Grape leaves are used in the cuisines of various regions in the world including the Balkans and the Middle East. They are sold in jars and usually packed in rolls in a brined solution. The grape leaves that get wrapped around a filling are often called dolma or sarma. Romanians use the word sarma for stuffed grape leaves and stuffed cabbage leaves. They are usually made during the year around holidays but this is not a rule. There is no single recipe for cooking stuffed grape leaves. Some people use vegetables and/or meat as filling. Stuffed grape leaves can be served cold as an appetizer or warm as a main dish.
My mom used meat and served them as a main course. From a jar of 15.2 oz. I was able to make 25 sarmale (plural for word sarma in Romanian ). I made them with the taste in mind that I remembered from my mom’s dish. I drained the leaves from the jar and used a mixture of 1/2 lb. ground beef and 1/2 lb. ground pork, about 6 oz. uncooked rice, a chopped half of a medium size onion, and about a half of a cup chopped fresh parsley that I mixed well with a fork in a large bowl . I also spread salt and coarse ground black pepper. As I stated before, you may add anything you like from vegetables and spices. Some people use lamb meat.
I spread one leaf at the time for each filling. If the leaves were too small I overlapped a couple of them to get the right size. I formed a cylindrical filling that was around 2 in. long. I placed it at the edge of the leaf. I rolled the leaf around it to hold it in place then I laid it inside the dish. I spread a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil at the bottom of the dish.
Once all the sarmale were arranged to fill the dish I added some chopped bacon to give them a smoked flavor. You may add any smoked meat to obtain the same result. I squeezed a large lemon over them and added water to cover about an inch high from the bottom of the dish. I covered the dish and placed it in the oven for about two hours and a half at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and checked every so often for them not to get dried. If this happens get some of the juice from the dish using a spoon and spread it over them. Add water in small quantities if needed.
When the time is up get a fork and check the inside of a sarma to see if it has been cooked thoroughly. Give it some more time in the oven until you get the results you want. I like to serve them warm together with sour cream or regular yogurt. All the ingredients and their quantities can be adjusted according to your taste.
In Romanian Cooking also see Eggplant – The Forgotten Vegetable and A Simple 5-step Vegetable Soup For the Cold Season