Saturday, December 7, 2013

Meat-Filled Vegetables (Delicious Dolma) - The Quintisential VB6 Dinner

Dolma means "stuffed" in Turkish, and I think this meal of stuffed vegetables is a quintisential VB6 dinner.  It is a vegetable-dominated dish that features a small amount of meat, some rice, and plenty of herbs.  Topped with garlic infused yogurt, dolma is a healthy, well-balanced, easy-to-prepare and very delicious non-vegan meal that represents the perfect compromise for the part-time vegan who is carefully watching his or her meat consumption.

I start with 1 lb. of high quality organic ground beef.  You can also use lamb, or a combination of beef and lamb.  To that, I add 1grated white onion, 1 grated juicy red tomato, a cup each of well-chopped fresh dill, mint, and Italian flat leaf parsley, 1/3 cup of uncooked long-grain rice, 1 clove of garlic (finely minced), and some salt and black pepper.  Combine.

For the vegetables, you will want about 15 of of your favorite in-season stuffable vegetables.  The most common choices are small, thinner skinned bell peppers, slender eggplants, such as Japanese eggplants, zucchinis, tomatoes, and stuffable leaves, such as cabbage and grape leaves.  Today I chose Japanese eggplants, round zucchinis (one of my favorite dolma vegetables), red and green bell peppers, poblano chiles (definitely not a traditional choice, but really delicious in dolma), and tomatoes.

I prepare the vegetables for stuffing by cleaning them and carefully removing (and reserving) all the tops.  I remove and toss the pepper seeds and membranes.  Next, I hollow out the eggplants, zucchinis, and tomatoes with my nifty vegetable corer, reserving all of the removed pulp to line the bottom of my cooking pot.  I also partially peel the eggplant, leaving long zebra stripes (pictured below).

Then I stuff all my vegetables.  And if I find I have any leftover stuffing, I just dig out another vegetable or two from the refrigerator.

Once all the vegetables are stuffed, I pull out a really big pot and line the bottom of it with all the pulp that I removed from the eggplants, zucchinis, and tomatoes.  Then I start layering the pot with the stuffed vegetables -- the firmest and heaviest vegetables go on the bottom, and the lightest and most delicate vegetables go on top.  I then add several pats of butter and about 2-3 cups of hot water mixed with 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.  Next, I sprinkle in about 1/2 teaspoon salt and place an ovenproof plate on top to weigh down the vegetables.  Finally, I bring the liquid to a boil, and cover and cook on a low heat until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, but not mushy.  It should take about a hour, but start checking for doneness after 45 minutes.

We love our dolma served with cooked bulgur on the side, and topped with a generous portion of creamy plain yogurt mixed with fresh minced garlic.  And a sprinkling of Turkish red pepper (pul biber) sets it off perfectly!