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Making Dolma in Erbil

Season Eight, Spring 2009

Making Dolma in Erbil

Dolma is a popular dish throughout the Middle East and Southeastern Europe. This week we visit Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, to see how it is made in the Kurdish style.

Cooking Show Video

The dolma that we most often see is stuffed grape leaves. Kurdish dolma uses grape leaves, but also a variety of other vegetables like onions, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, and eggplant.  As you will see, there are many steps to making dolma and it is much easier when undertaken as a family affair.

June 10, 2009   |   17 comments
Food for Thought

I arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan at 3 AM not knowing a soul. The taxi driver took me to a hotel; it was full. Everyone looked tired, and they didn’t seem to know what to do with me so I ended up sleeping in the spare room belonging to the night staff. Walnuts on the bedside table were offered before being whisked away with shoes and other personal belongings.

The next morning I borrowed a phone from the front desk and began calling second and third hand contacts. Friends of friends of people I barely knew.  

Why did you come to Kurdistan? Where is your family? They let you travel alone? What can we do to help?

I said that I was doing research for a film and that I wanted to produce a show about Kurdish cuisine for a website I had with my friend. We like to teach people in the US about food and culture from different parts of the world.  

Have you tried dolma?

Once the oddity of my presence had passed this was always the first question.

I went on a field trip with students from the Institute of Tourism; amidst high winds and a stormy sky we set up a picnic between the two school buses.  Picnics are a beloved pastime in Kurdistan, and they are always an elaborate affair. Vegetables for salads were chopped, portable stoves were turned on and large metal pots heated up the meal. Student poured the hot dolma onto wide metal trays. We sat around large rectangular table cloths and enjoyed the hot food despite the blustery winds.

“Mmm, delicious dolma. This must be made by a Turkmen woman,” my Turkmen translator and new friend declared, “they make the best dolma.”

Dolma is not uniquely Kurdish; it is widely made throughout the former Ottoman Empire, with slight regional variations. That did not matter; from everyone I spoke to, this was a dish that defined Kurdish cuisine.

The day after the field trip I stayed home with the family that had adopted me for the week; the mother said she was going to make dolma for us and that I could film it.  I tried to get a recipe, but everything is done by sight and taste and years of experience. I’ve written the steps below for those who are feeling adventurous.

Step 1: Prepare the vegetables
Onions- beaten on the ground, peeled, ends removed, sliced down the middle on one side, layers separated.
Eggplant and Zucchini- ends removed, sliced in half lengthwise, hollowed out with a knife (I tried this, and it’s not as easy as it looks in the video).
Grape Leaves- stems snipped at base of leaf.
Cabbage- cut stalk out from bottom (there is no easy way of doing this- just hack away), separate leaves.
Tomato- cut top off but not all the way, hollow out.
Rinse all the vegetables and set aside.

Step 2: Prepare the filling
Chop onions and fresh herbs, mix with rice, whatever spices you like, small cubes of lamb meat and fat (they told me this was optional), tomato paste, plenty of salt, a few tablespoons of boiling oil, and a grated tomato

Step 3: Stuff the vegetables
Pretty self explanatory, but do be sure to put a little less rice than you think is necessary because it expands!

Step 4: Cook it    
On top of all the stuffed vegetables put a layer of grape leaves and salt, then pour the water (boiling) over and cook on a low flame. I was incredulous about amount of water they put in. Only 3 cups for the big pot and 2 cups for the little one, but I guess the water from the vegetables also contributes.  Make sure that the vegetables have a weight (plates work well) over them to keep everything in place during the cooking.  Cover pots with a lid and cook for about an hour.  


By Emma Piper-Burket

June 11, 2009   |   13 comments

Sesame leaves are also known as Perilla, Shiso, and Beafsteak plant. They are green with a tinge of purple (purple is a shade of green), and have ridged edges. Their flavor is quite like mint, but with slight nutty undertones. You can toss them into salads or add to stir-fries. We like to eat them like little dolmas (stuffed)- by stuffing different foods inside and rolling them up like a cigar. This recipe is with a fusion Asian Salmon Ceviche, but we also like rolling strawberries and cream up for a sweet treat as well.

For Salmon Ceviche Marinade:
1 8-ounce wild Alaskan salmon, skinned
Lemon and/or Lime juice to cover, about 3 fruits total
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon olive oil or sesame oil – O Olive Oil Jalapeno Lime is perfect for this recipe

Mix together the lemon and lime juice, miso, and garlic in a non-reactive container.
Cube the salmon in small dice and add to the marinade. Let the salmon rest for 1-2 hours in the refrigerator.

To finish:
12-16 sesame leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion (white and pale green parts)
½ teaspoon finely minced Thai bird chile or chile Serrano
1 sprig of mint, finely chopped
Some cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tahini
½ teaspoon sesame seeds

Place a dollop of the mixture on each leaf and wrap up, starting from narrow end. Secure by carefully pushing the pointy stem through the leaf.
Note: You can also spread a small amount of tahini on the leaf, then dollop with the salmon mixture, without mixing the tablespoon into the salmon ceviche preparation.

Makes 12-16 Sesame Cigars

This recipe is a salmon ceviche wrapped in sesame leaves. Sesame leaves are also known as Perilla, Shiso, and Beafsteak Plant. You can buy them at the farmers market, and they add a Southeast Asian mint flavor to salads and stir-fries as well as this roll-up.
Tasty Tip

Erbil is famous for its dairy products. Mastaw is a popular drink that accompanies almost every meal. It simple to make at home: water and ice mixed with yogurt.

June 10, 2009   |   8 comments
Cooking Show Photo

Traditional craft meet modern history-makers in downtown Erbil. Up the steps to the left is the 8,000 year old citadel that is the heart of the city.

June 10, 2009   |   1 comments