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Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes with Ground Meat and Rice – Dolma


Stuffed peppers and tomatoes in ground meat, onion and aromatic rice; domates ve biber dolmasi – delicious and also gluten-free

Some of the food we eat has the ability to transport us to our childhood, have a special link to bond us with those precious memories. These stuffed peppers and tomatoes 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. 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 dolmas 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 own children 🙂

A dollop of plain or garlicky yoghurt over the dolmas is delicious

A dollop of plain or garlicky yoghurt over the dolmas is delicious

We Turks love stuffing vegetables. The word dolma is used for the vegetables like aubergines, peppers, courgettes, tomatoes that can be stuffed. I like to save the scooped flesh of the tomatoes and use it in the sauce of the dolmas. Stuffed tomatoes are especially a staple of the summer season when tomatoes are abundant and at their peak. For a richer taste, you can also add red pepper paste, biber salcasi or tomato paste to the sauce. This dish is made from wholegrain basmati rice and it is also gluten-free.

I am passionate about our traditional, home cooked all in one pot stews, casseroles, dolmas; not only healthy and delicious, you can make these ahead of time and fantastic for a family meal. In my hometown Antakya, wholesome bulgur is also used instead of rice in the filling for dolma; varieties of stuffed peppers and tomatoes as well as other traditional Turkish stews and casseroles are included in my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table , Recipes from My Homeland– you can order a signed copy for worldwide delivery at this link, including USA and Canada

Hope you enjoy these dolmas, Afiyet Olsun,


Serves 6-8

Preparation time: 40 minutes                        Cooking time: 45 minutes

3 medium size bell peppers – or 5-6 small bell peppers

4 medium tomatoes

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 wholegrain basmati rice, rinsed

2 medium onion, grated

Bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

10ml/1tbsp olive oil

10ml/2 tsp dried mint

10ml / 2 tsp ground black pepper

Salt to taste

For the sauce:

The flesh of the scooped tomatoes, finely chopped

15 ml/1 tbsp. olive oil

15ml/1 tbsp. red pepper paste or tomato paste – optional-


Red pepper flakes to serve – optional-

Bowl of plain (natural yoghurt) or garlicky yoghurt to serve


Filling ingredients for the dolmas; dried mint and parsley add a delicious, refreshing flavour

Filling ingredients for the dolmas; dried mint and parsley add a delicious, refreshing flavour

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.

Scoop out the seeds of the peppers; save the flesh of the tomatoes

Scoop out the seeds of the peppers; save the caps of the peppers and tomatoes.

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.

Save the flesh of the tomatoes to go at the sauce of the dolmas

Save the flesh of the tomatoes to go at the sauce of the dolmas, stuffed peppers and tomatoes.

Slice the tops of the tomatoes and save them aside. Using a spoon, scoop out the tomato flesh, chop them finely and reserve in a bowl. Take care not to pierce through the skin of the tomatoes.

Stuff the tomatoes and peppers with the filling until they are about ¾ full.

Stuff the tomatoes and peppers with the filling until they are about ¾ full.

Take a few spoonfuls of the filling and pack it into the vegetables, until they are about ¾ full. Take care not to overfill to the top, as the rice filling will need some space to expand. Place the stalk ends and tomato tops as lids.

Once cooked, pour a little of the dolmas’ delicious sauce over each stuffed pepper, tomato before serving.

Once cooked, pour a little of the dolmas’ delicious sauce over each stuffed pepper, tomato before serving.

Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in to a heavy pan.  Place the stuffed vegetables upright, packed tightly, in the pan. For the sauce; combine the chopped tomato flesh with 1 tbsp. red pepper paste or tomato paste (if you are using, for a richer taste) and stir in to the pan. Then pour a couple of cups of water around the stuffed vegetables, until it covers just about the half of vegetables. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Stir in the cloves of garlic and cover. Bring the liquid to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for about 45 – 50 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the filling cooked.

Domates ve biber dolmasi; stuffed tomatoes and peppers; delicious & gluten-free

Domates ve biber dolmasi; stuffed tomatoes and peppers; delicious & gluten-free

Once cooked, I like to take their cap off and pour a little of the dolmas’ delicious sauce over each stuffed pepper and tomato before serving and put their cap back on. Serve hot with plain natural or garlic yoghurt by the side. You can also  sprinkle red pepper flakes over the dolmas if you like.

Afiyet Olsun,


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Rolled grape vine leaves with aromatic rice; Yaprak Sarma

Etli Sarma – Vine Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat, Rice and Herbs

We made the etli sarma – stuffed vine leaves with meat and rice – with my mother when I was in Istanbul, it was a very special experience. Mother’s sarma (a version of dolma, done with grape vine leaves) is always the best and I was watching her with all my senses. This is a real treat; you can get together with friends and family and make it together and then enjoy it. I love it best when served with plain yoghurt and a little crusty bread to soak up wonderful juices.

You can also make the same sarma/dolma using green or red cabbage leaves.

