Bulgur Dolma and Sarma

One of our classic Armenian dishes. This is pretty much the main deal when it comes to Armenian food! I have great memories of watching my mom, grandma and aunts preparing this wonderful meal.

And they learned this recipe from my great-grandma Mary Kurkjian, who everyone agrees was the BEST Armenian cook around!

Picture of my great-grandmother, Mary Kurkjian:

The bulgur wheat provides a hearty texture to this variety of dolma/sarma. And the simmering juice is wonderfully tart and seasoned with all-spice. Sometimes I can't help but slurp up any remaining juice on my plate!

What ingredients do I need to make Bulgur Dolma (and Sarma)?

  • Ground lamb or beef: Traditionally ground lamb was used, but now that it is harder and more expensive to find, we have gotten used to making this with ground beef. Use meat that isn't too lean.  I recommend about 85% lean.
  • Bulgur (coarse #3): Bulgur comes from hulled wheat berries that have been parboiled, dried, ground and sifted into a fine grain. Some brands sell this as Bulgur #1 (with the number referring to the size of the grain).
  • Diced/crushed tomoatoes (28 oz.): You can also crush your own whole San Marzano tomatoes, which are great-tasting variety.
  • Tomato Paste: A thick concentrated paste of tomatoes made by cooking tomatoes for several hours, straining out water, skins and seeds and then simmering again.
  • Seasonings: Salt, pepper, sugar (to negate some of the tomato acidity), and allspice (a hallmark Armenian flavoring).
  • Green pepper (optional): Finely chopped mild bell pepper adds some additional flavor without overpowering the recipe. You could leave this out if you prefer, since you'll get some of the same flavor from the bell peppers that you stuff.
  • Simmering Juice: 70% water, 25% lemon juice, 5% tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar. (Proportions depend on size of pot.)
  • Grape Leaves: Orlando California Grape Leaves is one of our favorite brands of grape leaves.

How do I make Bulgur Dolma (and Sarma)?

Prepare vegetables: Wash vegetables such as zucchini, yellow squash, Japanese eggplant, bell peppers, small yellow chili peppers, tomatoes (not ripe). 

Hollow vegetables (remove pulp.) If desired, rinse vegetables to remove residual seeds and pulp and then drain by turning upside down on a towel.

Prepare meat mixture: With hands, combine and mix together the ground meat, bulgur, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, allspice, sugar and green bell pepper, if desired.

Optional: Boil lamb necks/shoulders until cooked fairly well. Rinse meat and pat dry. Use the lamb pieces to line the bottom of the pot, add some additional flavor and to eat. Alternatively, you can line the bottom of the pot with grape leaves.

Stuff vegetables with raw meat filling.  Leave about an inch of space at the top of each vegetable to leave room for the bulgur to expand during cooking.

Stuff grape leaves. Flatten a single grape leaf on a plate or cutting board. Snip the stem off the grape leaf. Be sure the thicker veins are on the outside. Place about a tablespoon of filling centered at the bottom of the leaf. Spread filling into a thin line, about half an inch from the sides of the grape leaf. 

Bring the bottom of the leaf up over the filling and tuck it in so that it hugs against the filling. 

Next, fold in the sides of the grape leaf and finishing rolling from the bottom of the leaf to the top. 

When properly rolled, stuffed grape leaves should look like thin cigars. (This is the shape that our family preferred.)

Once everything is stuffed, prepare the dolma and sarma for cooking. 

Get the pot that you lined with lamb pieces (and/or grape leaves). Put bell peppers in the pot first. Then continue loading the vegetables from heartiest to most delicate.

Load sarma (stuffed grape leaves) into a separate pot lined with grape leaves. Make sure that grape leaves fit snuggly into pot.

You could also cook everything in the same pot, if it fits.  In this case, tie the sarma together with twine and place on top.

Prepare simmering juice (to cook dolma and sarma in). Combine water, lemon juice, tomato sauce, sugar and salt to taste. Must make quantity large enough to fill entire pot and cover all the vegetables.

For each pot, pour enough simmering juice to cover the top of the dolma and sarma. Then, turn a dinner plate upside down over the dolma and sarma to help stabilize during baking. If necessary, you can weight the plate down with a large glass mason jar filled with water.

Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 10 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. Cooking time may vary depending on the amount made and size of the pot.

Note: This post contains some affiliate links, which means that I could earn a small commission off items you purchase at no additional cost to you.

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  • Jackie Jenkins on

    Dolma and sarma is such a delicious and healthy meal. You’ll love it!

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