Dolma (Ottoman Turkish: طوٓلمه) is a family of stuffed dishes common in Mediterranean cuisine and surrounding regions including the Balkans, the South Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Stuffed with lamb and rice grape leaves is one of the version. I was never impressed by what is sold or served as dolma in the U.S. Most of the time it is dry and tasteless. As a result, I never attempted to make it at home, thinking it’s not my thing. That was until some of my friends bragged about their homemade dolma with fresh grape leaves. The recipe below is my first try and I consider it very much up to my taste!
“My mom just made her signature Gata. It smells like summer, sun, and a mountain breeze.
— This recipe is traditional, — she anticipates my question.
— Why is your Gata ten times better than mine?!
— It’s the quality of ingredients. The sour cream and matsun are the freshest and made of real milk. The butter is a Flower butter I melted myself.
Flower butter! It is made in June-July when high in the mountains wild strawberries are ripe, and flowers are in bloom. Cows then are milked with cream, and the butter churned of this cream makes any other butter seem like a mockery. If happiness has a taste, it should be the taste of Flower butter.” — read more: (in Russian) Narine Abgaryan Facebook post
After this story, I’ve been dreaming of the Flower butter, trying to imagine how it smells and tastes. Since Gata is made of 4 ingredients — flour, fermented milk, butter, and sugar — the quality of each component is what makes this pastry special. I can use the best there is in the states. And then a crazy idea came to my mind. What if I also add the flavor of edible flowers? How about Roman Chamomile? For the first experiment, I powdered 2 teaspoons of dry flowers and added them to the dough and the stuffing. For the second, I’ve infused heavy cream with Chamomile flavor and then fermented it. That was a hit!
I prefer slowly cooked beef shanks for plain khashlama and leg of lamb for festive version. A slow cooker/crock pot is the most convenient device to make this dish. Otherwise, assemble vegetables and meat layers in an iron pot, start on the stove to bring water to boiling and finish in the 300F oven by slowly cooking for another 3-4 hours. There is also a version when meat is cooked first; then it is layered with vegetables in small ceramic or clay pots and cooked in the oven to serve khashlama individually portioned. In this case, it only takes 1-1.5 hours in the oven — just to cook vegetables.
This recipe/variation is based on Zhengyalov Hats, a specialty of Karabakh region in Armenia. “The main purpose of its preparation is to unite once again to make a family meal together, to talk about all pressing matters, to exchange news.” To make Zhengyalov Hats, unleavened dough is rolled as thin as paper, stuffed with a mixture of 10-20 different varieties of wild and garden chopped greens, and cooked on hot saj. It is very important to create a well-balanced mix of greens and herbs. Cheese and fried onions are sometimes added.