Shirdov Sini Sarma served with plain Armenian or Greek yogurt dusted with ground sumac and Armenian lavash

Recipe Corner: Robyn Kalajian’s Shirdov Sini Sarma – Baked Grape Leaves and Rice

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“My entire family loves stuffed grape leaves (also known as sarma or yalanchi), but the process of stuffing the rice filling into finicky leaves can be tedious. The same goes for  kufteh, Armenian meat and bulgur stuffed meatballs – a traditional but time-consuming recipe that requires the careful shaping of the outer shell and stuffing it with filling. Luckily, there is a short-cut version for kufteh called sini kufteh. It is prepared by alternating layers of the shell and filling ingredients in a pan or ‘sini,’ then baking it. No shaping or stuffing involved,” says Robyn Kalajian.

“This layering technique isn’t new so I thought, why not apply it to the grape leaves and rice recipe,” she adds. “If you’re wondering how the name, Shirdov Sini Sarma came about, I was looking for a name that depicted the preparation process for layering the grape leaves and rice so I contacted our friend, Charles Kasbarian for his expert advice regarding terminology and language.* He suggested, “One Armenian word for layer is shird. Thus, Shird-Sini-Sarma would capture all three concepts of this recipe: ‘Shird’ for layer, ‘Sini’ for pan, and ‘Sarma’ for leaves and the filling.”

“If you’ve made stuffed grape leaves, you know that prepping the grape leaves is time-consuming. It’s the same for this recipe. The difference is once the grape leaves are ready to use, you simply layer the grape leaves and filling ingredients into a baking pan, thus eliminating the stuffing and rolling steps. Then you pop the pan into the oven – it’s that easy. The best part is you get the taste of your wonderful stuffed grape leaves, without the extra work,” she adds. Here’s Robyn’s simplified baked-in-the-pan version of stuffed grape leaves that is the perfect crowd-pleaser for any lunch, dinner or upcoming celebration:

PREP TIME: 50 mins

COOK TIME: 1 hr. 5 mins

TOTAL TIME: 1 hr. 55 mins

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SERVINGS: 8 servings

Robyn Kalajian’s Shirdov Sini Sarma – Baked Grape Leaves and Rice before it is baked

Ingredients:

30-40 grape leaves, jarred or fresh (the number of leaves needed depends on the size of the leaves; save the best-looking leaves for the top)

2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more oil for brushing the top of grape leaves before baking, and for greasing the baking pan)

1 large sweet onion, finely diced

1 cup long-grain rice

2 1/2 cups water

1 (15 oz.) can no salt added tomato sauce, divided (for tender top-layer leaves, reserve about 1/2 cup of the sauce to spread on the top leaves before baking)

1 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped (1 tablespoon crushed dried mint may be substituted)

1 cup pine nuts (walnuts or unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped, may be substituted, if desired)

1/2 cup dried currants (or raisins)

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika, to taste

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste

Garnish:

Armenian or Greek yogurt

1 large lemon, cut into 8 wedges or circles

Ground sumac to garnish the yogurt

Preparing the grape leaves:

Use 30-40 leaves (jarred or fresh) for the recipe. If using jarred grape leaves, carefully remove leaf bundles and unroll them. Give grape leaves a quick rinse in a colander under cold running water.

Fill a large pot half-way with water, and bring to a gentle boil. Carefully dip grape leaves, a few at a time, into the pot of water – one minute for jarred leaves; 2-3 minutes if using fresh leaves. Using a slotted spoon, transfer leaves into one or two colanders in order to drain the excess water. (This process helps to tenderize the jarred grape leaves and removes some of the saltiness from the brine.)

Using kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife snip off each leaf’s thick stem and discard. Set leaves on a paper towel-lined plate and set aside until ready to assemble.

Preparing the filling:

In large saucepan add the oil and heat over medium heat; add onions. Sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they begin to turn light brown.

Add the rice and water; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.

Remove from heat, and stir in tomato sauce, nuts, parsley, mint, currants, seasonings, and lemon juice. At this point, mixture will be very moist. (For a heartier main dish, add 1/2 lb. of cooked, lean ground turkey, lamb or beef in the final step in preparing the filling.)

Assembling, baking, and serving:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the bottom and sides of an 8” x 12” rectangular pan or a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil. Wipe any moisture off grape leaves. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with grape leaves – overlapping them, and allowing leaves to hang over sides.

Spread half of rice mixture evenly over grape leaves. Place a layer of grape leaves on top of the rice, then top with remaining rice. Finally, cover the casserole with the remaining grape leaves, making sure rice is completely covered. Seal the sides by folding over grape leaves which hang over the edges. Generously brush olive oil on the top layer of grape leaves, and then spread the top with the reserved 1/2 cup of tomato sauce, if you prefer softer leaves.

