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Stuffed Peppers (Middle Eastern Style)
Stuffing vegetables is a huge thing in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, known as dolma. Other than the iconic warak enab (stuffed grape leaves), people stuff anything from zucchini, eggplant or bell peppers (capsicum).
Stuffed peppers are a very savory and hearty dish that takes less than 15 minutes to put together. Let me show you step-by-step how to make Middle Eastern stuffed peppers.
Vegetable Stuffing aka Dolma
Dolma is a concept in Middle Eastern, Turkish and Mediterranean cuisines. The word dolma originates from the Turkish word “dolmak” which means “to be stuffed”. Dolma is an umbrella term for various types from stuffed vegetables, not one dish in particular. The most popular vegetables for stuffing are grape leaves, cabbage leaves, eggplant, zucchini, onions, tomatoes and peppers (capsicum).
Today, dolma are popular in Turkey, almost the entire Middle East (Jordan, Iraq, Egypt to Iran) and even in parts of Europe, such as Greece. In many regions, the original term dolma is used and understood. Besides, there are many additional terms that basically mean the same thing. For example, in Arabic dolma is often referred to as mahshi, the Arabic word for “stuffed”.
The type of vegetable and the stuffing vary according to the country. Rice or bulgur are the foundation for most dolma dishes. The filling can include ground beef or chopped vegetables (for vegetarian fillings).
While some dolma dishes take hours to prepare, stuffed paprika is one of the fastest and easiest dolma dishes that there are.
Ingredients for Stuffed Peppers
To make stuffed peppers, you’ll need a few simple ingredients. First, there are the ingredients for the stuffing which will be mixed together and added to the peppers (raw). Besides, you’ll need a few condiments and spices to create the sauce in which the peppers will cook.
For the stuffing:
- Bell peppers: Also known as capsicum are the main ingredient to your dish. You can take any color of bell pepper. I personally like the yellow ones most as they are mild in taste. To make your dish colorful (great when having guests), you could go for a mix of red, yellow and green peppers. Medium peppers work best as they are sweeter and cook faster than large peppers.
- Rice: Rice is by far the most common ingredient for the stuffing. Any type of medium or long grain rice works for this recipe. I usually go for Basmati rice.
- Ground beef: Raw rice and raw ground beef are mixed together (with some seasonings). This concept is known as hashweh in Arabic cooking. If you don’t eat beef, you can use ground lamb instead. Both work equally well.
- Garlic (garlic cloves)
- Seasonings: A pinch of salt and Seven Spice blend (Baharat), a Middle Eastern spice blend, are all you need. More on baharat and where to buy it below.
- Water: A bit of water to add some moisture to the filling.
For the sauce:
- Strained tomatoes (canned crushed tomatoes)
- Pomegranate syrup
- Garlic (garlic cloves)
- Seasonings: Seven Spice blend (Baharat), dried mint, a pinch of salt.
Note: The exact quantities (according to the amount of servings) can be found in the recipe card at the end of this recipe.
How to Make Stuffed Peppers
Ready to make stuffed peppers? Let’s get started!
Step 1: Wash the rice
Wash the rice three times until the water runs clear. That step shouldn’t be skipped (for any rice recipe), as washing the rice will remove any excess starch and result in a better texture (your rice will be more fluffy). Set aside the washed rice.
Step 2: Prepare the peppers
The peppers should be deseeded to make space for the filling. To do so, cut off the top part of the peppers, about a centimeter or half an inch below the stem. Pull out the core including the seeds and dispose of them. Set aside the cored peppers.
Step 3: Prepare the garlic
Peel the garlic cloves and crush them. Half of the garlic is used for the rice-meat mixture in the next step. Set aside the other half to use for the sauce.
Step 4: Prepare the stuffing
Place the ground beef and the washed rice in a large bowl. Add half of the crushed garlic, the seasonings for the stuffing (salt and Seven Spice) as well as some water. Knead with your hands to make sure all the ingredients are well mixed.
The stuffing is raw when added to the peppers. Don’t worry about mixing the raw meat and uncooked rice. It will cook all the way through in the peppers.
Step 5: Add the stuffing
Add a few tablespoons of the filling to the peppers. Make sure to divide the filling evenly so that each pepper is around ¾ filled. Peppers usually vary in size so you might need more or less for each piece. Make sure not to press down the filling too much. Instead, fill it in the peppers loosely. The rice will expand during the cooking process. Transfer the stuffed peppers to a large saucepan.
The peppers don’t have to be parboiled. They will become tender while cooking in the sauce. However, if you want them to be extra tender, you can boil them in water for 2-3 minutes before you stuff them. Some people also like to roast them in the oven prior to stuffing them. It certainly adds to the flavor, but it adds to the preparation time (you’ll need to roast them for about 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven, so add about 20-25 minutes to the total time).
Step 6: Prepare the sauce
In a large bowl or tall pitcher, we’ll now prepare the sauce in which the peppers will cook. Add strained tomatoes, pomegranate syrup, Seven Spice blend, dried mint, salt, the second half of the crushed garlic to the bowl. Whisk to combine.
Step 7: Add sauce to saucepan
Transfer the sauce to the saucepan. Spread the sauce around the peppers. It’s fine if some of the sauce gets onto the peppers. Make sure you add enough water to the saucepan. The water should almost reach the top of the peppers, but not submerge them. Depending on the size of your saucepan, you need to add 3-4 cups (¾ – 1 litre) of water to your saucepan, in addition to the sauce.
Step 8: Cover
Place a small plate onto the peppers. This is to fixate them and avoid them from floating in the water while cooking. Additionally, close the saucepan with a lid.
