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Stuffed Peppers and Zucchini with Bulgur, Ground Meat and Spices; Antakya Style

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) 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.

Signed copies of Ozlem’s Turkish Table book, available to order at this link

I am passionate about sharing authentic Turkish recipes from my homeland and the wholesome, delicious Turkish cuisine; this lovely recipe and many more (over 90 recipes) are included at my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, Recipes from My Homeland. You can order Signed copies at this link, delivered promptly worldwide.

If you live in the US, Canada or Mexico, hardback copies of Ozlem’s Turkish Table cookery book can be purchased at this link with lower shipping rates.

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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36 Responses to Stuffed Peppers and Zucchini with Bulgur, Ground Meat and Spices; Antakya Style

  1. Alida May 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    This is a very good recipe. I have never tried bulgur wheat before but I am now really tempted. This meat stuffing must be delicious. Bookmarking! Ciao!

    • Ozlem May 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

      Ciao Alida!
      Many thanks, bulgur is widely available now in the supermarkets, and a delicious, healthy choice. It works great with onions and meat & herb stuffing, so glad you’ll have a go!

  2. BacktoBodrum May 21, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    This is a brilliant post Ozlem. I’ve never been to Antakya, but now must visit. I was making dolma at the weekend and was tempted to used bulgur instead of rice but wasn’t sure so gave in and used the old tested recipe instead. After reading this, I’ll break out the pomegranate molasses and get stuffing.

    • Ozlem May 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

      Merhaba Back to Bodrum,
      Thank you so much; Antakya has so much to offer, make sure you get to try the kunefe, mouthwateringly good!
      Bulgur really works well in dolma, and it is so filling, you cut back on the amount you eat too. Look forward to hearing how the recipe works for you : )

  3. Reinventing nadine May 22, 2012 at 4:17 am #

    We have a similar recipe in Lebanon but the stuffing is vegetarian.I too,often use bulgur too in stuffings. Your stories about Antakia are so interesting..

    • Ozlem May 22, 2012 at 8:47 am #

      Thank you Nadine; we do have vegetarian stuffings either using bulgur or rice, with lots of onions, garlic, and olive oil. We would serve the vegetarian version either cold or room temperature, with a wedge of lemon. Fascinating that we share similar culinary heritage, I look forward to checking out yours : )

  4. Nadia May 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    This was my FAVOURITE meal growing up!!! Mum used to make this a lot, and when I got a little older I used to help her. My favourite was the stuffed onion layers. Delicious! x

    • Ozlem May 23, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

      Hi Nadia:) Thank you so much for the wonderful comment; those childhood memories are priceless, aren’t they? Mumu stuffs onion layers too, and you are right, they are so delicious! Must make this sometime soon!

  5. Peri May 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Ozlem, what a treat to read and see the pictures in this post. And seeing you near your grandmom’s home is priceless:) The markets are so tempting to visit and remind of the wares sold in these small stalls in markets around India…so many treasures to be found! And Antakya is definitely on our list of things to do together…someday…soon:)

    The recipe is delicious, I used to love dolmas when I was with the Taj, got to eat them pretty often. This one must be tried…

    Thanks for this lovely post:)

    • Ozlem May 23, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

      Thank you so much Peri; from the documentaries I watch about India, you are so right, our markets are very similar; all the colors, smells and watching the life go by is amazing. How I would love to go back to Antioch together, must make the effort for it 🙂 Gald you enjoy the dolmas!

  6. Phil in the Kitchen May 22, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

    I love stuffed vegetables and these do sound so good. I’ve never thought about adding a wash to the veg before the stuffing but it sounds an excellent notion. Especially given how much I enjoy pomegranate molasses.

    • Ozlem May 23, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

      Hello Phil,

      Giving the veg a little wash (and in a way coating) with the pomegranate molasses is a very Southern Turkish tradition; I love the sweet and tangy taste it adds on, love pomegranate molasses too : )

  7. Nazira May 23, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    Being Lebanese we share some Saints from Antioch. I love learning about Ancient Christianity and where the Church started before the split of churches. It always amazes me how far these saints travelled to spread the Word. Thanks for the post 🙂

    • Ozlem May 23, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

      Hello Nazira,
      You are very welcome, it is a pleasure to share this richness of history, traditions. The Church of St Peter in Antioch is amazing, carved in Habib Neccar Mountain, a fascinating site. I am glad you enjoyed it.

