Cherry Collard Dolmas (Turkish Collard Leaves Stuffed with Rice, Beans and Fresh Cherries -Visneli Yaprak Sarma)
This has been the summer of cherries.
Local cherries arrived early, so by the beginning of July I had already made Almost Raw Chocolate Banana Crepes with Almond-Coconut Cream and Cherries, then balsamic cherries migrated onto a sandwich with rosemary cashew cheese and arugula, and I pickled a bunch in a five-spice spiked vinegar. I kept on thinking cherry season was over, but they continued to be on sale late into the summer. How can you say no to cherries at 99c/lb?
So, yes, I have yet another cherry recipe.
Earlier this summer, we thought I might have been able to join Rob in New York for a mini-vacation. We researched where we wanted to stay (airBnB!), what we would do (opera!) and what we would eat (Pure Food & Wine!). My favourite raw resto to date, it would have been a nice treat. I even scoured their menu to see what I wanted to order. I found it:
Cauliflower Cous Cous with Sour Cherry Dolmas with pistachio, almond, dried fruits, mint, Moroccan tomato jus
Sounds heavenly, no?
Turns out that when we went to book my airline tickets, we were not able to get the flights we wanted. So for the long weekend, Rob went to New York for work, and I stayed at home.
With a bit of extra time on my hands, I decided to tackle my own cherry dolmas. In retrospect, a raw version would likely have been quicker, but I opted for a more traditional cooked dolma. As traditional as cherry dolmas can be. When I visited Turkey, I was not wowed by dolmas. They were not on my radar. However, traditional dolma recipes typically include savoury spices like cinnamon and allspice, so I was sold. Instead of pine nuts, I used pistachios. Instead of traditional raisins, I used a touch of currants. The majority of the sweetness comes from the cherries.
Instead of a rice-based dish, I beefed it up by including white beans. Doing so made me have a lot more filling than I had initially bargained for, so I scrapped the grape leaves and plucked collards from my garden instead. With a cooked filling, a cooked collard seemed more appropriate, instead of my typical raw collard wraps. Pre-steaming the collard leaves made them much easier to wrap the filling and keep their shape.
The dolmas are simmered in a cherry-infused broth to complete the cooking of the rice. If you cooked your rice all the way through the first time, I think you could save yourself the final cooking step. It was a pretty labour intensive recipe but at least I didn’t have to wrap 100s of dolmas in tiny grape leaves.
In any case, these were so flavourful, they were definitely worth the effort. The rice filling alone was delicious, so if you just want to make that, I understand.
I made the cranberry-lemon-tahini dip for the dolmas but I didn’t find it needed a dip. In fact, the sweet on sweet clashed. If you want something to serve it with, a plain yogurt would be nice.
With all my cherry fodder this summer, Rob came back with a surprise present for me from New York: a cherry pitter!
Cherry Collard Dolmas
(Collard Leaves Stuffed with Rice, Beans and Fresh Cherries -Visneli Yaprak Sarma)
Adapted from Delicious Istanbul
2 tbsp pistachios
1 cup brown rice, rinsed and drained (I used a medium-grain rice)
1 tbsp oil of choice
3 medium size onions, chopped
1 tbsp dried currants
1.5 tsp salt
2 tsp agave or your choice of sweetener
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/3 cup mint, finely chopped (stems reserved)
1/2 cup dill, finely chopped (stems reserved)
1.5 cups cooked white beans (I used Yellow Eye Beans)
350 g cherries, pitted, half chopped in half and half pureed, divided
1.75 cups water for rice
16 collard leaves (or 60 marinaded grape vine leaves, such as these)
1 cup water for dolma
1 tbsp olive oil
1. In a large pot with a lid, heat over medium heat. Toast pistachios until brown. Add oil and onion and saute onions until translucent, around 10 minutes. Add rice and stir to evenly coat with the oil. Add the currants, salt, agave, cinnamon, allspice and toast until lightly fragrant, just a few seconds. Add in 1/3 cup pureed cherries and 1.75 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until rice is soft and water is absorbed. The rice doesn’t need to be cooked all the way since you will simmer it again in the leaves. Add in chopped mint, dill and beans and mix well. Set aside, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until able to handle with hands.
2. Meanwhile, prepare your collard leaves by removing the inner tough stem. Reserve stems.Prepare a steamer and steam the collards for 2 minutes. You can choose not to steam them but this makes them easier to roll and keep their shape. You can also steam the grape leaves but I don’t really think that is necessary.
3. In your largest skillet, with a lid, scatter stems from mint, dill and collards/grape leaves on the bottom. This is to elevate the dolmas slightly while still infusing the broth with flavour.
4. Prepare your dolmas by placing 1 tbsp of filling in a grape leaf or 1/4 cup of filling into each collard wrap. For the grape leaves, place the leaf’s shiny side down, with the filling towards the base of the leaf, near the stem. (Photo instructions here). Roll the sides in first, then roll away towards the tip of the leaf. It is the same for the collard, just use more filling, depending on the size of your leaf. Place the rolled dolmas into the skillet, tightly next to each other. If you don’t have enough room, you can also make a second layer.
5. I honestly think you could stop here and still eat the dolmas, especially if you have cooked your rice through as well as the collard leaves. In any case, I decided to continue to cook mine. Combine the remainder of the cherry puree with 1 cup of water and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Pour this overtop the dolmas. Scatter pitted cherries overtop. Place a flat plate (heat-proof) overtop the the dolma, place a lid overtop the skillet and simmer for 30 minutes or until the liquid mostly evaporates. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Served chilled or at room temperature (I preferred them at room temperature). Scatter the cooked cherries overtop.