How to Make Stuffed Grape Leaves: Persian Dolma (Dolmeh Barge Mo)

Grape leaves are in abundance this time of year in Turkey. These leafy green vines are a staple in every local’s yard. They snake along stone walls and twist their way around metal arbors.

Many countries have claimed dolma – stuffed grape leaves – as their own. During a trip through Greece a few years ago, my sister and I took a cooking class where we learned how to make dolma and our teacher proudly exclaimed this food originated in Greece. But Iran, Iraq, Armenia, and Turkey all have their own version of dolma too. This recipe below is how my Iranian mother-in-law makes her dolma or dolmeh barge mo.

IMG_1479

Fresh Leaves or Jarred Leaves?

If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on fresh grape leaves, choose leaves with no holes or tears that are medium-sized (about 5 inches across). You’ll need to blanch your leaves first. To do this, pile all the leaves in a medium-sized pot and pour in just enough water to almost cover the top of the leaf pile. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Grape leaves from a jar will work perfectly fine. I’ve found jarred leaves in the international section of the grocery store. Simply remove all the leaves from the jar, rinse under cold water. Then bring a pot of water to boil, throw the leaves in, turn off the heat, and let leaves steep in the hot water for 30 minutes.

A Word on Rice

Dolmas are pretty versatile and can be eaten hot or cold (I like cold best). They also can be stuffed with anything, really. For this recipe, we stuffed the grape leaves with seasoned ground beef and rice.

You need to have already prepared your rice before starting the first step. Cook 1 cup of rice either on the stovetop, in a rice cooker, or in the instant pot. Just make sure to cook your rice parboiled. This means the rice should be al dente – still a little crunchy in the middle. The rice will continue to cook once the stuffed grape leaves are steamed. You should end up with about 3 cups of parboiled rice.

How to Roll a Grape Leaf

This part is always a little intimidating in the beginning, but it’s super easy once you get the hang of it. The series of photos below show the more traditional way of rolling dolma. Turks and Greeks do it this way.

IMG_1591

The Persian way is much simpler: place a half a spoonful of beef and rice mixture in the center of the leaf. Then fold in every side over the mixture to create more of a circular shape. I don’t have a photo of the steps, but the photo below shows how they should look in the end.

IMG_1483

INGREDIENTS

Meat Mixture:
1 bunch dill, finely chopped
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 bunch tarragon, finely chopped
1 small onion
1 garlic clove (or more to taste)
1/2 pound ground beef
1 tsp turmeric
red pepper flakes, pinch
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups parboiled basmati rice (1 cup of uncooked rice)

Grape Leaves:
1 16oz jar of grape leaves or about 40 fresh grape leaves
1.5 cups of water
1 Tbl granulated sugar
1 Tbl vinegar (white or apple cider or lemon juice)

METHOD

Meat and Rice Mixture:
1. After blanching the fresh leaves (or rinsing the jarred leaves) cut off any hard stems with scissors or knife. If you haven’t started cooking the rice, do so now.
2. Chop the onion and mince the garlic.
3. Put chopped onion into a skillet with cooking oil. Cook on medium heat until soft and translucent. Add minced garlic.
4. Add ground beef, turmeric, salt, and black and red pepper. Cook meat until no longer red.
5. Add 1 1/2 cups of the chopped fresh herbs to the meat. (Freeze any leftover herbs to use at a later time. Stirred into plain yogurt is delicious!)
6. Stir together the meat mixture and parboiled rice.

Stuffing the Grape Leaves:
1. Place oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Then line the bottom with a single layer of grape leaves so the entire bottom surface is covered. This will prevent the stuffed dolma from burning on the bottom.
2. Take a single grape leaf and place it flat, vein side up. Put 1/2 tablespoon of the meat and rice mixture at the bottom center of the leaf. Fold the bottom part of the leaf over the mixture. Then fold in the left and right sides of the leaf towards to center. Roll the leaf from the bottom to the top, keeping the sides tucked in as you go.
3. Add the stuffed grape leaves to the pot, stacking them evenly and tightly. The mixture should make about 35 stuffed leaves in total.
4. In a small bowl, stir together water, sugar, and vinegar. Pour over all the stuffed leaves in the pot. This mixture helps to balance out the bitterness in the grape leaves.
5. Place a dinner plate (one slightly smaller than the circumference of the pot) face side down over the stuffed grape leaves. Gently press down on the leaves. This will help keep the dolmas in place while steaming. Cover the pot with a lid.
6. On low heat, let the dolma steam for about 30 min.
7. When the dolma is soft and warm, take off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Eat warm or put it in the refrigerator to eat cold.

