armenian Christian Church, which traditionally forbade meat consumption for practically half the yr, Armenians have change into professionals at meatless cooking, and yalanchi is a main instance of this expertise. The dish will get its satisfying savory taste from tomato paste and copious quantities of chopped onions, olive oil, black pepper, and lemon juice, with toasted pine nuts (and infrequently dried currants) for additional heft. Not like another stuffed grape leaves, the place the grains of rice stay distinct, yalanchi have a delicate, cohesive filling that’s nearer in texture to risotto than pilaf. 

Severe Eats / Two Bites

Not like lamb or beef and rice-filled sarma, which is a essential course sometimes cooked in a thicker tomato-enriched broth that it’s additionally served with, yalanchi are cooked merely in water. Yalanchi are additionally normally served as a room-temperature appetizer, although they’re wonderful as a meatless essential, both with a salad or wrapped but once more in pita as a sandwich. For a lot of Armenian households, together with mine, yalanchi are a vital ingredient on the mezze desk. Luckily, they’re simple to make—if slightly time-consuming—and may be ready forward of time. Actually, their texture and taste enhance after a day or two within the fridge.

In my household, my aunt Esther, a beautiful cook dinner who has perfected her recipe and method over a few years, is at all times accountable for the yalanchi. Although she has shared her recipe with the remainder of the household and now we have all diligently taken notes whereas watching her work within the kitchen, none of us have her magic contact, and most of us proceed to depend on her for our yalanchi provide. The recipe I’m sharing under is hers, no less than in spirit. To make yalanchi slightly simpler for newcomers, I’ve modified her method barely and have scaled down the recipe significantly, since I think about most readers aren’t making this for a crowd of her followers.

Making the Filling for Yalanchi

My household sometimes makes use of par-cooked rice, moderately than uncooked, to fill our yalanchi. It takes slightly additional time to prep, but it surely makes filling and rolling the sarma a lot simpler, because the cooked rice combination is extra cohesive than uncooked grains. It additionally hastens the cooking as soon as the yalanchi are within the oven, for the reason that rice already accommodates a lot of the moisture it wants to complete cooking by.

To make it, I start by mincing lots of onion: one entire pound of onions for a single cup of rice. I then cook dinner the onions with a beneficiant glug of olive oil. We’re speaking no less than 3/4 cup, and although this may appear extreme, together with all of the onions, it’s a vital ingredient that brings an unctuous texture to the yalanchi. I like so as to add a pinch of baking soda to assist break down the onions a bit extra rapidly, however it’s best to nonetheless cook dinner them lengthy sufficient in order that they develop deep savory notes and totally soften. The alliums ought to finally be so tender they vanish into the completed dish. 

Severe Eats / Two Bites

I then stir within the tomato paste, rice, water, and lemon juice and convey all of it to a simmer, permitting the rice to softly cook dinner till many of the liquid has been absorbed and every grain has softened, however nonetheless retains a few of its chew. I fold in some chopped parsley for a touch of freshness and a handful of pine nuts for satisfying crunch, then let the combination cool to room temperature, permitting it to agency up barely, which makes it simpler to deal with. (My household doesn’t add currants to their yalanchi, although I generally benefit from the pop of sweetness and extra depth they add, and have included directions for utilizing them when you like.) Whereas the filling combination cools, I put together the grape leaves.

The right way to Put together Grape Leaves for Yalanchi

A few years in the past, my grandfather noticed a wild, sterile grape vine rising on the facet of a street: It had tender, skinny, and huge leaves with nice ribs, good for sarma. He took a chopping, rooted it, and planted it in his backyard. At this time, clones of that one plant are climbing trellises in nearly each member of the family’s yard, they usually enable us to have yalanchi made with homegrown grape leaves year-round. (We harvest the leaves in late June and early July, when they’re fully-grown however nonetheless tender, then blanch and roll them into bundles that we will freeze for later.) I do know not everybody could have their very own prized grape vines and leaves, however jarred, brined grape leaves bought in shops will work practically as nicely. 

I at all times buy extra leaves than I want, as some leaves will inevitably be torn, ragged, or too small to be used. My recipe requires a 24-ounce jar; in case you have unused leaves, you’ll be able to at all times return them to the brine and save them for subsequent time. Jarred grape leaves are already blanched, so making ready them to be used in yalanchi requires simply rinsing and drying them. I like to make use of a salad spinner to dry them, which makes fast work of the duty and does not waste paper towels—they don’t must be bone-dry, simply rid of extra water.

