I expect you all know that life is too short to stuff a mushroom.
Well, in all my time here in Turkey, I have stuffed more vegetables than I care to count but somehow never red peppers! What does that say about my life?
Rather, I have always cooked/grilled them in the oven, peeled them and then served them as a meze with balsamic/pomegranate molassses or nar ekşisi and garlic: absolutely scrumptious!
But here in the village,it’s the height of summer and the red peppers are in such great profusion, huge, fleshy, and fragrant not to mention dirt cheap, that I thought let me do something different this time.
I’ll be frank with you: that huge size was a mistake. I thought they would be succulent – well, actually they were, very – but despite the delicious flavour, a single one was way too big for one person. I mean, after all, they’re not supposed to be the main course. So next time, I will pick my moment in the season and choose smaller, thinner-skinned red peppers to stuff. There are some cute little round ones in the markets now, they would be perfect.
The next thing was that I found several recipes where basically all the ingredients, all very similar – fresh, inviting, definitely my kind of tastes – were mixed together, cooked and then used to stuff the peppers.
Anyway,it all sounded very do-able. It was only at the eleventh hour when I wanted to check something that I referred to my ultimate Turkish cooking backup Alev Kaman’s Modern Türk Mutfaği that I realised that I should probably have gone to her first.
I think her experience shines through. The method is the same but the little details make all the difference (and that the other recipes didn’t specify):
- Soak your pirinç/rice in warm water for 30 minutes and then rinse well and drain.
- Soak your kuş üzümü/little black currants after removing any stalks in warm water for 10 minutes to soften.
- Toast your çam fıstığı/pinenuts.
- Prepare the peppers by removing the stalk end of each – don’t throw those little caps away – and the membrane and seeds inside. Slice the tomatoes thinly. Chop the onions into very small pieces – a food processor is fine.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently cook the chopped onion till softened. Add the rice and stir for 10-12 minutes on a gentle heat.
- Add the pine nuts, currants, allspice, salt, pepper and sugar.
- Add the 2 cups of hot water and the dill, and stir.
- Cover the pan with a lid and cook gently until the water has evaporated. Add the lemon juice when you remove the pan from the heat and stir.
- Replace the lid for 20 minutes ‘to rest’ (to ensure that the rice is well-cooked).
- Arrange the stuffed peppers upright in a saucepan or pan, they should be quite firmly packed together. Add the remaining 2 cups of hot water around and over the peppers. Cover with a plate so that they keep their shape while cooking and place the lid on top.
- Cook for 20 minutes over gentle heat. When they are cool enough to handle, place them in an ovenproof dish and drizzle the 2 tbsp olive oil over them. Place in the pre-heated oven (200C/375F) and bake for 15-20 minutes.
- Serve at room temperature.
- The idea of baking the stuffed peppers in the hot oven at the end is a very good one. I didn’t do that but next time I will: the slightly browned edges add to the irresistible appeal of these peppers.
- Make sure that the rice is cooked through and through. How many times have I had dolma like this ‘outside’ and the rice is uncooked. The mark of a careless cook!
- With all dolma, I always lightly salt the inside of the vegetable waiting to be stuffed.
- This recipe makes a huge amount! You can easily halve it.
Notes: I have recently added a blog to my favourites: Levantine Musings.
It’s a serious blog written by an American friend with huge experience in Turkey and the Middle East. If you want to know more about what’s happening here, I highly recommend that you check it out.
I would also like to add that I am always thrilled to hear from my followers! Recently I have had such lovely communications from friends whom I don’t know but who are nice enough to email! In the end, they feel like and ultimately become, friends.