IMG_1592

Other Delicious Recipes:
Easy Carrot Jam | How to Make Persian “Morabaye Haveej”
How to Make Persian Potato Patties | “Kookoo Sibzamini”
How to Make Persian Chai

The Unanswered Question

“How long more?”

My husband asks this question enough times for me to know he’s not wondering how long our walk will take to get to the river. We’ve done it a million times. He’s asking me how much longer we’ll be staying here in Turkey, how much longer we have to wait for our lives to move forward, and how much longer we have to live at the mercy of politicians’ decisions.

“Merhaba. Merhaba.” We murmur a Turkish greeting as we pass by a small boy kicking a beat-up soccer ball in his front yard, then to a woman peering around the corner, pinning white shirts to a line. She nods her head at us.

How long more?

Sometimes he asks this question pointedly, squaring his face with mine and expecting a specific answer like I hold some magic key to that knowledge. This time though, his question is more like a statement, a phrase that is ever pulsing in his veins. Three words syncopated with our footsteps on the street, coming up and out from within him, like a great, heaving sigh.

I still don’t respond to him as we continue walking down the dusty cobblestone street, fruit trees bursting over us, the river sparkling up ahead, a pregnant cat sauntering nearby. But I lean in close, matching my walking pace to his, and squeeze his hand. I may not have an answer but I hope this gesture conveys my solidarity and dissolves the not-question still hanging in the air. Hey, whatever’s going to happen, we’re in this together.

Closer to the river now we see my mother-in-law at the water’s edge, throwing day-old scraps of bread to the ducks. She waves us over and points into the water. “Babies!” she exclaims. We look over the fence at four fuzzy ducklings. Watching her unwrap more bread from her purse — an extra loaf she bought at the bakery just for the ducks — I’m struck by how alone she is here. My husband, too. Strangers in this country, fleeing their homes because of the God they believe in. They didn’t choose to be here. And they can’t choose to leave. They ache over the burden of carrying a title they did not want: refugee.

It’s hard to describe to other people all the subtleties of how our lives are impacted by the travel ban, continually phrasing and rephrasing it. I tend to craft my words carefully, like how my mother-in-law chooses her fruit and vegetables at the Friday bazaar. Slowly. Picking up each one, examining it, smelling it, pressing it, before the finality of placing it gingerly into her sack or back on the stand.

It’s difficult to explain what we’re going through when well-meaning people touch us on the arm in the middle of the coffee line at church. “How’s your heart?” they say gently with a tilt of their head, twenty other people around us, all stretching out their hands to grab a sugar packet or spoon.

We don’t want to be here, is what I want to tell them. This waiting on the edge of our seats is making our hearts sick. Do they know of the arbitrary dates we give ourselves to be in the US? Maybe by his birthday, this summer, her wedding in the fall. And as each date passes we feel the dragging drop of disappointment.

How long more?

He cannot even leave the province without a permission slip, quickly constricting his world to a 90-mile radius. I want to tell them of his interactions with condescending police officers, blase and vague in their answers. Each time the phone rings our bodies stiffen and we stop what we’re doing. Maybe this is the call. The one we’ve been waiting for.

How long more?

There’s the suffocating pressure coming from all sides, knowing he cannot go back, knowing this present country is growing tired of the strain of the millions here just like him. And the country he dreams of going to is so quick to turn its back, put up a wall, and slap a derogative label over people with his shade of skin.

How long more?

With the buzz of post-church conversation all around us, it’s exhausting to try to craft my thoughts before the attention quickly shifts to something else. So, like the precious fruit, I put it back on the stand and instead deliver a blithe reply.

I see the question resurface in his eyes as he stares out at the river. I help my mother-in-law unpack the steaming lunch she brought. We set out the fresh village bread and a tea thermos — a staple at any Persian picnic — and bow our heads in prayer. She prays in Farsi for God to have mercy on us, to hear us, to help us to trust him. I look up at the two heads bent.

God, how long more?

Sleeping Churches in the Midst of Fleeing Homes

Arifa unlatches the rusted metal door and collapses the umbrella she used to protect her olive skin from the arid sun. She beckons us inside. With bags and pillows hoisted over our shoulders, we squeeze sideways up the building’s stairs leading to her family’s apartment. 

I had spent the last few days with a group of university students making house visits to refugee families in Turkey where we conducted audio interviews to share with churches back in the U.S. Arifa served as our translator as we listened to several harrowing stories of refugees who had to flee their homes due to death threats from ISIS. After a long day of translating and interviewing and, because we were from out of town, Arifa invited us to stay the night with her family. 

