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The story of one dish. Tolma: from the birth to stomach. By one Armenian girl. Tell me what you eat. … and I tell who you are.

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the story of one dish
The story of one dish

Tolma: from the birth to stomach

By one Armenian girl

tell me what you eat
Tell me what you eat...

… and I tell who you are.

Well, not quite. “Tolma” is very popular meal among many nations, and now it is hard to tell where it originally came from. During the time Armenian, Greece, Georgian, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Romanian, Russian, etc. developed their own variations, and often gave their own names, and now the differences are obvious. Of course, everyone claims its variant being if not the first, at least the best :o) But this claim also became senseless, since lots of variants appeared in the same national cuisine depending from the place of living, preferences and creativity of people, and even the time of year :o) Furthermore, each family developed its own traditions, and the tastes and preferences also differ. The one thing remained: it is a traditional “national” meal, family meal, as well as tasty and satisfying meal.

find similarities
Find similarities

So what is the same and main in all “tolma”-like meals. Briefly, it’s some stuff filled in some vegetable or wrapped in some leaf. Well, “vegetable” can be a tomato, eggplant, pepper, apple, quince, squash, zuccini, potato, etc., and the “leaf” can be a grape, bean, cabbage or even onion leaf, and the main component of “stuff” can be various types of meat with some rice, or mainly rice or there is a version with mixture of bean/pea family members. Among other components are onion, tomato, herbs, spices, etc. Of course, you can put in the pot cut apples, nuts, dry fruits, onion, etc. After cooking (boiling) you serve it hot if it is with meat, and you usually have it cold with things other than meat.

one armenian family s tradition
One Armenian family’s tradition
  • On each Armenian holiday table tolma is the main and necessary dish.
  • Well, I tried to learn it from my mother, and my mother learnt it from her mother, etc.
  • I’ll tell you some details and tips I learnt about “summer tolma”.
  • Believe me, my mother prepares it really well :o)
  • 1 kg ground beef (or lamb)
  • 1 handful of rice (50 g)
  • 3-4 small heads of ground onion (200 g)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cut tomato (or tomato paste)
  • 0.5-1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • various fresh cut herbs (dill, parsley, basil, cilantro)
  • various dry herbs
  • 1.5 tea spoon of salt
  • some butter, if the meat is not fatty
beat until it will breathe
Beat until it will breathe
  • Mix the ingredients.
  • Slowly add 200g of warm boiled water while continuing to mix.
  • “Beat” the meat like the dough, until it will start to “breathe”.
vegetable garden
Vegetable garden

Summer tolma

  • 1 kg cabbage
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 4 medium bell peppers
  • 2-3 medium eggplants

Tips. If the wrapping will be with only cabbage, then take 2 kg

You can have a few apples and quinces as well.

Use half-ready/prepared quinces (boil a little).

digging the garden
Digging the garden
  • Tomato. Cut from the top, but not until the end to have a cover. Dig/hollow out the inside (put it into the plate, you will use it later).
  • Pepper. Remove the inside seeds and other stuff. You also can have a cover like for tomato.
  • Eggplant. Cut into few pieces, cut a cover, remove the inside stuff.

Tip. Treat apples and quinces like tomato.

white strip black strip
White strip, black strip

You have a choice with eggplant; to have it unpeeled, to have it “dressed” like zebra, or to be “naked” (rare). Depends on the quality of the eggplant and your taste.

  • If it has thick peel, then you would like to have it peeled out.
  • But if the vegetable is not strong enough, then it might be pulled down and be not suitable for filling with meat and boiling.
  • The compromise is “zebra” style.
slowly undressing
Slowly Undressing
  • Cut and remove the inside hard core of the cabbage.
  • Put it into boiling water.
  • One by one pull off the leaves, leave them several minutes in the water to soften a little before removing from the pot.

Tip: Cabbage is preferably to be with gentle and big leaves for easy and nice wrapping.

cutting the dress
Cutting the dress
  • Remove/cut the hard part of the leaf, and if it is not very big you can use it all for wrapping one tolma.
  • You can cut the leaf in the middle, and have two pieces for wrapping.
feeding the baby
Feeding the baby
  • Tomato. Fill it with meat and cover the cap.
  • Pepper. Fill it.
  • Eggplant. Remember to put the cap; push the small piece you cut a little inside.

Tip: you can put a little sugar in the apples.

  • Wrap tight, so it won’t fall apart.
  • If you have one leaf, wrap it from two sides.
  • If you have half of the leaf, wrap from one side trying to make a “hole” on the other side as small as possible. Press the meat which comes out inside or if it is too much, remove it.

Tip. Remember, everything needs some practice :o)

cheek to cheek
Cheek to cheek
  • Put some butter at the bottom of the pot.
  • Put a few leaves at the bottom (to avoid possible consequences of strong heat).
  • Wrap/fill and put tolma close to each other, so they won’t fall apart during cooking.
  • Start with the walls of the pot, go to the center.
  • Finish one “layer” before starting next one.

Tip. You can add cut apples, onion, dried fruits, etc.

get ready to cook
Get ready to cook
  • Fill the half pot with water if it’s a “summer tolma”, and full if it’s only cabbage tolma.
  • Add tomato “hollow outs” (or just two tomatoes).
  • Add 0.5 tablespoon of salt.
  • Cover with overturn plate, press the plate down, put the pot cover.
  • Have it cook on slow heat about 60-80 minutes after the water starts to boil.

Tip. To be sure if tolma is ready, check the rice.

make it tasty not only for your tongue but for your eyes
Make it tasty not only for your tongue but for your eyes

Tip: You can decorate with herbs, have it with tomato sauce, etc.

Have a nice appetite!

use your imagination

Use your imagination

Ok, now it’s time for you to invent your own “tolma”. You are free to create, although it will be hard to invent something new, but you have whole variety of vegetables and fruits in US, not talking about genetically modified ones :o)