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Stuffed Peppers and Zucchini (Courgettes) with Bulgur, Ground Meat and Spices; Antakya (Antioch) Style – Kabak ve Biber Dolmasi, Antakya Usulu

Stuffed peppers and zucchini with bulgur, ground meat & onion

Stuffed peppers and zucchini with bulgur, ground meat & onion

Some of the food we eat has the power to transport us to our childhood, have a special link to bond us with those precious memories. These stuffed peppers and courgettes (zucchini) have such power on me; they are the delicious gateways to take me back home, right to my mother’s as well as my grandmother’s kitchen in the ancient city of Antioch, Antakya.

My Grandmother’s 450 year old house in ancient Antioch; we used to gather around a big table in the courtyard for wonderful feasts

Preparing the dolma is quite a grand ritual at home; cousins, sisters, whoever available, gather around a big table; filled with trays of vegetables and stuffing. Some prepare the vegetables, scooping the flesh out, some make the filling, and some do the stuffing. These all happen, of course, with constant flow of Turkish coffee and tea (cay) and catching up! We would then eagerly wait for the dolma to be cooked; then me and my sister would eat the dolma with a dollop of plain yoghurt on top. We used to call them our “savory ice cream”; I am now trying this trick on my children:)

My mother rolling the stuffed vine leaves; we would all help preparing the vine leaves, removing stalks, or making Turkish coffee!

We Turks love stuffing vegetables. The word dolma is used for the vegetables like aubergines, peppers, courgettes that are stuffed. Fruits such as apples, quince and plums can be stuffed too. We also stuff vine leaves (that is called sarma, here is the link for the recipe) and cabbage leaves (lahana sarma, here is the link for that recipe), either with an aromatic rice, pine nuts and currants or with ground meat, rice, herbs and spices.

Stuffed peppers with aromatic rice and herb filling

This recipe comes from the ancient town of Antakya, Antioch, where my roots are from. This is the region where bulgur, red pepper paste, pomegranate molasses and spices like red pepper flakes, cumin, and mint are used frequently. All these add such rich, wonderful flavor to the dishes, and very healthy too. I used bulgur instead of the traditional rice for stuffing, like we do in Antakya. Bulgur’s nutty, wonderful flavor adds another dimension to the dish, with bonus of bulgur’s many health benefits. In Antakya, once the flesh of the vegetables taken out, they are given a little wash with pomegranate molasses & little water. The tangy and sweet flavor of the molasses adds to the richness of the flavor. You can use a good balsamic vinegar if you can’t get hold of pomegranate molasses.

 I hope you enjoy this delicious, satisfying dolma packed with flavor and memories and have a chance to visit the fascinating Antioch sometime.

 Serves 6-8

Preparation time: 40 minutes               Cooking time: 40-45 minutes

3 medium size courgettes (zucchini)

3 medium size bell peppers

30ml/2tbsp pomegranate molasses or good balsamic vinegar, mixed with 1tbsp water

3 small tomatoes, cut in half (to cap the dolmas)

6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed

For the filling:

110gr/4oz/ 1/2 cup ground beef/lamb or ground turkey

115gr/4oz/generous 1/2 cup coarse bulgur wheat

1 medium onion, finely chopped or grated

Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

10ml/1tbsp olive oil

10ml/1 tbsp concentrated tomato paste or red pepper paste

5ml/1 tsp red pepper flakes/chilli flakes

5ml/1tsp ground cumin

5ml/1tsp dried mint

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Bowl of plain (natural yoghurt) or cucumber, yoghurt dip, cacik  to serve

Stuffing ingredients all together

Put the ground meat in a large bowl and stir in the rest of the filling ingredients. Season and knead, until all blended well. The filling is ready.

Stuffing ingredients, after mixing

Now, let’s prepare the vegetables. Cut the stalk ends of the peppers and save them aside (we will need them to cap the stuffed peppers later). Scoop out the seeds of the peppers.

Scoop out the seeds of the peppers to prepare for stuffing

Cut the courgettes in half. Scoop out the flesh of the courgettes with the help of a long coffee spoon (in Antakya, we use a long and thin scooping device made just for that purpose). Carefully remove some of the flesh to create a cavity that is large enough to stuff. Take care to leave the bottom of the courgettes intact.

Taking the flesh out of the courgettes (zucchini); long coffee spoon would work here

I Iike to save the flesh of the courgettes, as they go very well in the bulgur, tomato and courgette recipe. You can keep them in a sealed freezer bag in the freezer up to 3 months.

