As the spring accelerated into summer, and the linden trees sent their sweet scent on the wayward wisps of a gentle breeze, we would get antsy. The days grew longer, the nights gradually lost the chill, and the smell of the warm asphalt under the noon sun sent us the message that school was almost over and the lazy days of summer were ahead.
The green market would start out shyly with bright green and crisp butter lettuces, ripe green onions, tender spinach leaves, young sweet peas, and fuschia hued radishes. The first strawberries would join the party, followed by early bing cherries, yellow, green, and purple-spotted snap beans, and pinkish tomatoes that everybody tried to avoid. The first time wild sorrel appeared at the stalls, gingerly tied in bundles, we knew that our wait was over: green sarmas were on the horizon!
The chopped onions were sauteed until translucent. Ground beef was stirred and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Rice was warmed up until nutty and flavorful, and then everything got a rest, to cool off and meld together. In the meantime the sorrel leaves were cleaned, and the stems cut off. They lay on the plate or a cutting board eagerly awaiting the addition of the filling, only to be rolled into tight round packages and placed in a deep pot, layer upon layer. The water came in, covering the little bundles half-way, some seemingly random, but not; a small amount of salt was added, and the pot went on the stove for 45-60 minutes. A bit of oil was heated and some paprika added to make a roux, which went into the pot, making a sound that the word “sizzle” only begins to cover. The rolls were dished into a bowl, covered with a big dollop of yogurt and consumed with vigor, juices sopped up by fresh bread. Very few meals scream summer to me like these green rolls.
And now my daughters vie for them, as if they grew up in Serbia. But I cannot find sorrel here. There is young spinach, and beautiful colorful chard, and curly Tuscan kale, and dark, flat collard greens, and beet greens, and mustard greens, and turnip greens. I have tried them all without succeeding in the replication of the taste of tender sorrel leaves.
This time, I could not resist a vendor at Torrance Farmers’ Market, who talked me into buying a bag full of various gorgeous looking greens giving me a discount here, a great deal there, until I surrendered my greens for his.
I made little stuffed rolls with collards, thinning the stem and blanching them for several minutes, just until they turned vivid green. Of course, everybody was lamenting the lack of tender sorrel, even though I enjoyed the toothsomeness of the collards. We managed to finish off every single little green roll vowing that the next time, it would taste even better.
MEAT-STUFFED SORREL LEAVES (ZELENE SARMICE)
You can use grape leaves or collard greens instead of sorrel. If you are using sorrel, there is no need for blanching, as the leaves are very tender. But if you are using the more robust collards, you might want to thin the main vein on the back of the leaf to make them more flexible.
- 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 500gr (1 lb) ground meat (beef or lamb)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup short-grained rice
- 20 grape (collard) leaves, stemmed, and covered by boiling water for 15 minutes; if you are using sorrel, there is no need for blanching, as the leaves are very tender
- 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 sup of plain Greek-style yogurt
Heat the skillet on medium heat.
Add the oil and onions.
Cook for 5-8 minutes until translucent.
Add the meat and stir until brown. Stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes, until nutty.
Season with salt and pepper.
Let the mixture cool a bit.
Lay a sorrel ( gape, collard) leaf on the cutting board and place 1-2 teaspoons of filling (depending on the size of the leaf) in the middle of the lower third.
Fold the sides over the filling and start rolling from the bottom up, until a tight roll is formed.
Place in the pot and continue rolling.
Heat the oil on moderate heat and add the paprika.
Stir for 30 seconds and pour into the pot.
Stir very carefully and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve with a big dollop of plain Greek-style yogurt.