A Turkish stuffed peppers recipe that makes a great lunch or light meal served with salad and a dollop of natural yogurt on the side…
This week a stall on Fethiye’s Tuesday market caught my eye. Around half way down the covered section was a market trader hidden behind a massive, chest high pile of multi-coloured little dolma peppers. What was better is that they were selling at just 2.5TL a kilo. I have often seen the green variety here but rarely small red, yellow and orange bell peppers so couldn’t resist walking a way with a kilo or so.
The term ‘dolma’ comes from the Turkish verb ‘dolmak’ meaning ‘to be stuffed’ and so aptly describes this dish… and often the dolmus (local bus) around Fethiye! Dolma in Turkey is a popular family lunch or meal. Most housewives serve it regularly, either baked or boiled, adding their own blend of herbs, spices, flavours and fillings (both meaty and vegetarian). They stuff vine leaves, courgettes, tomatoes, aubergines, cabbage… in fact, a little Google will kick up all sorts of tasty dolma recipes if you’re interested. In this case I’ve gone with a personal favourite, Stuffed bell peppers with flavoured rice filling.
So why eat them? What are the health benefits of peppers?
Little dolma peppers are actually part of the chili family, just a mild version. Very tasty, they perk up salads no end and are added to many dishes in Turkey. Along with their good looks, peppers are extremely healthy. One cup of raw peppers gives you just 45 calories plus your daily quota of both vitamins A and C – both great for boosting your immune system and keeping that youthful glow. They also contain vitamin E, known to promote healthy hair and skin, vitamin B6 that’s essential for the nervous system and a trace of sulfur, a mineral said to help reduce the risk if cancer. If eaten raw or cooked briefly, peppers keep the majority of their flavour and nutritional value so are a fabulous addition to any healthy diet.
Biber Dolmasi (Stuffed Peppers Recipe)
To prepare the peppers: If your peppers are fresh, hold it tightly and push the stalk down into the pepper then remove. It should free the top easily leaving you the initial hole where the stuffing can be inserted. Rinse the inside clear of seeds and scrape away any veins with your finger to leave it hollow. Repeat with all peppers.
Tip: Peppers differ in size and shape. For this recipe mine were very small so I worked on around 2/3 little peppers per person. To know how many to prepare, I took the deep lidded saucepan I was going to use to boil them in and arranged the peppers in the bottom first, stalk side up, to make sure I had enough and they would fit. They should be snugly resting against one another to keep them upright.
Around 16 small dolma peppers (prepared as above)
1 1/2 cups of short grain rice (rinsed)
3 tsp tomato salca (paste)
2 medium onions, very finely diced
2 tsp all spice
2 1/2 tsp dried mint
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
A few cherry tomatoes (these are cut in half and used to seal the top of the peppers)
Optional extras – handful of currants, handful of pine nuts
1 – Add a good glug of olive oil to a pan and fry the onions over a medium/low heat until soft and translucent. Add the rinsed rice, mint, cinnamon, all-spice, salt, pepper (currants and pine nuts if you are using) and tomato paste. Give it all a good stir to let the flavours blend.
2 – Pour over 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and stir in 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Stir well, bring to the boil then cover and turn down to a low flame. Wait for the water to evaporate (Around 5 minutes). At this point the rice will still be quite firm and under cooked. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly so you don’t burn yourself stuffing the peppers in the next stage.
3 – Stuff your peppers. Use a teaspoon to fill each pepper with the mixture. Make sure the mix gets to the bottom of the peppers but don’t push it in to firmly as the rice needs a little room to expand. Push half a cherry tomato on the top to seal the filling in.
4 – Put a little olive oil in the bottom of your deep lidded saucepan. Arrange the peppers, top side up in the pan. Drizzle over a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Now carefully tip in boiling water until it reaches around a third of the way up your peppers. Be careful not to let the water go into the peppers. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a low flame and pop the lid on. Let it cook away for around 30 minutes until the peppers are soft and rice cooked. Check occasionally to avoid it drying out.
5 – Leave to cool then serve at room temperature with a side helping of garlic yogurt. Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill.
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