Over her shoulder, she explains why they decided on this apartment and not one closer to downtown, where refugees usually live. Their place is farther out of the city and she needs to take the bus to the police station for her weekly fingerprinted check-ins, a requirement for all refugees in Turkey. This is not a short commute and she must structure her week around it. But the rent in this area is cheap. Markets are nearby. And it’s quiet. She’s thankful for a park across the street so her children can move and play during the long days at home. 

Arifa’s children are not in school because they don’t know the local language, but also because Arifa doesn’t want to expose her children to the Islamic teachings prevalent in the local schools. There’s also fees, transportation logistics, and the inevitable bullying that comes along with being a foreigner. 

In a break of polite small talk, Arifa confides to us she’s concerned about her youngest. “She’s getting chubby,” she says bluntly. We laugh internally at this, knowing that addressing weight is not taboo in Iraqi culture. 

Sounds and smells float from each door as we move down the dimly lit hallway – a Turkish television blaring today’s news, babies crying, dishes clanking, the arrhythmic beat of a drum spilling out from a radio.

She raps softly on a door and we’re immediately greeted by a girl.

“I’m Nadia!” she announces before we’ve had the chance to step through the doorway. A smile widens across her face and she hops up and down, the anticipation of three overnight guests bubbling from inside her.

“Nadia’s English is perfect,” Arifa says to us over the bobbing head of her daughter. She places her keys on a hook near the door and umbrella behind a cabinet. “She’s learned it all from YouTube.”

A man walks in from the kitchen with a small child clinging desperately to the back of his leg. Arifa introduces us to her husband, Bashar, and youngest daughter, Noor, her round brown eyes peering up at us from her father’s pant leg. Arifa motions down the hallway telling us to make ourselves at home while she checks on dinner, the smell of cumin and cardamom floating from the stove. We carry our bags to the bedroom while her daughters scurry ahead of us.

“We all sleep in here together,” Nadia announces as she plops down on one of the two mattresses laying on the cool tile floor, her long black hair tied into two braids. Despite living in a two bedroom apartment, Arifa sleeps with her husband and daughters in one room. It’s better for them all to sleep together after the trauma of fleeing their home in Iraq.  Sleeping with her babies close provides a sense of security and safety in a world where there is none. I’m starkly aware that this is a measure of fear I’ll never know. 

“But tonight,” Nadia announces, “we will sleep in the living room and you three sleep in here––you are our guests!”

We exchange startled looks, hesitant of whether or not to object to the sleeping arrangements, unsure of the nuances of Middle Eastern hosting. Feeling foolish that I had assumed this was the guestroom and not their entire family’s bedroom, I hastily pick up my backpack, ready to apologize for my wrong assumption. I don’t have time to protest as Nadia pulls a laptop onto her legs and begins blasting music videos. Noor, still silent, shoves pictures she has colored in my face.

“Ask her for a back scratch,” Nadia suggests of her younger sister. “She gives great ones.”

***

Post-dinner, we lounge with Arifa’s family, the table still pulled up to the couch, bowls of fresh dates set before us and the television on low in the background. Noor’s backscratches were evidently all that was needed to break the ice and, squished next to me, she loudly demonstrates counting from zero to ten in English and Arabic. 

Arifa passes around tiny tulip-shaped cups of tea and a sugar bowl and begins to tell how and why her family fled to Turkey.

They lived in Northern Iraq in an area called the Ninevah Plain and were fortunate to be close to both their aging parents. They were Chaldean Christians and spoke a dialect of Aramaic, close to the same language Jesus spoke. 

In 2014, Arifa and her family made the difficult decision to flee. Christians in this area had long been targets of persecution, government-sanctioned intimidation, and now threats from terrorist groups, which left many feeling afraid for their and their family’s lives. 

With only a few hours ahead of ISIS’s invasion, Arifa and Bashar packed only the essentials into suitcases: necessary paperwork, clothes, and family heirlooms, only taking the most valuable possessions. As she lists off the things she chose to pack, my eyes drift to the framed picture of Christ on the cross fixed to the wall above their television. 

“There is nothing left for us in Iraq,” Bashar interjects. “The United Nations is––,” he forcefully brushes his hands together then throws them in the air to express his disgust with the lack of help. Arifa and Bashar speak of the frustrations of not being able to resettle their family in a safe and stable place, of living in limbo, of not knowing what tomorrow will hold.