Give a little wash to the peppers and zucchini with pomegranate molasses and water mix

Mix the water with the pomegranate molasses (or balsamic vinegar) and wash the inside of the peppers and courgettes with this mixture. Add the left overs of this delicious juice to filling mixture, mix well.

Take spoonfuls of the filling mixture and pack it into the vegetables. Take care not to overfill to the top, as bulgur will need a little space to expand. Place the stalk ends and the halved tomatoes as lids. Place the stuffed vegetables upright, packed tightly, in a heavy pan. Pour a couple of cups of water to the pan, until it covers the half of vegetables. Stir in the cloves of garlic and cover. Bring the liquid to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for about 40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Cap the stuffed peppers and zucchini with the pepper stalks and halved tomatoes

Serve hot with plain natural yoghurt or Cacik; yoghurt and cucumber dip.

Stuffed peppers and zucchini; they go so well with plain yoghurt by the side

Afiyet Olsun!

Snapshot from home, Turkey: Ancient city of Antioch, Antakya 

Here is a new section in the blog! Whenever I can, I would like to give a little snapshot of fascinating places in Turkey that I have visited. Food and travel complement one another so well, and I hope this part could bring the places alive and inspire you to visit sometime.

Ancient Antioch, Antakya; cradle of many civilizations

Here, I would like to introduce my beloved, ancient home town Antakya, located in the southern part of Turkey.  Antakya was one of the three biggest cities of the Roman Empire and the capital of the east.  Antakya was founded in B.C. 4 by the Syrian King, Seleukos, and he named the city after his father, Antiochos.  Over the centuries, the city was under Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and French rule.  As of 1939, Antakya became a part of the Republic of Turkey.

One of the many grand mosaics at the Antakya Mosaic Museum

Antakya Mosaic Museum is the world’s 2nd biggest mosaic museum in terms of the richness, quality and the size of the mosaics.  The mosaics you’ll see there are from the Roman and the Byzantine periods, and they are simply fascinating.  The museum also hosts magnificent sculptures; the most important of them is the 3 meter high figure of Apollo.

Friendly children of Antakya, guiding us towards the Church of St Peter

St Pierre Church (Church of St Peter) is another fascinating sight. St Peter’s Church, built in a cave, on the skirts of Habib Neccar Mountain in Antakya, is known as one of the first places that the early Christians gathered.  St Petrus, one of the followers of Jesus (A.D. 29- 30), came to Antakya and used this “cave” to expand Christianity. St PierreChurch is regarded as the first church of Christianity outside Jerusalem.  Due to its importance, Pope Paul 6th declaredSt Pierre Church a pilgrimage for Christians.  Every year on June 29th, Remembrance of St Petrus ceremonies take place in Antakya, with the participation of thousands of Christians from around the world.

Church of St Peter, Antakya

Another wonderful visit in Antakya is the Long Market, Uzun Carsi, city’s ancient market. This is the place I visited many times as a child, to get our daily bread, yoghurt, cheese and vegetables, when we used to visit my Grandma. The smells and colors are simply mesmerizing. Antakya’s cuisine has an incredible richness of fresh herbs and spices, packed with flavor.  A type of wild oregano, zahter, cumin and red pepper flakes are used very commonly.  The red pepper paste, biber salcasi, is one of the landmarks of Antakya too.  The richness of this red pepper paste adds a wonderful flavor to casseroles and meat dishes.  Another specialty food item worth mentioning is the nar eksisi, the syrup made from concentrated sour pomegranate juice.  This incredibly rich, concentrated flavor is a must for many traditional salads and meze spreads.

 

The Long Market (Uzun Carsi) in Antakya, packed with mesmerising spices, olive oil based soaps and many more

Hand carved wooden spoons in the Long Market; I use them everyday!

This is the Tunel of Vespasion, in the village of Kapisuyu, Antakya. It was built as a water channel in the 2nd century. Another fascinating visit.

The Tunnel of Vespasion, Antakya – Hatay

There are many more photos of my travels to Turkey here, if you would like to have a look.

Happy travels to you all!

