Friday, February 26, 2016

The Making of Basooc Dolma (Պասուց Դոլմա)!

This is a dramatic title, yes. But it deserves it. I've been pretty obsessed with basooc dolma/պասուց դոլմա since I first discovered it in Armenia. While I have eaten every dolma and sarma the region of my people offers--which does include the wonderfully vegan yalanchi sarma, I never knew about the equally delicious and healthier option (complete protein!) of basooc dolma until I came to Armenia. Since in Western Armenian we say bahk/պահք for lent, it didn't click in that this was meant to be a dish for lent, and it was therefore vegan. It is essentially pickled cabbage stuffed with beans, lentils, chickpeas, grains and spices, and is absolutely delicious--especially if the cabbage is cooked well.
While it is available in many restaurants and even supermarkets, I had the goal of making it myself. The closest I had ever gotten was going over to my friend Arpine's house to watch her mom make it and add in some commentary and annoying questions. This year was the year I would actually make it I decided, with a little (a lot of) help from Arpine, Arpine's awesome mom, Gohar, and Björn. While the cabbage should be pickled in advance, I pretended Arpine's busy schedule was the reason I didn't pickle my own cabbage, and instead bought an impressively large pickled cabbage from the one and only Gumi Shuga. This was 1/2 shortcuts I took.
Sweetest bean lady ever with the best selection of locally grown stuff!
We bought the beans and grains necessary, and made the decision to cook them until they were almost fully cooked, to make the end process easier/shorter. In proper grandma style, you should of course pickle your own cabbage and cook the dish for hours until every bean is soft and perfect, but if you feel "you don't got time for that", try our lazy version. Shortcut 2/2. So, here it is!

Ingredients for the Lazy Person's Guide to Basooc Dolma:
-1 cup chickpeas
-1 cup red kidney beans
-1 cup green lentils
-1 cup bulgur (smallest one)
-Pickled cabbage, from the nice lady at Gumi
-4-5 small/regular onions, chopped up real nice
-2 TBSP salchaa! (Tomato paste) + 1-2 TBSP for boiling
-Fresh or dried dill (depending on season)
-Fresh or dried basil (samezies)
-Bunch of fresh parsley
-Red pepper
-Black pepper
-Oil
-Salt

That's it! So in our version we bought all the beans and legumes necessary, and soaked them overnight, and cooked them in the morning until they were significantly softened but not fully cooked. We rinsed off the bulgur and mixed it in with the beans, which would soften them too, although bulgur does cook fast so we only did this so we wouldn't have to carry too many separate things. We took the cabbage and bean/legume/grain mix over to Arpine's house, and began.
First, Arpine's mom soaked some of the cabbage we bought so some of the salt could be washed away and so it would soften. We then removed the thick stems from each one since they have no place in basooc dolma. There will be a use for them, however! (Spoiler alert: to line the bottom of your pot so your precious dolmas don't burn)
Then, we had to chop the onions to cook them in the oil and add them to the mix. Gohar handled this and did a great job. She was also the only reason there are photos, since I used her phone. Here she is chopping away:
Next, you put these onions into a pan and cook them with oil. While they are cooking, you can do other things to get the recipe moving.
It was time to chop the parsley, and surprise surprise, Gohar volunteered because everyone had complimented her onion-skills. I think she was showing off but whatever.
Spice and mixing time! Arpine's mom led us through this, and added generous sprinkles of dried dill, purple basil, black pepper, red pepper and salt. I have a photo of all the colours for you:
Next it was time to add the salcha. While you can get small jars of salcha in Armenia with normal lids, there are also the larger ones that you need a special opener for and after a few times of accidentally buying the non-easy ones, I had to learn how to open them my own way. That way was a knife. Here is Arpine's mom trying to open it, but what you won't see is that I stepped in and impressed everyone with my strategy that only led to small amounts flying over the kitchen:
Step aside, Arpine's amazing mom.
After this, you can add the salcha and onions to the mix, and mix it all together with the spices so it is ready.
It will smell and look so tasty but you must be strong and only sample it for the noble reasons of making sure it has enough of everything!
Unfortunately, Gohar came, saw, sampled, conquered, and then peace'd the hell out. So any photos of us rolling this mixture and the hilarious shenanigans of Arpine trying to play The Little Prince for us so we wouldn't get bored are not documented.

To sum it up: Arpine tried to play the movie we all wanted to watch and we were all ready to say "it's not as good as the book!" but then the volume was creepily low and none of us could hear anything over the action of dolma-rolling. We decided to just talk to each other instead which I excelled at. Arpine's mom was the best at rolling and her tip was to put just enough mixture in the center, roll it up while sealing one end, and then sealing the second one so they wouldn't come apart. She warned us a few times that a few of ours were okay for now, but that they wouldn't survive the boil. Truer words have never been spoken.

After all this, you essentially lay some excess cabbage leaves down (the ripped ones, for example) or the stems you didn't use to line the bottom of a pot (they are the real heroes):
Next up, gently add all of the baby dolmas to the pot, and as Arpine's mom said, make sure it is a tight fit so they cook well and we avoid too many coming undone!
Then we prepared the liquid these babies would boil in! Mix about 1-2 TBSP more salcha with about two cups of warm or hot water:
Pour this mixture over the dolmas in the pot, and then add more water to make sure they are covered:
Arpine's mom said to put something heavy on top so it all stays together. We put something I just don't remember what - a plate? Then you boil it on medium/low heat with a lid on and let it cook and soften. We cooked it for about one hour, and while it was delicious and the bottom and middle ones were perfect, there were a few on top that could have stayed longer, so maybe try 1.5 hours. The result? Ohhhh man:
Delicious, hearty, filling, and I even became "basooc'd out" by the second day. But I loved it and will aim to make it again, this time pickling the cabbage too and being a full-on nene!

All photos by Gohar, Björn, and Anja! 

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