Months of sweets treats and indulgent cuisines from all around the world means it's time for a reset. Kick-off the new year with this healthy recipe to try at home.    

Today's healthy dish hails from Turkeyetli pazi sarma (AKA dolma). 

What is it?

When it comes to healthy lunches, Turkish cooks are on a roll, literally, in the case of etli pazı sarma – delicate parcels of meat and rice rolled tightly in chard leaves.


Turkish cooks have been stuffing leaves for longer than some civilizations have existed. The tradition of making dolma – literally “stuffed things” – dates back at least as far as Ottoman times, and perhaps as far back as ancient Greece and Persia. One controversial theory credits the invention to the hill tribes of Azerbaijan, who were among the first nomads to settle down and raise their own vegetables. 

You’ll need (makes about 20-30 sarma)

2 bunches of Swiss chard (20-30 leaves) 
25oz (700g) minced lamb or beef 
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped 
½ cup rice (uncooked) 
2 tbs olive oil 
½ tsp sugar 
½ tsp ground black pepper 
1 tsp cumin seeds 
1 tsp chopped mint 
1 tsp chopped parsley 
1 tsp salt 
plain Greek or Turkish yogurt, to serve 

Dolma - grape leaves stuffed with minced meat served with garlic yogurt sauce and fresh vegetables on a white plate
Dolma is a Turkish delicacy © Anita Bonita / Getty Images


Step 1: Trim the stems from the chard and wash the leaves. 
Step 2: Blanch the chard leaves for a few minutes in boiling water a few at a time, then remove them with a slotted spoon and immediately cool under running cold water in a colander. Set aside. 
Step 3: To create your sarma filling, combine the minced meat, chopped onion, rice, 1 tablespoon of oil, seasonings, spices and ½ teaspoon salt. Knead the mixture with your hands until thoroughly blended. 
Step 4: On a flat surface or chopping board, take one of your cooled, blanched chard leaves at a time, and trim away the thickest portion of the central stem. 
Step 5: Add a spoonful of the stuffing mixture to the middle of the leaf, fold both sides over the mixture, then roll from the bottom to create a tight cylinder, like a dolma. 
Step 6: As soon as each sarma is ready, place it in a shallow pan ready for cooking, with the overlapping edge facing down towards the bottom of the pan. 
Step 7: Arrange your sarma in neat rows until the bottom of the pan is covered (you can move on to a second layer if necessary), then add enough boiling water to cover the sarma by about ½in (1cm). 
Step 8: Drizzle over the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, then bring the water to the boil. 
Step 9: Cover and reduce the heat, then simmer very gently until most of the water disappears and the rolls are soft and tender. 
Step 10: Serve topped with plain Greek or Turkish yogurt. 

Tasting notes

Stuffed vine leaves may be the vision of a Mediterranean mezze, but not everyone goes for the borderline fermented flavor and briny overtones. If you are making fresh-from-the-garden stuffed vegetables, why spoil all that goodness with something pickled in seawater? So swap preserved grape leaves for fresh-plucked Swiss chard, or pazı, trading heavy, salty flavors for a fresh dose of garden vitamins.

Sarma come hot (with meat) or cold (often with raisins and pine nuts) but the key theme is simplicity – rice, onion, tomato, olive oil and a generous pinch of chopped parsley and mint. Turkish cooks can roll these little cylinders of perfection as tight as panatella cigars; homemade, they’re lumpier but just as lovely. 

For additional recipes, check our Travel Kitchen page.

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