 

 

 

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Spice Up Your Dinners – Easy, Delicious, Healthy Dishes for Entertaining

Our Turkish cooking class; learning about the red pepper paste and spices

What makes the food we eat memorable? Sure, there is the taste element, smell, presentation of the food; they all contribute greatly for making the food special. In Turkish culture, there is also the so important “sharing” element; we think even simple food tastes better when shared with family and friends. My grandmother used to put extra two plates at our dinner table, as someone would always just turn up and join our dinner table, happy days. Hospitality, generosity is a big part of Turkish culture.

Dried aubergines (eggplants); they are wonderful when stuffed with aromatic rice filling

It was a great pleasure to share Turkish food and culture yesterday, at my Turkish cooking class, with wonderful, enthusiastic foodies. We cooked and enjoyed some easy, delicious Turkish food together, and here I wanted share a few good ideas with you to recreate these delicious, easy dinners at home.

Sizzling chicken kebabs and roasted vegetables, with lambs lettuce & yoghurt salad by the side

For example, take this Sizzling chicken kebabs over pitta bread with roasted vegetables. You can prepare many stages of this dish like marinating the chicken and preparing the tomato based sauce ahead of time, which makes the dish a great choice for entertaining. The kebab looks impressive, tastes wonderful and you can ensemble the final dish at the day of your party – so the host gets to enjoy the company too! You can replace the chicken with any other meat of your choice, or for a vegetarian option, mushrooms, eggplants, courgettes all work very well.

How about serving this refreshing lambs lettuce, yoghurt and dried mint salad by the side of the kebabs? That’s what we did at the class, and this yoghurt based salad complemented the spicy kebabs really well. The salad is so easy to make, and also makes a wonderful and healthy lunch alternative too.

Baked dried apricots with walnuts stuffing; delicious with a dollop of vanilla ice cream by the side.

Last but not least, we finished the class with this delicious baked dried apricots dessert with nuts, served with vanilla ice cream, you can view the recipe below.

I hope all these dishes could inspire you to create something delicious to share. To view more photos from the cooking class (many thanks to dear Tina for the wonderful photos!) and check out my next Turkish cooking class on Saturday, June 16th please visit this cooking class page.

Dried Apricots stuffed with walnuts –Cevizli Kayisi Tatlisi

One of Turkey’s most prolific fruits is the apricot. Because of their abundance, some of the yearly harvest is allowed to dry in the hot summer sun in order to be enjoyed all year round. Malatya, a city in southeast Turkey, is particularly famous for excellent dried apricots which are exported throughout the world. Apricots are great snacks; they are packed with fiber, antioxidants as well as their naturally rich flavor. This easy dessert is great for parties, sharing with friends or family or just indulging yourself.

Dried apricots are packed with flavour; a very healthy snack alternative

Serves 4-6

Preparation time – 10 minutes                       Cooking time – 25 minutes

225 gr / 8 oz dried Turkish apricots

3 fl oz / 1/3 cup water

30ml/2 tablespoons butter

30ml/2 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:

75 gr /1/2 cup crushed walnuts

50 gr / 1/4 cup sugar

Crushed pistachio nuts for garnish

Vanilla ice cream to serve

Preheat oven to 180 C/ 350 F

Soak the dried apricots in warm water for 10-15 minutes (Prepacked dried apricots tend to be softer, if that’s the case, please skip this stage). Then drain the water.

Crushed walnuts and sugar

Split open the apricots and stuff each apricot with a spoonful of crushed walnut and sugar mixture and close it up. Slightly grease a baking tray with oil and place the apricots on it. Pour the water over the tray. Place a little butter on the top of each stuffed apricot. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the apricots and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

Split open the dried apricots and stuff with walnuts & sugar mixture

Arrange them in a serving dish and sprinkle over some crushed pistachio nuts. This light dessert goes well with some vanilla ice cream or clotted cream.

Afiyet Olsun!

 

And here comes the Awards

Ozlem’s Turkish Table received the Sunshine award; many thanks for this lovely, uplifting award Peri’s Spice Ladle; I very much enjoy your delicious and educational posts on Indian cuisine.

The rules of the award:

• Place award picture, link to and thank the person who nominated you.
• Answer the ten questions posed to you.
• Pass on the award to 10 or more bloggers.

The 10 questions and their answers:

Favorite color: Pastel colors, especially green.

            Favorite animal: Giraffes; absolutely adore them; hope to see them up close!

           Favorite number: 5

          Favorite non-alcoholic drink:Turkish coffee, especially enjoyed with friends and family.