Serves 4 -6
Preparation time – 15 minutes Cooking time – 40 minutes

30 grape vine leaves
350 gr/12 oz ground lamb or beef
2 small onions, finely chopped
115 gr/4 oz long grain rice, rinsed and drained
1 bunch fresh dill and flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
5 ml/ 1 teaspoon dried mint
45 ml/ 3 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground pepper to taste
8 fl oz/ 1 cup water to cook the stuffed vine leaves
90 ml (or more) / 6 tablespoon plain yoghurt to serve

Place the ground meat in a bowl and stir in the onions, rice, herbs and spices. Season, combine with 1 tablespoon olive oil and knead well.

Lay one of the vine leaves on a flat surface and spoon some filling in the middle of the leaf. Pull the leaf over the filling, fold in the sides, then roll into a tight log (try not to over fill, as the filling may ooze out). Arrange the vine leaves, seam side down, in a deep wide pan. Pack them tightly together, layer by layer.

Mix the remaining oil with 1 cup (8 fl oz) water, then pour over the vine leaves. The water should almost cover the top layer, so you may need to add more.

Place a heavy plate over the dolmas and put the pan on medium heat. Once it starts to bubble, lower the heat, cover and cook gently for about 40 minutes, until the rice and meat are cooked.

Serve hot, with a dollop of yoghurt and some crusty bread by the side.

Afiyet Olsun!

I am passionate about healthy, wholesome Turkish cuisine; over 90 authentic recipes are included at my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table – Signed hardback copies are available at this link and delivered worldwide promptly.

Aromatic rice for stuffing vegetables and vine leaves – Zeytinyagli Dolma Ici

Turkish people are very fond of stuffed vegetables – dolmas. Stuffed tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are the year round favorites, cabbage leaves are stuffed in winter and vine leaves and zucchini flowers herald a fresh option in springtime. The success of any great dolma, which literally means “stuffed”, relies heavily on getting the stuffing right and the generous use of onions is of utmost importance. This recipe is for the stuffing used in “zeytinyagli dolma” recipes, which are made with generous usage of olive oil and without meat. They are eaten cold as an entrée or meze and a wonderful vegetarian option.

Recipe adapted from Angie Mitchell’s wonderful book, Secrets of the Turkish Kitchen.

Serves 4-6
Preparation time – 15 minutes Cooking time – 15 minutes

30 ml/ 2 tablespoons currants
8 fl. oz /1 cup long grain rice
2 fl oz / 1/4 cup olive oil
30 ml/ 2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 medium onions, finely chopped or grated
5 ml / 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 fl oz / 1 cup hot water
1 handful of freshly chopped parsley and dill
15 ml/ 1 tablespoon dried mint
Salt and sugar to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the currants in hot water to allow them to swell, drain and put to one side.

Heat the oil in a deep pan and gently sauté the pine nuts until golden. Add the chopped onions and sauté until soft. Add the rice, currants and cinnamon, while stirring gently to ensure the rice grains are evenly coated. Add the hot water, salt and sugar, stir once and continue cooking for about 10 minutes or until the cooking liquid is absorbed and steam holes appear in the surface of the rice. It is important not to stir the rice during this time.

Remove from the heat, cover the top of the pan with a cloth, replace the lid and set aside to cool for 20 minutes.

Season with freshly ground black pepper. Add the herbs and combine gently with a wooden spoon. The rice stuffing is now ready to stuff into the vine leaves.

Grapevine leaves stuffed with aromatic rice – Preparation

Have a go at making these fantastic dolmas, it is really much easier than you think and you will certainly impress your guests.

Serves 4-6
Preparation time – 35 minutes Cooking time – 35 minutes

25 grapevine leaves
Aromatic rice stuffing (explained above)
30 ml/ 2 tablespoons olive oil
8 fl oz/ 1 cup hot water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and sugar to taste
Sprigs of dill for garnish
Lemon wedges to serve

If you have fresh leaves, soften them in boiling salted water, drain and rinse under cold running water. If using the preserved variety, soak the leaves thoroughly in a few changes of water to remove the brine.
Cut away the stalks of the grapevine leaves. Place each leaf with the mat side facing you and one by one, place a walnut sized piece of rice stuffing at the base of each leaf. Fold the edges inwards over the stuffing and roll up to form a finger sized dolma. Pay attention not to stuff them too loose or too tight.
Line your pan with any discarded grapevine leaves. Arrange the dolmas in the pan seam side down and tightly side by side, creating layers. Whisk together the water, olive oil, lemon juice, sugar and salt and pour over the dolmas. Wet a circle of grease proof paper lightly and place over the dolmas. Place a heat proof dinner plate on top of this which fits easily and acts as a weight.
Cover and cook over a low heat for about 35 minutes or until the dolmas are tender. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer to a serving plate, drizzle with a little olive oil and garnish elegantly with sprigs of dill. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over.

Note : It is important not to remove the cooked dolmas from the pan before they cooled down completely. Vegetables cooked in olive oil, “Zeytinyaglis”, are served cold. Traditionally, they are cooked a day in advance or in the morning, to allow the dolmas to rest.

Afiyet Olsun, 


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