Arifa shows photos she received from a relative still living in Iraq. As she swipes her finger across the phone screen, updated pictures of what was once their home flashed before us. Kitchen cabinets were ripped from the walls. The ISIS symbol was spray-painted over countertops. Her daughters’ toys were scattered on the floor. A rumpled, well-loved doll lay discarded in the corner. Sofas were overturned and carpets ripped to shreds. More graffiti desecrated every surface. The violent photos reveal that their home was no longer a home but a symbol of many who have nothing left to go back to. What once held memories had been stolen and torn into pieces.

“Why are the American churches sleeping?” Bashar punctuates the air in the living room. We have no answer. We sympathetically shrug our shoulders and murmur our apologies, as if saying, “I’m sorry” for an entire nation and its politicians makes up for it. Christian brothers and sisters are being targeted, persecuted, and fleeing their homeland, yet the American Church is sleeping. 

He sighs, looking over at his daughters playing quietly on the sofa, shuffling coloring pages and crayons between them. Leaning back against the armchair, with a tea glass in his hand, he sighs, “We cannot go back home and nobody else wants us.”

***

It’s summer 2018 and Arifia’s family will leave in the next month to Canada once their plane tickets are issued. She’s overjoyed, understandably. They can begin to look forward to a new life where they no longer look over their shoulder, where they no longer sleep on the same mattress or live life with uncertainty and fear. 

I’m married now. My husband is a refugee and suddenly the stories I had heard before now hit a lot closer to home. We have been waiting since our wedding in 2017 for the United States to open their doors. Arifa’s family and countless other Iraqi refugees were able to move to Canada in 2018. Knowing the importance of immigration, Canada was the leading host country of formally resettled refugees that year.

I think back to the question Arifa’s husband had asked three years ago: “Why are the American churches sleeping?”

We live in a time where 37,000 people are forced to flee their home every day. As of June 2019, there are 25.9 million refugees in the world –– the highest ever recorded. These numbers show no signs of stopping.

Then why are American Christians sleeping? Are we so saturated in entertainment, in misplaced outrage, in bogus persecution that we cannot look up for a minute to see the suffering going on around us? Are we so focused on the semantics and legalities that we justify away the atrocities with a shrug of a shoulder? Is the “not my problem” attitude one we really want to take on?

In an op-ed to USA Today, Dr. David Curry, CEO and President of Open Doors USA, writes on the detachment we feel when it comes to the Global Church. He describes this indifference as “whistling through the graveyard.” Are we so blinded by our own lives and comforts that we cannot see the death and destruction of our brothers and sisters?

Curry writes, “I envision a world where American Christians remember persecuted Christians in hostile regions in every church, every Sunday. Through these sorts of efforts, I have hope that an awakening is possible.”

The Church is global. We must remember this.

Remember the poor. Visit the prisoner. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Welcome the stranger. Deliver the oppressed. Serve the least. And rise for the marginalized (no matter their country of origin. No matter if they have the right papers).

This is where the Shepherd is. Are we listening or are we sleeping?

if-your-response-is-the-parents-should-not-have-brought-34470337.png

This is part four of a series titled “Stories of Refugees in Turkey”, dedicated to sharing the stories of refugees with hopes of giving readers a look past numbers and statistics into the dreams and lives of real people. Read part onepart two, and part three. (All names have been changed.)

Easy Carrot Jam | How to Make Persian “Morabaye Haveej”

Carrots for breakfast!? Yes, you heard that right. This wonderfully easy carrot jam is traditionally served at Persian breakfasts alongside a warm slice of bread and some butter and cheese. Morabaye Haveej is a simple recipe with only 6 ingredients and under an hour cooking time. The bursts of cardamom and rose water make the flavor of this jam super unique.

My mother-in-law suggests eating this the traditional way on a slice of bread. But she confided to me that she also loves it as a topping on vanilla ice cream. I like both these ways and I also mix it into my morning oatmeal -– although eating it straight from the jar is totally acceptable too.

6C6D419B-E87C-4B58-B8F3-05BB7B698934

This recipe will make enough jam to easily fit into a pint-sized jar.

Ingredients

5 large carrots, shredded
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
Juice and zest of 1 lemon*
5-6 cardamom pods, crushed
1-2 tablespoons rose water**

Method

1. Shred carrots by hand using a box grater or throw them into a food processor.
2. In a heavy bottom pot, pour in sugar and water. Cover and bring to a simmer (about 5 minutes).
3. Add the shredded carrots to the pot. Cover, turn up the heat and bring to a boil (about 10 min). Reduce heat and let simmer for about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. With about 5 minutes left, stir in cardamom seeds and lemon juice and zest.
5. Once most of the liquid has evaporated and the carrots are soft, turn off the heat and stir in rose water.
6. Allow the carrot jam to cool completely in the pot. Then transfer to a heat-safe container or jar. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

Notes

*When my mother-in-law was teaching me this recipe, she used a dried lime steeped in water for this step. Dried limes are not always easily found, so using fresh lime or lemon juice and the zest will work just fine.
**If you’ve never tasted rose water before, it can be pretty overpowering. In my mother-in-law’s recipe, she puts in about a 1/3 cup of rose water. For the recipe above, I reduced it quite a bit.

