THERE IS SOMETHING deeply calming about stuffing a grape leaf. Trust me, I do know. In the early months of the pandemic, I discovered solace in my kitchen and, to soothe my nervous system, started to fold and roll cigarillos of vine leaves. I had realized the recipe in Cyprus whereas researching my newest guide, a set of recipes from throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.
Biting my lip in quiet focus, I’d unfurl every leaf onto a plate, smoothing out its wrinkles with the information of my fingers earlier than fastidiously putting a spoonful of rice on the base. I’d mildew the rice into an rectangular form and switch the edges of the leaves in to meet one another. Then, deftly and—most essential—confidently, I might tightly roll every leaf over itself and place it alongside others in a pot to braise.
Across the Middle East, variations on stuffed greens abound, however rice-filled grape leaves stands out as the most prized. Known as dolmades in Greece, yaprak sarmasi in Turkey, koupepia within the Republic of Cyprus and warak enab in Palestine, the dish will get a singular array of stuffings, spices and aromatics relying on the context. When I used to be rising up, my Iranian mom made dolmeh for particular events, shaping them into fats triangles she stuffed with rice, floor lamb and yellow break up peas, and steamed in a candy and bitter broth made with verjuice and sugar.
Yet dolmeh by no means turned a part of my very own culinary repertoire. I discovered them fiddly, time consuming. Life is simply too quick to stuff a grape leaf, I assumed. Until, that’s, I cooked them with Çizge Yalkın and her grandmother, Nahide Köşkeroğlu, in a village simply outdoors the Cypriot capital, Nicosia. Their Turkish-Cypriot model, stuffed with tomato-and-mint-flecked rice, held the flavors of the area’s sun-kissed soil and turquoise waters. I used to be bought.
I had visited Cyprus to learn the way the meals tradition of the island tells a wider story of migration. Cyprus’s position in essentially the most easterly nook of the Mediterranean Sea—on the nautical crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa—has made it the thing of conquest over millennia. The historic Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Arabs, Venetians, Ottomans and British have all laid declare to the island, and numerous flavors run by means of its meals tradition. Despite its lengthy historical past of migration and trade, nonetheless, the island has, since 1974, been break up rigidly in two: the Republic of Cyprus within the south, predominantly Greek-Cypriot, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, predominantly Turkish-Cypriot. A UN-patrolled buffer zone divides them.