  8. Turkey's For Life May 25, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Love the food from your area of Turkey. we have a restaurant here in Fethiye that specialises in Hatay food and it’s always busy. Hatay is also on our travel radar for the end of summer…or maybe Gaziantep. 🙂

    • Ozlem May 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

      Merhaba Julia,

      Oh, I think you will really enjoy checking out Hatay – and Gaziantep – amazing food, history, spices, colors.. end summer is a good time, avoid the heat : )

  9. CuisinedeProvence May 26, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Dear Özlem,
    your blog – and that is hard to do – is getting even more interesting – I love your travel photos! And your stuffed vegs looks absolutely delicious!

    • Ozlem May 26, 2012 at 10:23 am #

      Dear Barbara, so kind of you, many thanks. I do enjoy the blog, and I am grateful to meet such wonderful bloggers – and friends – like you : )! It is a joy to share the travels and food, as always.

  10. Susan May 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Hi, Ozlem,

    Thanks so much for your kind comments! We love Turkey & Turkish cuisine, so look forward to exploring your blog.

    Enjoy your weekend!

    • Ozlem May 27, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Hi Susan,
      Thank you to you too! I am delighted to find your blog, will be back soon!
      Have a lovely weekend,

  11. Ashley May 27, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Just found this blog. Will be trying this recipe, looks wonderful.

    • Ozlem May 27, 2012 at 10:15 am #

      Thank you very much Ashley; delighted that you stopped by – hope you enjoy the recipe!

  12. Laura (Tutti Dolci) June 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    I love stuffed peppers & zucchini, these look delicious!

    • Ozlem June 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

      Thank you, Laura!

  13. TasteofBeirut June 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Antioch is located in the part of Turkey that shares so many similarities with the Levantine coastline, in terms of spices and flavoring and also migrations of populations; I love these dolmas, the best ones are stuffed with bulgur as you have done here. You are so lucky to have a home in the family that is that ancient! wow!
    Have added you to my blogroll; cheers, Joumana

    • Ozlem June 11, 2012 at 9:29 am #

      Dear Joumana,
      Thank you so much, we do share a lot in common with Lebanese cuisine, spices are huge part of the cuisine for us both. It is indeed wonderful to have a home back in Antioch, roots that calls you, so big part of us. Thank you for adding me to your blogroll, I look forward to your posts!

  14. Ozlem July 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    Hello Kath, glad you enjoyed the post!

  15. Jane C April 28, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    I just made this recipe and it was fantastic! It’s on my “must make again” list! Rather than using zucchini, I used sweet mini-peppers, as well as 3 larger red peppers, and they’ll make a nice bite size mezze for my next Turkish dinner with friends. (and a nice lunch for me tomorrow) Thank you for the great recipes.

    • Ozlem Warren April 28, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      Merhaba Jane 🙂 Thank you so much for taking the time to write, I am delighted that you enjoyed the dolmas! peppers make wonderful dolmas – love their natural sweetness with the filling – and you are right, the left overs make great lunch next day! Many thanks again, afiyet olsun 🙂

  16. Ozlem September 15, 2013 at 5:37 am #

    Selam Ozlem! I was looking for a dolma recipe that had bulgur in it instead of the usual pirinc. I found your site in the processing of searching and am so happy I did. I followed your recipe exactly, reducing the amounts by about 1/3 as I only had 2 medium bell peppers and 2 zuchini-squash, and it came out perfectly!! I just came back from a 2 week trip to Turkiye to see my family and discovered nar eksisi while I was there….now I use it for everything! Thanks again!!

    • Ozlem Warren September 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

      Merhaba Ozlem : ) Thank you so much for your kind note, so glad the dolmas with bulgur worked well for you, no better compliment:) Nar eksisi is a favorite with us too, love its tangy, punchy flavor – try it out on kisir and olive salad. Cok tesekkurler, Selamlar, Ozlem

  17. Cali February 28, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

    Merhaba Ozlem! I just picked up one of those scopper things from the Middle Eastern market. I had wanted one for a while and I cant wait to use it! Is there a specific name for it?

    • Ozlem Warren February 29, 2016 at 9:34 am #

      Merhaba Cali, so glad you could get it! I don’t think it has a specific name but but some folks call it dolma kasigi/bicagi – enjoy it! x

  18. Anna January 21, 2020 at 4:25 pm #

    If you replace the bulgur with rice, does it require the same amount and cooking time?

    • Ozlem Warren January 21, 2020 at 5:24 pm #

      Hi, amount would be the same, I would allow another 10 minutes of cooking for the rice, hope you enjoy it – Afiyet Olsun, Ozlem


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