          Facebook or Twitter: Enjoy them both, perhaps slightly more to Facebook

         My passion: Food and travel; shared with family and friends.

         Getting or giving presents:  Love giving; (and look forward to receiving, when I can! :

         Favorite pattern: Turkish tiles; they tell stories of thousands of years

         Favorite day of the week: Saturday – the weekend!

        Favorite flower: Alliums, I absolutely love them.

Here is the chance to acknowledge some of my favorite blogs. I would like to nominate the below bloggers to the Sunshine Award; they bring sunshine and smile on my face with their wonderful posts, articles and photos. I’d appreciate if you can take a moment to visit them:

Turkey’s For Life

My Turkish Joys

My Italian Kitchen

Foods of  Turkey

Back to Bodrum

October Farm

Nadia Swindell Photography -non-food blog, check out Nadia’s wonderful photography

Kalofagas – Wonderful Greek food & Beyond

And before I sign off; many thanks to Cuisine de Provence  for the lovely Liebster Blog Award.

I am delighted to pass this award to Peri’s Spice Ladle; your recipes inspire and posts teach me so much about Indian cuisine, thank you!

 

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Warm Hummus with Red Pepper Flakes infused Olive oil

The humble but ever so tasty hummus is delicious, healthy and so easy to make. I wonder if you have ever tried hummus warm? In Turkey, especially in the South, hummus is served warm with red pepper flakes infused olive oil or with some sautéed pastirma (similar to pastrami; dried cured beef coated with spices) over the top. I’d very much encourage you to try hummus this way, as I feel you may be pleasantly surprised, and maybe converted to eat hummus warm as many of my friends have done.

Please adjust the hummus recipe according to your taste, as some like it garlicky, some with more tahini and others may prefer it more lemony. You can get tahini, the crushed sesame seeds in paste, in most supermarkets these days and Middle Eastern stores.  This warm hummus would make a wonderful appetizer to share with friends and family. It also complements any grilled meat or vegetable beautifully.

Pita bread is the perfect accompaniment.

Warm hummus with red pepper flakes infused olive oil; a delicious mezze

Warm hummus with red pepper flakes infused olive oil; a delicious mezze

Serves 4

Preparation time – 15 minutes (add 1 hour if used dried chickpeas and soaking overnight)

225gr/8oz dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight or for at least 6 hours or equivalent amount of precooked chickpeas in can

5ml /1 teaspoon salt – please adjust according to your taste-

60ml/4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

30ml/2 tablespoons water

1-2 garlic cloves, crushed – optional-

Juice of 1 lemon

1-2 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)

5ml/1 teaspoon (or a little more!) ground cumin

To serve:

30ml/2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Slices of pita bread to serve

 

If using dried chickpeas, drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a pan with plenty of cold water. Bring to boil and boil for a few minutes. Then lower the heat and partially cover the pan, Simmer the chickpeas for 1 hour, until they are soft and easy to mash.

Chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, water, e.v. olive oil, salt and cumin; all to blitz together

If precooked chickpeas are used, drain the juice and give them a little wash in a colander. Put the precooked (or cooked) chickpeas in a food processor and blitz them together with the extra virgin olive oil, water, lemon juice, garlic and tahini. If it appears thick and difficult to blend, add a little more olive oil or water. Season with salt and mix in the cumin. Process until you achieve a soft, smooth paste. Refrigerate until required.

 If you would like to have the hummus warm as in the Turkish way, just before serving, warm this mixture in a pan for a couple of minutes. In a separate pan, heat the olive oil gently and stir in the red pepper flakes. Combine for a minute or two and let the red pepper flakes infuse to the olive oil. Put the warm hummus in a plate and drizzle the red pepper flakes infused olive oil over the top. You may sprinkle some extra ground cumin over the top, if you like. Serve with pita bread.

 Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

A little note:

Lahana Sarma; Stuffed Cabbage Leaves with ground meat, rice, onion and spices

There are many ways to show someone how much you care, and producing something homemade (be it food or drink), is one of the sweetest ways, at least for me. These stuffed cabbage leaves, made by my mother in Istanbul, travelled across thousands of miles and reached us last weekend- thanks to my husband kindly brought them to us! Special memories and thoughts came in the shape of stuffed cabbage leaves, one of my favorite, and brought a precious glimpse of home and happy smiles! Maybe a cup of tea, some hummus or anything you fancy; a little food/drink to share may go a long way 🙂

 

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