Thursday, November 22, 2007

one word to start it off - dolma

I am fortunate enough to have traveled quite a bit and lived in very different places. As a true Armenian I have also somehow found other Armenians in all these places. We are not a homogeneous group at all. French Armenians are pretty French, New Yorkers pretty New York-y, LA Armenians of course are classically LA Armenians (that's a whole other blog), and Lebanese Armenians - well, you know. Armenians can be found everywhere - Armenia, Australia, the Middle East, California, Boston, New Jersey, France, Italy, Belgium, Sudan, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, India....everywhere.

There are two sure things that you will find in any Armenian community anywhere in the world: an Armenian church and dolma.

When I moved to Paris, after I came out of my readjustment coma, I started to have cravings for dolma. The scent of the meat, vegetables and spices cooking away slowly on the stove-top was such a strong symbol. I had to bring it to my new home.

I called up my mother to get her recipe. She laughed and started to tell me to put a little of this, a little of that. How much is a little? "You'll know," she said, "Atchkee tchapov" (measure by the eye). I thought there was no way it was going to come out right. But it did. And I realized I had absorbed something from her.

Don't worry. I'll be a little more precise here.

Dolma is essentially stuffed vegetables or legumes farci in French. There are variations of it probably in any culture. What makes dolma Armenian dolma is the spice combination and the meat. You can use zucchini, bell peppers and/or tomatoes. Eggplant can also be used, but it gives it a different, slightly bitter flavor with this recipe.


Ingredients: Serving 8

4 pounds combined of zucchini, tomatoes and bell peppers (green, yellow or red) / two vegetables per serving

I like to use round zucchini because it looks prettier, but regular long zucchini is fine. Choose firm ones. As for the tomatoes – nice firm beefsteak tomatoes are good. They should have a thick skin/outside so that they won’t fall apart once you empty out the insides.

1 pound / 250 g of ground beef or lamb (or a combination of both)
150 g / 1 cup of rice
If you like it with more rice, add another ¼ cup.
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of allspice
½ teaspoon of dried mint
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons of tomato puree
1 tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil (your preference)


1 cup of plain low-fat yogurt
1 clove crushed garlic
A little water to thin it out

Wash the vegetables and cut off the extremities. Try to be neat about it. Empty out the inside of the vegetables taking care not to pierce the outer wall of the vegetables. A potato peeler works great here.

Save the insides of the zucchini. They make a nice side for fish, pork or chicken. Sauté the 1 chopped onion with some vegetable oil. Add the insides of the zucchini. It cooks quickly once the zucchini is added. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over it. My mother calls this “tchitma.” I don’t know if it’s the real name for it, but it’s good and nutritious.

For the stuffing: sweat the onions in a sauté pan over low heat with a tiny bit of butter (1/2 a tablespoon). When the onions get translucent add the ground meat, salt, pepper, allspice, and dried mint. Let the mixture sauté for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. If it the mixture looks dried out (if you use lean meat this could happen), add half of the oil to the mixture. Once nicely browned, add the rice (rinsed) and mix it up well. With a teaspoon or with your hands, stuff the vegetables with the meat and rice mixture. Stuff them only about ¾ full as the rice will expand.

Layer the stuffed vegetables in heavy-bottomed pot, with the open sides up, as close together as you can. The size of the pot depends on how many vegetables you are using. A medium, 24 cm pot should work well. Add water to the pot up to the just under the level of the vegetables. Add the tomato puree to the water and a little bit to the top of each vegetable. Place a plate over the vegetables, and cover the pot. Let it cook over a medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. Check on it every 10-15 minutes to make sure the water has not dried out. Add more water as needed.

Serve warm with the cool garlic-yogurt sauce. For the sauce, mix all the ingredients in a serving bowl. Add water if the yogurt is too thick.


Angeles said...

Cool site Seta...and recipe too. Not sure if I can replicate it but I'll pass your site on to others! Angeles

Anonymous said...

Excellent!...shad shnorhagal em kouyr Seta