In this Armenian summer tolma recipe, tender sun-ripened vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants are carefully hollowed out and then generously stuffed with a combination of seasoned ground meat, fluffy rice, and a fragrant blend of herbs like parsley and purple basil. The ingredients meld together during the cooking process, infusing each bite with a burst of savory goodness.
Chronicles of Summer Tolma
Tolma is a traditional Armenian dish accentuating Armenian culinary history and identity; a star on a festive table. I remember tolma was one thing I craved while being away from my homeland for a short summer school in St. Petersburg. Apart from its tasty, healthy, summer vegetable flavors, tolma is a homage to Armenian culture, handed down to each generation, very much alive and vibrant worldwide.
This recipe was handed down to me by my grandmother.
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Why should you Make this Armenian Summer Tolma?
This is a perfect dish having a good balance of vegetable, meat, and rice. It takes some time to get the dish together, but it can be made ahead of time. You can make a double batch and you have a meal for two days. Tolma taste even better the next day!
Ingredients you need to make Armenian Tolma
- Beef – Beef is a primary choice for non-vegetarian tolma. Ground chuck beef that has at least 10-15% fat is an ideal choice. Lean meat will produce rubbery and dense stuffing. I prefer to grind my own beef and choose chuck roast that has some marbling.
- Rice – White basmati, arborio or round rice can be used. The brown rice takes longer to cook so I would not recommend using brown rice.
- Parsley – You will need a good amount of parsley. If you are grinding your beef, add the parsley at the end and grind with stems. The grinder blades will catch all the tough fibrous sections the juice can combine with the meat.
- Seasoning – Parsley and basil are the heart and soul of the Armenian version of tolma. Armenian basil (or purple basil) is easy to grow in a pot in warm months and sold in Middle Eastern markets. The amount of salt and pepper depends on your taste.
- Purple Armenia Basil -Purple basil is an essential ingredient of Armenian tolma. Either dried or fresh can be used. Omit, if you can’t find a good source. I will advise not to use Italian basil since it is too floral.
- Onion – Any onion can be used. Onion not only enriches the flavor, it also tenderizes the meat. Onions can be finely minced, processed or ground along with the meat.
- Cabbage – A small head of white cabbage.
- Eggplant – Use small or medium size eggplants. Black beauty is too big to stuff. You can use Japanese long eggplants by cutting them into 3-4 inch segments.
- Peppers – Use small or mini bell peppers. If you only have large bell pepper, cut them in half.
- Tomatoes – small to medium tomatoes.
Special Tools to Use
Cooking pan: Use a pot big enough to hold all the ready tolmas. Also you will need a plate that is slightly smaller than the pot. The plate is meant to keep the tolmas submerged and packed together.
Coring Tools/Paring knife: Use to scoop out eggplants, tomato pulp, and carve out pepper veins.
Meat grinder: I use a meat grinder attachment for the KitchenAid Mixer.
How to Make Armenian Tolma – Step by Step
Preparing meat mixture for Summer Tolma
If using a whole beef chunk, cube the meat and season it with salt. Grind the meat, onion, parsley and basil. Add the rice and combine thoroughly with your hands.
If using pre-ground meat, finely chop the onions, parsley, basil and rice. Combine all the ingredients together in the large bowl.
Cover and store in the refrigerator for an hour.
Prepare the vegetables for Summer Tolma
Tomatoes – Cut the top of the tomatoes leaving one side intact. With a melon baller, spoon or a paring knife, core the seeds out and set aside.
Eggplants – Peel the eggplant in stripes, meaning leave half of the peels intact, which will help to hold its shape, and the peeled part will provide enough surface to absorb all the flavors. With the paring knife, or coring tool, carve out the seeds and set aside.
Pepper – Cut the top stem side, but not all the way through. Cut and discard the seeds and cores by running the paring knife along the inside edges. You want the pepper to be still intact.
Cabbage– Boil a pot of water. While the water is boiling, with the paring knife remove the core of the cabbage and start removing leaves from the cut section starting from upper leaves. Once the water starts boiling, add a tablespoon of salt and submerge the cabbage leaves into the water.
Blanch them for 5-10 minutes until the leaves become translucent and pliable. With kitchen thongs, remove them from the water.
Once the cabbage has cooled, remove the tough veins in the middle of the leaves.
Filling the vegetables with the stuffing.
Sprinkle some salt inside the cavities of all the vegetables and prepare to assemble the tolma.
Prepare your work station for the assembly process. Have the cooking pan, cabbage leaves, vegetables and the meat filling ready.
Lay the cabbage leaves on a flat surface or cutting board, put a spoonful of meat filling on top of each leaf, just under the stem cavity, and form into an oblong cylindrical shape across the leaf.
Start folding. Bring the leaf base over the filling and tuck it in. Then fold the sides, rolling into a cylinder.
Keep rolling into cigar-shaped little logs. They should not be too tight or too loose but rather firm.
Fill in all the vegetables with the meat stuffing. Make sure you plunge it all the way in, especially the eggplants.
Arranging tolmas in the pan.
First arrange the cabbage rolls, and eggplants. You can have more than one row but make sure the tomatoes are on the top. Once cooked, the tomatoes become more delicate. Randomly scatter the eggplant and tomato scraps that we set aside earlier, as they will add to the flavor.
Cover the tolma with a few cabbage leaves and place an upside down flat plate on top. Gently press the plate and add enough hot water to cover the plate.
Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat and cook for 45-50 minutes.
Ways to serve this Armenian Summer Tolma
- Serve as a main dish
- Serve with side of yogurt or sour cream
- Serve with the cooking juices.
More Recipes From Cafe Osharak
If you enjoy this recipe, please come back and let us know in the comments! We love hearing feedback from our readers and would be thrilled to know that you found the recipe to be delicious and easy to make. And if you have any suggestions for variations or tweaks to the recipe, we’re always open to new ideas.
- 1 lb ground beef 15% fat
- 1 onion small
- 1/4 cup rice rinsed and uncooked
- 1/4 cup parsley
- 1/4 cup purple basil
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 4-5 eggplants small to medium size
- 8-10 bell pepper mini or small
- 8-10 tomatoes medium size
- 1 cabbage small head
- Grind the meat, onion, parsley and basil.
- Add the rice and combine thoroughly with your hands.
- If using pre-ground meat, finely chop the onions, parsley and basil and combine all the ingredients together in the large bowl.
- Cover and store in the refrigerator for an hour.
- Meanwhile prepare the vegetables for stuffing (see the main post for details on how to prepare the vegetables.)
- Core Eggplants and tomatoes, cut the tops partially off the peppers and remove the seeds, blanch the cabbage leaves, and set them aside.
- Season the vegetable's interior with salt.
- Using the ground beef stuffing, fill the cavities of the vegetables.
- Place a spoonful of filling on a cabbage leave and roll it into a small log.
- Arrange the stuffed vegetables in a cooking pot and scatter the tomato and eggplant scraps in between.
- Blanket a few cabbage leaves on top of the vegetables.
- Put an upside-down plate on top of the vegetable to hold them intact.
- Pour water over the plate until you see it seeping onto the plate.
- Bring tolma to a boil then cover and lower the heat and let is simmer for 30-40 minutes.