Severe Eats / Two Bites

You wish to use grape leaves which can be about 5 inches in diameter, although bigger ones are nice when you trim them down in order that you do not find yourself with a disproportionate quantity of leaf within the yalanchi. You should use pairs of smaller leaves, too—simply layer them barely offset to at least one one other to make a 5-inch diameter wrapper. The leaves must be spherical in form, with out outstanding notching round their edges, which might depart openings within the wrapper for the filling to leak out. Equally, keep away from any torn, fragile, or overly skinny leaves. (Any rejects can be utilized to cowl the sarma whereas they end cooking, so don’t discard them simply but.) You’ll want about 44 excellent specimens for this recipe, and although you in all probability gained’t use all of them, it’s at all times a good suggestion to have just a few extras.

Filling and Rolling the Grape Leaves

Till lately, I’d by no means made yalanchi myself, although I’d watched others, like my Aunt Esther, do it many instances. Now that I’ve had lots of apply, I can bang out a batch fairly rapidly. It can take a first-timer about an hour to fill and roll all of them; much less when you get the dangle of it. (And even much less, when you can recruit a helper or two to hitch within the effort. Like manti, making yalanchi is most gratifying when it’s a bunch effort.) 

To fill the yalanchi, you begin by laying the grape leaves rib-side up on a chopping board. In lots of circumstances, the stiff remnant of the leaf’s woody stem will stay current, which might make rolling harder and probably trigger the wrapper to tear. To take away it, use a paring knife to chop the stem flush with the bottom of the leaf, taking care to keep away from chopping into the leaf itself, which might create a niche for the filling to leak out.

Severe Eats / Two Bites

Aunt Esther’s yalanchi are very small, and she or he makes use of only a few teaspoons of filling in every. That is how they need to be, however smaller yalanchi means extra yalanchi—and extra work—so I’ve scaled them up barely right here and name for a barely rounded tablespoon as a substitute. You set the rice combination simply above the stem finish of the leaf, then use a spoon to type it right into a log earlier than folding the edges of the leaf over the filling one after the other to completely encase it. This could lead to an extended strip with the rice within the middle. Roll it up like a carpet till it’s totally enclosed to forestall the filling from leaking out. (You may trim any overhanging bits of leaf from the perimeters or tip with a pointy knife.)

Cooking the Yalanchi

Most Armenians, Aunt Esther included, cook dinner their yalanchi by lining a pot with additional grape leaves to separate the rolls from the underside of the pot, which helps forestall scorching. They then set the rolls in layers over the leafy lining earlier than masking the parcels with water, lemon juice, and extra olive oil, earlier than bringing it to a simmer on the stovetop. Because the yalanchi gently cooks, the rice tenderizes and swells; the filling turns into delicate and cohesive, and the grape leaves soften extra totally. 

That is the place my methodology considerably differs from my aunt’s. As an alternative of simmering the yalanchi, I bake them: I organize them in a single layer in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or cake pan with olive oil, lemon juice, and a cup of water, then seal the pan with foil. They take about an hour to cook dinner within the oven, and whereas it does take slightly longer than cooking them on the stovetop, it’s a hands-off methodology that works simply as nicely. You gained’t need to babysit the pot by continuously checking to ensure it’s at a mild simmer.

Severe Eats / Two Bites

(Baking them in a dish additionally makes it simpler to switch them to the fridge in the identical container, if desired, which is good when you’re making them forward of time. You can even bake them in a heatproof serving dish in case you have one of many acceptable dimension.) The uncovered grape leaves on the highest of the rolls can oxidize and blacken if not stored moist, however, as I found, masking them with additional leaves throughout the bake prevents this totally, and it permits the sarma to cook dinner evenly and fully, because it traps them with steam.

As soon as cooked, the yalanchi will want an hour or so to chill to room temperature; then they get one final drizzle of olive oil earlier than serving. Although it isn’t conventional in my household to take action, I wish to serve my sarma yalanchi with lemon wedges on the facet so folks can add a burst of brilliant, acidic taste. Yalanchi are wonderful the day they’re made, however their taste and texture enhance with time, and they are often held for as much as 5 days within the fridge, making them a simple make-ahead dish for entertaining and even only a snack. They’re good when eaten chilly from the fridge, however they’re probably the most scrumptious when loved at room temperature, for the reason that rice is softest when not chilled.

Severe Eats / Two Bites

I haven’t shared my yalanchi recipe with Aunt Esther but, since I’m unsure she’d approve of all of the adjustments I’ve made to it, however different relations have tried it, and it acquired glowing opinions. It won’t be their go-to model—in any case, it’s onerous to compete with my aunt, the queen of yalanchi—but it surely may simply change into yours.

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