If you love tender and lemony Turkish stuffed grape leaves (yaprak sarma), this is the moreish recipe for you! The flavorful tomatoey rice stuffing is carefully wrapped into grape leaves and drizzled with a good amount of olive oil.
Turkish stuffed grape leaves are absolutely delicious and an absolute must for family gatherings in Turkey.
You will find different types of Turkish stuffed grape leaves all over Turkey, every family has its coveted recipe. Some rice stuffing contains meat, while others are a bit more on the sweet side (cinnamon, currants, and pine nuts are pretty common). My in-laws’ Turkish stuffed grape leaves are a bit drier than mine and pretty peppery. It all depends on your taste and preferences, but yaprak sarma should always be cooked with a good amount of olive oil!
Turkish stuffed grape leaves are the first food my in-laws made for me. I remember my then-boyfriend now-husband coming over and handing me a container full of sarmas and telling me to grab yogurt from the fridge to eat it with. He was very puzzled to learn that I didn’t have yogurt and I was very puzzled to learn that everyone eats yogurt alongside their meals in Turkey. He wanted to go straight to the shop to buy some whereas I was quite contented eating them without yogurt. They were very good on their own! But now that I’ve tried it, I can’t go back. I’m spooning yogurt next to my rice, pasta and of course Turkish stuffed grape leaves.
🍇 Grape leaves
- fresh grape leaves: You can use fresh leaves for this recipe, although I love the flavor that brined leaves bring. Place the fresh leaves in a large bowl and cover them with boiling water. Add 1 tsp of salt and soak for 10 min. Drain and snip off the stems.
- grape leaves in brine: I always buy vine leaves in a jar with a screw-on lid. This way if I don’t use everything I can preserve the rest of the leaves longer. Make sure the brine covers everything up and keep the jar in the fridge. The leaves that are vacuumed packed don’t have as much brine and cannot be preserved once opened.
- serve with yogurt: Turkish yogurt (Yoğurt) is thick, slightly creamy and has the perfect tanginess to it. Served with Turkish stuffed grape leaves, it helps to bring balance to the whole meal. The sarma’s acidity is met with the yogurt’s mildness and its creaminess offers a great contrast to the bite you get from the vine leaves. If you can’t find Turkish yogurt you can buy full-fat Greek yogurt. It will be less tart and creamier than Turkish yogurt but it’ll still do the job!
📋 Step by step
Step 1: Make the rice stuffing
Soak the rice in warm water for 30 min. Rinse and drain thoroughly. Heat ⅔ of the oil in a deep pan over medium heat and cook the chopped onions for 7 min. Stir in the paste, grated tomatoes and sugar. Add the rice and cook for 7 min. Stir in the chopped parsley, dried mint, black pepper, and lemon juice.
Step 2: Stuff the grape leaves
Rinse the leaves and snip off their stems. Set aside any damaged leaves. Pile the grape leaves on a plate, shiny side facing down. Take 1 leaf and place 1 tsp of stuffing along the bottom of the leaf. Starting from the stuffing side, roll the leaf around the stuffing for one full turn. Fold in the sides and continue rolling into a cigar shape. Repeat until you are out of stuffing.
Step 3: Cook
Put half of the damaged leaves at the bottom of a large cooking pot. Tightly pack the stuffed grape leaves in the pot. Drizzle with olive oil. Add lemon slices and lemon juice. Cover with the rest of the damaged leaves. Place a heatproof plate in the pot and put something heavy on top. Add just enough water while pushing the plate down to cover the Turkish stuffed grape leaves entirely. Cook over medium-low heat for 50 min.
⏲️ Time-consuming recipe
I’m not going to lie, making Turkish stuffed grape leaves takes a long time. Every time I make sarma you can hear me muttering ‘This is the last time I’m ever spending my whole freaking day making sarma’. But they’re so good! I can’t stay mad at them for too long. So to ensure a stress-free sarma-making experience I would encourage you to:
→ prepare the rice stuffing the day before. Then the day after, prepare the leaves, and ‘only’ the stuffing/rolling part is left to do. You can certainly do everything on the same day but it will be less daunting if you can finish one step in advance.
→ get someone to help roll. Stuffing the leaves isn’t difficult (check out the photos) but it sure is long and repetitive. If you can get someone to help out, all the better, you can chit-chat and time will fly by. I have fond memories of helping my mother-in-law roll sarma while listening to Turkish pop radio stations.