Cover pan with foil. Bake 35 to 40 minutes; remove foil the last 10 minutes of baking. Baked sarma should look firm and set.

Remove pan from oven and allow to rest about 15 minutes before cutting.

Dip a sharp knife into a glass of cold water. Using the tip of the knife, carefully cut straight down to create 8 serving pieces for an entree. Cut into smaller pieces for a side dish or appetizer. Carefully remove portions with a spatula and place on individual plates.

Serve with Armenian or Greek yogurt dusted with ground sumac and Armenian lavash. Discover this recipe and more Armenian and Middle Eastern recipes at: https://thearmeniankitchen.com/shirdov-sini-sarma-baked-grape-leaves-and-rice-recipe/.

Robyn Kalajian is a retired culinary teacher whose passion for cooking and knowledge of Armenian and Middle Eastern cuisine has earned her an international following as creator and chief cook of the site. Her husband and sous-chef Douglas is an author and retired journalist who has written extensively about Armenian food and culture. Their daughter Mandy, is the site’s creative director, content producer and partnerships manager. She is committed to supporting the growth and evolution of this site to inspire future generations to cook and experience traditional Armenian food.

“Our website aims to capture and preserve the recipes our Armenian grandmothers never had the time to write down. It is a big job that’s getting bigger as Armenian cuisine evolves around the world. We celebrate the many talented people who prepare and enjoy this remarkable food by sharing stories told around the Armenian dinner table. We hope you enjoy our instructive videos and visit our website soon,” says Robyn. She says their ultimate Armenian dinner would start with “cheese beoregs and a hefty plate of mezza (or meze), including basterma and yalanchi. The main course would include bulgur pilaf, any type of kebab, kufteh, vegetable geragoor, and chopped salad. Finally, dessert would be paklava with strong Armenian coffee.”

“None of that is particularly fancy or exotic,” adds Doug. “But it’s the Armenian food we know and love, and that makes us happy.”

*Sadly, a few weeks after Robyn and Charles Kasbarian collaborated on this post, he passed away, “One of Charles Kasbarian’s many projects on Armeniapedia.org is his Dikranagerdtsi Cookbook, which is a work in progress,” says Robyn. “He’s been sharing some of his recipes with me for many years for our food blog. We compare notes and bounce recipe thoughts, suggestions, and ideas off one another. It’s a lot of fun and a learning experience for both of us. Charles was born in Jersey City, NJ, on May 5, 1927, to Hagop Der Kasbarian and Lusia Kazanjian, Armenian Genocide survivors from Dikranagerd, Western Armenia. The second of four brothers, he was raised in Union City, NJ, also known as ‘Little Dikranagerd.’”

By profession, Charles was a financial management officer for the U.S. Department of Defense. His wry sense of humor, for which he was known among his family and friends, found an outlet in his column for the Armenian Weekly, called “Uncle Garabed’s Notebook,” which featured a potpourri of facts, trivia, proverbs and deconstructions of Armenian surnames. He produced his column for 33 years and right up until the end. “Uncle Garabed,” as he was known to many, spent a great portion of his life to preserving and perpetuating this regional culture’s essence through its distinct dialect, cuisine, music and humor. For those of you who don’t know him, see his biography at https://armeniapedia.org/wiki/C.K._Garabed

Charles Garabed Kasbarian, raconteur, newspaper columnist and devotee of all things Armenian, 95, died peacefully in his home in Teaneck, NJ on May 8, 2022, in the company of his daughter, Lucine Kasbarian. As a writer and editor, he had been a keen observer of, and outspoken commentator on, political and social matters affecting all Armenians.

For his obituary, see: https://asbarez.com/obituary-charles-garabed-der-kasbarian/

Also:

https://armenianprelacy.org/2022/05/11/in-memoriam-charles-der-kasbarian-ma
y-5-1927-may-8-2022/

https://www.atour.com/~aahgn/news/20140417a.html

For his Dikranagerdtsi Cookbook, see: https://armeniapedia.org/wiki/The_Dikranagerd_Mystique_Armenian_Cookbook_(In_Process)

Connect at:
https://thearmeniankitchen.com/

https://www.pinterest.com/TheArmenianKitchen/_saved/

https://www.facebook.com/pg/TheArmenianKitchen/posts/

https://www.instagram.com/cookeatkef/

https://armenianweekly.com/2011/11/08/kalajians-cook-up-a-storm-inside-their
-armenian-kitchen/

For Robyn and Doug’s how-to-make videos and more, see: https://www.youtube.com/c/dkalajianTAK/videos

For cookbooks, go to:  https://thearmeniankitchen.com/category/cookbooks/

Copyright 2023 @ thearmeniankitchen

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