Other Delicious Recipes

How to Make Persian Chai
How to Make Persian Potato Patties

Persian carrot jam

 

Waiting for the Sun to Rise

Every night during the month of Ramadan (or Ramazan as it’s called in Turkey), our town is awakened by the steady beating of a drum. Dressed in traditional Ottoman attire, the drummer weaves his way up and down the neighborhood streets with a stick in one hand and a drum in the other. A ritual dating back hundreds of years, the drum’s purpose is to awaken the locals to begin preparing for sahur, the last meal eaten before the sun rises. The neighbors begin to stir and kitchen lights slowly click on, giving off a dull glow behind window shades.

The beating gets softer as the drummer moves on to the next neighborhood. I let the curtain fall back to its place and crawl into bed. The nights are warmer now so we sleep with thin sheets and open windows. The dog next door barks in reply to the sound of the drum. I flip over my phone on the nightstand to check the time. It’s 2:30 am.

The other evening, after we had finished washing dishes and cleaning up dinner, my husband and I walked by the river running through our town. Each picnic table was occupied with multi-generational families. Savory smoke swirled out from miniature charcoal grills. Everyone sat perched in front of their plates waiting for the call to prayer to signal the start of iftar, the highly anticipated fast-breaking meal when the sun finally sets.

Ramadan brings a communal change in rhythm. The days are quiet, still, and sleepy until the late morning when neighbors begin emerging from their homes to tend to their gardens, climb into cars, and roll buggies on uneven sidewalks to the markets. The nights are alive with meals eaten with friends in the late evening. Children kick balls and ride bikes with the moon as their flashlight. And a drummer announces the approaching sunrise.

***

The other week, we were crowded around a circular table where waiters placed in front of us hot plates of chicken kabab and refilled our water glasses. After hearing a little of my husband’s and my immigration worries, our friend placed his fork back down on his plate, rested his hands in his lap and said, “Hard times always have a destination.”

Usually, when hearing spiritual platitudes by those who are anxious to say something encouraging, my eyes glaze over and my head nods in a polite response. I give the encourager a gentle smile; they’re trying to be supportive.

This time though, the words landed a little differently in my ears. Like the falling shapes in a game of Tetris, each word effortlessly locked itself to the next, one on top of the other. As they were released into the air, I felt something in my heart whisper, “Grab onto this. Remember it.”

We’ve spent the last year feeling like we were walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Our days felt like they were decorated more with sorrow than joy. Hope seemed elusive and dwindling. My Bible remained buried in the nightstand, like a too heavy bowling ball, the unturned pages made of lead. I wrestled with the promises written in scripture. Why doesn’t God make things right, right now? Here’s his chance to do something big and miraculous, but he’s quiet.

I’ve felt huge swells of doubt rise up in me. I’ve asked questions and received no answer. I’ve cried out and heard my laments bounce off the walls and return back to me.

Hard times always have a destination.

Those six words spoken across the table over lunch felt liking tiny dots pulsing inside me, an ember of hope pushing back the encroaching darkness. They punctuated my skeptical heart, one by one.

I thought about the Turkish drummer, banging loudly in the middle of the dark night. His sole purpose is to alert the town of the coming light, to wake up, to begin preparing the feast. Each knock of the drum shouts out the message, “The sunrise is coming! The sunrise is coming!”

We may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death right now, but God promises to lead us to green pastures and to fields of peace. It may feel like endless midnight but the sunrise is coming.

There is a purpose in the darkness. I may not know what the reason is right now, but I will one day. Consider all the activity that happens when the sun sets and the world becomes dark during Ramadan: meals with neighbors, children playing, feasting, and spending time with family. There is life to be lived in the darkness. There is growth, refinement, and cultivation.

God is certainly not the author of the bad, but he paints beauty out of it. The rays of the rising sun will one day scatter across our valley, sending the dark scurrying away, and things will make sense. All those tattered scraps will be woven into something beautiful.

Not now, but soon.

While we wait for the morning to finally come, we firmly hold on to God’s promises and his goodness.

Beautiful things grow in dark places and dawn will always overcome the night.