These traditional Turkish stuffed grape leaves are tomatoey, lemony and cooked with a good amount of olive oil. They’re tender, flavorful and well worth the effort!
- 400g short-grain rice, preferably Turkish baldo rice (2 cups)
- 2 medium-sized yellow onions, finely chopped
- 150ml olive oil (⅔ cup)
- 3 tsp fine sea salt
- 2 tbsp Turkish mild red pepper paste (tatlı biber salcası), or you can use tomato paste
- 2 medium-sized tomatoes, grated
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 15 parsley sprigs
- 1 tsp dried mint, heaped
- 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
- 2 lemons
- 500g vine leaves in brine, drained (18 oz)
- Turkish yogurt to serve, or you can use full-fat Greek yogurt
Make the rice stuffing:
Soak the rice. Soak the rice in lots of warm water with 1 tsp of salt for 30 min. Then rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly.
Make the stuffing. Heat ⅔ of the olive oil in a deep non-stick pan over medium heat and cook the chopped onions with 2 tsp of salt until soft but not browned, about 7 min. Stir in the paste, grated tomatoes, and sugar. Add the drained rice and cook for 7 min, stirring from time to time. The rice should have softened by then but still be crunchy.
Take the rice mixture off the heat. Take the pan off the heat. Pick the leaves from the parsley sprigs. Discard the sprigs and chop the leaves. Add them to the rice, along with the dried mint, black pepper, and the juice of 1 lemon. Combine and set the rice stuffing aside to cool down for a bit.
Stuff the grape leaves:
Prepare the grape leaves. Quickly rinse the leaves under cold running water to remove the salt. Snip off their stems with a pair of scissors. Pile the grape leaves on a plate, shiny side facing down (veins side facing up). Put any damaged leaves (leaves with holes or ripped leaves) aside, you’ll use them later on.
Stuff a leaf. Put a leaf on your work surface, shiny side down (veins side facing up). Put a line of stuffing along the longer side of the leaf (near the bottom, where you snipped off the stem). Don’t put too much stuffing or you won’t be able to roll your sarma properly. 1 tsp of stuffing is more than enough for most leaves.
Roll! Starting from the stuffing side, roll the leaf around the stuffing for one full turn. Then fold in the sides and continue rolling into a cigar shape. Check out the process photos if you’re unsure about the stuffing/rolling process. Repeat until you are out of stuffing and/or grape leaves. It might help to sprinkle some water on the leaves to get them to stick and prevent the Turkish stuffed grape leaves from opening after you roll them.
Place the leaves in the saucepan. Put half of the damaged leaves at the bottom of a large saucepan or a stewpot. Tightly packed the stuffed grape leaves on top of the damaged leaves. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil over them. Cut the remaining lemon in half. Slice half of the lemon and scatter the slices over the sarma. Squeeze over the other half of the lemon. Cover everything with the rest of the damaged leaves.
Cook the Turkish sarma. Place an inverted plate on top, covering as much surface as possible. Put something heavy on top of the plate to make sure the sarma won’t budge. Add just enough water while pushing the plate down to cover the sarma, 475ml (2 cups) should do. Bring to a boil and then cook over medium-low heat for 50 min. Taste one sarma (be careful, they will be very hot). If the grape leaf isn’t soft enough to your liking, cook for another 10 min and then taste another one. You can add more water if the bottom of the pan looks dry.
Drain. When they are cooked, take off the weight but keep the plate and carefully tilt the pan or pot over a sink to drain the remaining water. Serve warm or fridge-cold with a big dollop of Turkish yogurt.
You can keep these Turkish stuffed grape leaves in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container.
If you want to add ground beef to the rice stuffing, add it after the rice has cooked for 7 min and you have removed the pan from the heat. The meat will cook inside the grape leaves when they are cooking for 45 min.
I find them tastier fridge-cold but if you want to reheat them, you could technically use a microwave as long as the heat isn’t too high. But a more traditional way (and the only one I have personally tried) is to put them in a large non-stick pan with a splash of water (about 5 tablespoons to heat a dozen sarmas). You just need enough water so that they don’t stick to the pan. Then cover the pan and cook them over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. You can check from time to time that there is water left at the bottom of the pan and add more if necessary. To the touch, the leaf must be very hot to be sure that the rice stuffing inside is also hot.
- Serving Size: 22 stuffed leaves
- Calories: 570
Keywords: grape leaves with rice, rice stuffing, turkish meze, mediterranean finger food
Are you looking for other Turkish recipes you can serve as an appetizer? Here are some of my favorites: