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Sarma is a Turkish dish that literally translates as ‘rolled thing’. There are many variations, but the most famous are rolled vine leaves stuffed with minced lamb and rice. These rolls are boiled in water and traditionally served with a side of yogurt.

What is sarma?

Sarma is a Turkish dish that translates as ‘rolled thing’ in English. In Turkish kitchens, people love rolled and stuffed food (dolma). Best known of all these dishes is sarma: stuffed, rolled vine leaves. The filling often consists of minced lamp with rice, with the tasty centre rolled raw into the leaf before boiling. 

If you order sarma or dolma in most restaurants, you’ll almost certainly be served these stuffed vine leaves. However, there many delicious variants of sarma on offer in Turkey. In the regions surrounding the Aegean and Mediterranean, rolled white cabbage leaves are used instead, while in the vicinity of the Black Sea, decorative cabbage leaves and chard are used in place of vine leaves. Filling varies from aromatic spiced minced lamb and beef to sardines, pine nuts and fiery paprika. 

There is only one way to make first-rate sarma the whole family will enjoy. However, don’t expect the method to be exactly the same in every household. The vine leaves are often filled and rolled in large numbers by the lady of the house. Many a Turkish matriarch will quietly judge their would-be daughters-in-law on the quality of their sarma. 

Did you know?

The wife of Turkish ex-president Demirel was known for rolling her own sarma and dolma

How to make sarma

Learning how to fold the vine leaves correctly takes practice. If you are in Turkey, chances are the leaves you’re using have been picked fresh, pre-cooked and cut into the required shape for sarma.

A typical sarma filling is made of chopped onion , green herbs, dried mint, rice and beef or lamb mince bound together with a hint of olive oil. One or two tablespoons of filling are then placed on each vine leaf. The leaf is then folded lengthwise to enclose the filling, with the sides then also folded inwards. 

Rolls are placed in a pan with the fold facing downwards. Often, there are several layers of rolled sarma on top of each other in the pan, although all must be under the water level before a plate is placed atop the uppermost layer. This ensures everything stays in place while cooking. Bring everything to the boil and let the cooking commence for around forty-five minutes, or until the meat and rice are properly cooked.

How to eat

Sarma are delicious as a snack or side dish. In Turkey, they are served with a side of yogurt. 

Also try

Greek dolmades resemble Turkish sarma.

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