Armenian Style Stuffed Grapeleaves (With Meat)

Everyone’s got their childhood memories.  For most children in America their earliest or first memories in the kitchen are grapeleavesprobably sticking their fingers in some sort of ooey chocolatey batter and licking the bowl clean or eating some raw cookie dough while mom or grandma was making some cookies…. Well folks, I have an entirely different type of “first time in the kitchen” childhood memory.  Stuffed grape leaves. Stuffed grape leaves you say?  Yes…and oh how amazing they were!

I still have the very vivid memory of standing in my grandmother’s kitchen with the leaves all lined up on the counter, the stack of cigar shaped leaves that were already done and running by and stealing a few of them before they were cooked.   She would be screaming as I whizzed by… “Don’t eat them raw! You’re going to get sick!” so began my trek of living on the edge!  I never got sick and still to this day, even when I’m making them myself I steal a few! (I don’t recommend that you do this by the way… you can get sick! HA!)  But back to my point… what was my point… oh! I know, my point was that I never got around to asking her for this recipe, nor did anyone else for that matter… she made them the best! As good as I’ve ever had, and over the years I’ve learned to adjust my recipe to what I think hers tasted like…I think I’ve come close!

Making stuffed grape leaves or Sarma as it’s properly called is sort of like the Ceviche I did yesterday… every region has it’s own take on how to do this… some make theirs with only rice and onions, some add parsley, some don’t… some use lamb some use beef… some add coriander some don’t.  It’s all about the region that you are from.

So here it is… the step by step guide with my little tricks for making Grandma Margaret’s Sarma – A.K.A. The best darn stuffed grape leaves you’ll ever eat! (did I just say darn?)


  • 1 ½ pounds of ground beef
  • 1 can or 16 oz of plain tomato sauce
  • 2 cups uncooked white rice
  • ½ small onion finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 16oz jar of grape leaves

Preparation of the grape leaves and the meat filling:

Remove the grape leaves from the jar… this takes a little bit of jiggling to get them out… they are packed in brine, I suggest sticking a finger in there, and tilting it to the side to remove all of the liquid first, then gently pull the bunches out.  There should be 2 or 3 neatly folded bundles in there, depending on the size of the leaves.  Drain, open up the bunches and allow them to sit in some clean cold water for a few minutes to remove some of the excess salty-ness.

grape leaf

Once they’ve sat for a few minutes, begin removing the stems from each leave.  (If you leave the stems on, they will be too tough to chew)

While the grape leaves are soaking, in a separate bowl mix together the beef, rice, spices, lemon juice and ¾ of the can of tomato sauce- reserving ¼ of the can for use later. Now get in there and use your hands and mix mix mix! Making sure everything is combined well. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

meat in leaf

Get ready to roll….

Place the leave with the shiny side down, vein side up on a flat surface and spread out.  Place about a teaspoon to tablespoon (depends on leave size) and using the tips of your fingers, pinch it outwards until your’e about 2 inches from each edge.

Fold up the bottom of the leaf then the sides.

Roll upwards tightly.  Don’t roll it up too tight as while the rice and meat are cooking, they will expand and it will tear the leaf or unravel.

In a large saucepan or medium sized pot, lay a few leaves on the bottom of the pan.  Lay each stuffed grape leave side by side next to each other tightly, seam side up and continue making even layers.  Do not fill it all the way to the rim of the pan, as it will as I said expand and well, you’ll have a mess on your hands… or your stove rather.  Layer about 2 inches from the top of the pan and place a small plate upside down on top of the grape leaves and apply pressure to hold it down.

In a large measuring cup mix together:

  •  2 cups cold water
  • Remaining tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon crushed mint
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Remaining tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon crushed mint
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic (mortar & pestle it into a paste)
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ lemon juice

leafs in pot

Pour this mixture over the leaves, making sure that they are covered just over the top of the edge of the plate on top.  If you don’t have enough liquid, add more plain water.  Cook on high heat until it comes to a boil and then reduce heat down to a low simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, making sure that the leaves don’t move around inside the pot.

You’ll know it’s cooked once you open it and the rice is cooked.


You can omit the cayenne if it’s too spicy for you.

Look for leaves that aren’t too thick.  Use only the flexible soft leaves

This meat filling can be used to stuff bell peppers, small eggplants, zucchini, or even tomatoes. You’d cook it using the same process.

Once you get the hang of rolling the leaves you’ll be on a roll… ha ha ha (bad joke)

Just know, they don’t have to be perfect!

I hope that you try this recipe… it’s a little bit a work… who am I kidding… it’s work!  But you’ll really love the end result!  I know I always did and still do!

Recipe by Michelle Karam

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