What is Yalanji?
Yalanji is a Syrian appetizer, made with grape leaves stuffed with rice and a variety of vegetables that is served as a cold appetizer.
In Syria, grape leaves are used in two dishes, yalanji, as well as yabraq, grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, cooked in lemon juice, served as a main course.
What is the origin of yalanji?
Yalanji is originally a Turkish word which means “liar”, it is called “liar” because the filling doesn’t have meat. In the food world, yalanji refers to vegetarian stuffed vegetables or dolmas. That’s because dolmas are typically stuffed with a fragrant meat and rice mixture, whereas yalanji dolmas are “fake” because they’re vegetarian.
The star of yalanji is really the filling. The vegetable on the exterior is merely a vehicle for the delicious, vegetarian stuffing. Yalanji are typically made from stuffing grape leaves and even tiny baby eggplants, but silky leaves of swiss chard may also be used.
What are the versions of stuffed grape leaves?
There are two widely popular versions of stuffed grape leaves, a vegetarian recipe, whose recipe is presented here, and one including ground beef in the stuffing and is cooked over lamb shanks. They make for a healthy flavorful meal when served on their own or they can become an appetizer when served along other dishes. They work great alongside some yogurt.
A brief history of Syrian cuisine
Syrian cuisine may refer to the cooking traditions and practices in modern-day Syria (as opposed to Greater Syria), merging the habits of people who settled in Syria throughout its history.
Syrian cuisine mainly uses eggplant, zucchini, garlic, meat (mostly from lamb and sheep), sesame seeds, rice, chickpeas, fava beans, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, vine leaves, pickled turnips, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, mint, pistachios, honey and fruits.
Selections of appetizers known as “meze” are customarily served along with Arabic bread before the Syrian meal’s main course, which is followed by coffee, with sweet confectioneries or fruits at will. Many recipes date from at least the 13th century.
What is the origin of stuffed grape leaves?
The origins of stuffed vine leaves are unknown. They are known as dolme in Iran, dolmedes in Greece, tolma in Armenia, and yerba in Syria. Some Israelis may use leaves picked from the local mulberry trees.
Stuffed vine leaves have been called the delight and the torment of the Middle Eastern cuisine and for a good reason. Eating stuffed vine leaves is a true delight. Especially if they are properly seasoned and spiced. The leaves will add a hint of flavor to an aromatic and flavorful stuffing of rice and herbs. Slowly simmered until they are cooked to perfection. Stopping at one or a few is simply impossible.
Stuffed grape leaves are loved throughout the Middle East and beyond, and are consumed from Greece and Turkey up to Middle Asia.
Dolmadakia, the Greek word for stuffed grape leaves, is one of the most iconic recipes of Greek cuisine and, although there are many varieties, the meatless version yalanji is the most common. In the warmer months, it is better to use fresh grape leaves as they are more tender and flavorful than the jarred types.
What are the benefits of stuffed grape leaves?
The stuffing can vary, altering their fat and calorie content. However, grape leaves are both low in calories and high in fiber. They also have high amounts of vitamin A and vitamin K. Additionally, they have a very high antioxidant content. Grape leaves packed in brine are available at large supermarkets and at Middle Eastern markets.
What are the variations of stuffed grape leaves?
Vişneli yalancı dolması is a variation of stuffed vine leaves where the rice is seasoned with cinnamon, allspice and mint. The dolmas are slowly cooked together with morello cherries (vişne), and plums may be used also. A modern Israeli recipe has a meat-filled variant served in a pomegranate sauce with dried cherries.
In Persian cuisine, basuts dolma is a dish of cabbage rolls stuffed with beans and tart fruits.
In Armenia, it is called Lenten dolma or pasuts tolma. It is wrapped with cabbage leaves, and stuffed with red beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, cracked wheat, tomato paste, onion and many spices and flavorings.
Pasuts tolma is made of seven different grains – chickpea, bean, lentil, cracked wheat, pea, rice and maize. All the grains are boiled. This dolma is called pasuts (fast day) because the Christian New Year features the fast days, which end on Easter day. Armenian cooks sometimes use rose hip syrup to flavor stuffed cabbage rolls. Some Jewish families eat stuffed cabbage on Simchat Torah. There is a Turkish variation with a chestnut and rice based filling.
