When I first moved to New York City in June of 2015, I knew that it would take some time before I would find my niche, to find some people to call my friends, to call this place home. However, I wasn’t afraid. I had moved abroad before and was in familiar territory. I knew that it would take time, but it would eventually happen.
To my surprise and delight, I was blessed with all these things in a very short time. People can go years without finding such treasured friendships, but within one year, I had found a group of women who I now call my mama tribe. We are a group of stay-at-home moms who all live in the same community here in Battery Park, Manhattan.
Among this tribe, there is one special lady named Irina. Irina plays many roles in my life. She is my playground wing-woman, always game to hit the playground for some offspring entertainment. She is my nurse, her actual profession from which she is currently on hiatus during her children’s early years. She is my grounder, the mom who keeps me firmly grounded in a place where it is easy to fly away. She is my confidant, my comic, my sounding board, my fashion guru, my friend.
She is my mom-away-from-mom, always bringing me her home cooked treats. Whether it is in sickness or in health, she is always at my door, gifting me with one of her culinary enchantments. And because of this, because of her endless generosity with her time (and treats!) I wanted to honor Irina by writing this story about her and her recipe: Dolma.
As explained by Irina, there are many variations of this middle eastern delight. This specific recipe for dolma, or stuffed grape leaves, derives from her region in Azerbaijan, a country which borders Turkey, Iran and Armenia. Azerbaijan, the place where Irina’s story began, had broken out in war with Armenia when Irina was aged 6, a situation which pushed her family to leave to make a better life for themselves. After two weeks in Moscow, four weeks in Vienna and four months in Italy, they arrived in America, settling in Brooklyn where she was then raised. She may have left her country, but she never abandoned her traditions, and continues to share her customs and recipes with her family, and fortunately for us, her friends. Here is Irina’s recipe for Dolma!
2lbs of ground beef or lamb or both!
2 tomatoes, diced (it is also possible to use tomato sauce or paste)
1 onion, diced
1 cup of rice (any kind)
1 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped (if you are like my mom who hates cilantro, you can substitute with parsley)
Salt & Pepper
Sauté the onions.
While they are in the pan, you can dice the tomatoes.
Add tomatoes to the pan. Periodically stir until it is uniform. Then set aside to cool.
While cooling, you can prepare the grape leaves.
Be careful removing the leaves from the jar! They can be very fragile, and rip easily. But do not throw out the ripped leaves; you will be able to use them later to line the bottom of the pot.
Soak leaves in a pot of water, so as to remove the majority of the salt (This is an unnecessary step if you like it salty). However, it also naturally aids in separating the leaves.
Cut off the stems from the leaves (this jar came with the stems already cut off! Bonus!). Set leaves aside.
In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, the tomato and onion sauté mix, cilantro, rice (previously rinsed) and salt & pepper. Mix thoroughly.
Line the bottom of a large pot with grape leaves, broken and/or whole. This prevents the dolma from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Place a leaf in your hand, back side up, fill with a tablespoon of mix. Fold leaf up from stem, then left and right, then complete the roll formation.
Place completed rolls in pot, layer upon layer.
Then top rolls with leftover leaves.
Fill pot with boiling water until the rolls are completely covered.
Place a plate on top to keep all the rolls contained. Cover.
Cook on medium heat for approximately an hour and a half.
Dolma is typically served with a side of sour cream (optional pressed garlic addition) and eaten as a main dish.
And there you have it! Dolma!
Thank you Irina for sharing your story and recipe, but most of all, for your friendship and for helping me in calling this place home.