Aegean Stuffed Peppers & Tomatoes

I learned a really valuable culinary skill when I was in Turkey: how to make dolmas, or stuffed things. I used to think it was cumbersome and difficult, but really it’s not. And when you work with delicious ingredients and spices, you will be so glad you took the time to make them! Here goes:

Many of the ingredients listed here can be found online if you can’t get to them easily by being close to a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean store, or by the Amazon links provided in the list.

Ingredients

Directions 

Mix the rice with one teaspoon each of the spices: cumin, salt, black pepper, kekik (Turkish oregano), pul biber (mild ground red pepper) and dried mint. Soak in very hot or boiling water for ½ hour. 

To a medium saucepan, add the soaking rice and 2 extra cups of water to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. 

While the rice is cooking, gently warm the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onion, garlic, and the insides of the tomatoes that were cored. Cook until all the tomato juices have evaporated and the onions are translucent. Add the meat and the remaining amount of spices. Add the tomato and/or red pepper paste. Cook thoroughly for about 10-12 minutes on medium-high heat. Set aside to let cool. 

In a large bowl, mix the partially cooked rice and the cooked meat together until all ingredients are well-combined. 

Next, line a deep-bottom pan such a Dutch oven with the sliced tomatoes so that you can place the peppers on top when each one is stuffed. 

Stuff each pepper with the rice/meat mixture until almost full. Place the tops on each one then into the pan on top of the tomatoes. Place them close together and upright. 

Make a simple liquid to pour over the simmering stuffed peppers: mix tomato paste and/or hot pepper paste with some hot water and a little salt. Pour over the entire batch of peppers, about half way up. Simmer for 45 minutes to one hour, covered, meanwhile pour a few tablespoons (one small Turkish tea glass) of olive oil on top of the mixture once it’s been cooking for about 20 minutes or so. 

Remove and serve hot with the caçik/yogurt sauce (get recipe here) on the side and fresh mint and/or parsley on top. 

RECIPE NOTES

  • This recipe can also be made as stuffed grape leaves (sarma dolma) or stuffed tomatoes instead of stuffed peppers, using an almost exact method of preparation. 
  • Instead of tomatoes at the bottom of the pan, you can also do onions. The basic premise is to allow for some circulation at the bottom of the pan so that the peppers don’t burn. It’s also quite tasty this way!
  • To make this recipe ahead of time, mix the rice with spices and cover overnight. 
  • If you cannot find red pepper paste, you can just mix crushed or ground red pepper flakes with tomato paste. Taste as you go to make sure it has the amount of heat that you like. 
  • This can be a completely vegan/vegetarian meal by substituting bulgur wheat for the meat and cooking it with the rice, spices and veggies instead of the meat. 
  • For a tad of sweetness, add a dollop of nar (pomegranate) molasses or dut (mulberry) molasses to the meat/rice mixture. 
  • For vegan options as a substitute for yogurt, try Good Karma plant-based sour cream (available at Target), or Forager Project Organic Dairy Free Cashewgurt. Personally, I am not a fan of soy-based dairy alternatives or coconut yogurt (due to the taste incompatibility with this dish), but you could potentially use those, as well. 

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