While the Egyptians call this main course mahshi (also spelled mashi or mashy). It is stuffed vine leaves but traditionally, cabbage is used in the winter and vine leaves are used in the summer. According to a member of the Armenian community in Kolkata, India, the Bengali dish potoler dorma (stuffed gourd) was adapted from meat-stuffed vine leaves.
How to make yalanji
Yalanji can be prepared with preserved vine leaves that can be found at Middle Eastern stores and delis or they can be prepared with fresh vine leaves.
If using canned grape leaves, get rid of the water from the can then soak leaves in clean hot water for 3 to 4 minutes. Rinse leaves multiple times with fresh water to get rid of any preservatives.
With fresh leaves, select new tender leaves that are light in color and medium in size. Remove their stems and arrange them in a stack one on top of the other. Boil some water in a pot and add the stack of vine leaves, lower the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes and then turn off the heat and leave the leaves in there for 5 more minutes. After that, take the leaves out of the water and allow them to drain and use them in the recipe.
Grape leaves are available in many sizes. It is important to choose the right size according to each dish. For yalanji, always use the large sizes, but do not choose the leaves which are too tough or have a velvety texture.
In order to make the best yalanji, you need to pack lots of flavor into the stuffing. Unlike meat-based dolmas, yalanji don’t have the benefit of fatty meat.
Before you know it, you’ll have a whole plate of stuffed grape leaves. And the result is small bundles of perfectly cooked and seasoned rice wrapped in warm and lemony grape leaves. This is where the fruits of your hard labor will pay off. And you’ll easily find yourself making these again next time you have a special occasion.
- Grape leaves (between 90 and 100)
- 2 potatoes , peeled and sliced
- 1¼ cup round rice
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 bunch parsley , finely chopped
- 2 tomatoes , peeled seeded and diced
- 2 red bell peppers , seeded and diced
- 1 green bell pepper seeded and diced
- 3 onions , finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic , finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 1 teaspoon b'har (Syrian spice blend)
- 1 tablespoon dibss fléflé (red hot pepper molasses)
- 1 tablespoon dibss banadora (tomato paste)
- 5 tablespoons dibss roumman (pomegranate molasses)
- 3 tablespoons dibss roumman (pomegranate molasses)
- 2 tablespoons dibss banadora (tomato paste)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice , freshly squeezed
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 1 tablespoons salt
- 4 cups water (to cover the vine leaves)
- In a Dutch oven over medium heat, heat olive oil and brown onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, parsley and rice.
- Stir constantly for 5 minutes.
- Add the salt, b'har, and mint and mix well for 2 minutes.
Add the dibss fléflé (mixed with red pepper), the dibss banadora (tomato paste) and the dibss roumman (pomegranate molasses)
- Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the mixture absorbs all the ingredients well.
- The filling becomes sticky and firm and is ready when all the liquid elements have been absorbed. Let cool.
- In a large saucepan, boil a large amount of water and immerse the vine leaves (fresh or in brine).
Turn off the heat and let stand for about 4 minutes. Do not leave too long or the leaves may tear. Drain.
- Cut the stem of each vine leaf before garnishing.
- Spread a leaf on a work surface, with the midrib on top.
- Place 1 tablespoon of filling at the base of the rib of the leaf, forming a kind of cylinder and leave a small margin for the edges.
Fold the vertical sides of the leaf over the filling, then fold down the horizontal side, and roll the sheet firmly and tighten securely.
- Renew the operation until all the ingredients are gone.
- Line the bottom of a pot with sliced potatoes. This technique prevents the bottom leaves from sticking or burning.
- Arrange the yalanji in the pot, squeezing them well. Lay out several layers until you form a pyramid.
In a bowl, dilute the dibss roumman (pomegranate molasses) and the dibss banadora (tomato paste) in the lemon juice and water.
Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
- Pour this mixture into the pot and, if necessary, add water so that it covers the yalanji.
- Lay a hollow plate on the yalanji, and a weight on top. This obligatory tip prevents the vine leaves from opening, and the stuffing to come out.
- Cover and cook over high heat for 10 minutes and then on medium heat for 15 minutes.
- Let cool completely. The vine leaves will absorb the sauce.
- Serve cold.