Step 9: Cook
Bring to a boil on high heat and let boil for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low. Let the stuffed peppers simmer for about 45-60 minutes. The peppers will be tender, and the rice-meat mixture fully cooked.
How to Serve Stuffed Peppers?
The best thing about stuffed peppers is that it can be served as a comfort food as well as on special occasions. If you serve them for your family on a busy workday, place the saucepan on the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves.
Serve 1-2 peppers per person. Always add a few tablespoons of sauce onto each pepper when serving. Sprinkle some finely chopped parsley.
What to Serve with Stuffed Peppers
If you’re short in time, simply serve with some plain yogurt. If you’re making stuffed peppers for guests or simply have a bit more time to prepare side dishes, you can prepare a yogurt sauce, a salad (simple green salad, fattoush or tabbouli). You can also serve some roasted or cut up vegetables with your stuffed peppers.
Make Ahead & Storage
Stuffed peppers can be perfectly made ahead of time. If you have a large saucepan, you can easily fit 10-12 medium peppers, which makes 6 servings (2 peppers per serving).
Have leftovers? Let cool completely after cooking (lid closed). Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Warm up in the microwave or on the stovetop.
By the way, you’re likely going to have some leftover sauce in the saucepan. You can use it for other dolma dishes, so don’t throw it away.
Any Questions or Feedback?
If you liked this recipe, I’d appreciate it if you could leave a star rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ below. In case you’ve any questions or feedback, please leave me a comment (down the page). I’m happy to help you make delicious Middle Eastern food at home.
Stuffed Peppers (Middle Eastern Style)
Middle Eastern style stuffed peppers (stuffed capsicums) with rice and ground beef stuffing. A healthy yet nutritious meal that comes together in less than 15 minutes.
For the stuffing:
- 6 bell peppers medium, any color
- 300 g (2/3 lb) ground beef or lamb
- 150 g (3/4 cups) Basmati rice
- 2 garlic cloves
- 70 ml (1/3 cups) water
- 3 tsp Seven Spice blend see notes
- Pinch of salt to taste
For the sauce:
- 250 g (1 cup) strained tomatoes canned tomato puree
- 750 ml (3 cups) water see notes
- 3 Tbsp pomegranate syrup
- 2 tsp Seven Spice blend
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 2 garlic cloves
- Pinch salt
- Start by washing the rice. Set aside.
- Cut off the top part of the peppers. Remove the core and the seeds. Set aside.
- Crush the garlic cloves. Set half of the garlic aside for later (you’ll need it for the sauce). The other half will be used in the next step.
- Add the raw ground beef to a large bowl. Add the washed rice (also raw), half of the crushed garlic and the other ingredients for the stuffing (water, Seven Spice blend and salt) to the bowl. Knead well with your hands to mix all the ingredients.
- Add some of the stuffing to the peppers. Peppers usually slightly vary in size, so you might need more or less for each piece. Place the stuffing loosely into the peppers (don’t press it down too much) to allow the rice to expand. The peppers should be around ¾ filled, leaving around 2-3 cm / ¾ – 1 inch on the top. Place the stuffed peppers in a large saucepan.
- Use a large bowl or a tall pitcher to make the tomato sauce. Add the ingredients for the sauce: strained tomatoes, Seven Spice blend, dried mint, pomegranate syrup, salt and the second half of the crushed garlic. Whisk to combine.
- Add the sauce to the saucepan. Fill up with water, up until the peppers (don’t submerge them!). Depending on your saucepan, you’ll need around 3-4 cups (¾ – 1 liter) of water for the sauce.
- Cover the peppers with a small plate to fixate the peppers. Then close the saucepan with a lid.
- Bring to a boil on high heat. Let boil for about 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 45-60 minutes until the peppers are tender and the rice-meat mixture fully cooked.
- Garnish with some finely chopped parsley (or coriander) leaves. Serve hot with plain yogurt and a salad of your choice. Add some of the tomato sauce onto the peppers when serving.
- Seven Spice is a Middle Eastern spice blend. You can find it in any Middle Eastern or Turkish grocery store as well as online.
- The amount of water depends on the size of your peppers and saucepan. I generally make a sauce consisting of tomato sauce and spices and add water (ratio of 1:3). You can add more tomato sauce for a more intense tomato flavor. On the other hand, you could also add less tomato sauce and add more water. It comes down to your personal preference!
- Pomegranate syrup, also known as pomegranate molasses, gives the dish its special flavor. It has a hint of bitterness and sweetness combined. Similar to spices, you can find pomegranate syrup in most Middle Eastern stores as well as online. If you don’t have pomegranate syrup, I recommend that you add one cube of chicken or vegetable stock to give your sauce some flavor. If you’d like to maintain the sour-sweet note of pomegranate syrup, you can substitute it with lemon juice and sugar.
- Rice and meat shouldn’t be precooked for the mixture. You’ll add the raw ingredients (raw rice and meat) into the peppers. Don’t worry, they will both cook thoroughly inside the peppers. What’s important is that you add enough water to the saucepan. Some of the sauce will get into the peppers while boiling. After an initial 5 minutes of boiling, you should reduce the heat and let the peppers simmer.
- Leftover sauce? Some of the sauce is sprinkled onto the peppers when serving them. If you have time leftover sauce, you can freeze it for later use (cool before freezing). The sauce freezes for up to a year. You can use it for stuffed peppers as well as other stuffed vegetable recipes, such as warak enab (stuffed grape leaves).
- The nutritional values are rough indications. They can vary according to the exact weight, type and brand of your ingredients.
Calories: 439kcalCarbohydrates: 55gProtein: 18gFat: 16gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 53mgSodium: 168mgPotassium: 803mgFiber: 5gSugar: 16gVitamin A: 5707IUVitamin C: 235mgCalcium: 93mgIron: 5mg
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