I tend to find many similarities among various cuisines that might not at all look similar from the first sight. In particular, the tradition of stuffing vegetables and leaves (or any other fruits and plants capable of being stuffed) is a common technique in many cuisines – stuffed piquillo peppers served as a tapa in Spain; stuffed zucchini blossoms in Italy; stuffed tomatoes called yemista in Greece, and so on. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, however, it is not just a technique – it is the signature dish traditionally called dolma. Vegetables, apples or grape leaves are stuffed with ground meat and rice and brightened up with a variety of herbs and spices.
Dolma is big in my family as well, and we prefer to use bell peppers for stuffing. All women in my family have their own styles of preparation of this dish, and naturally there is a never ending debate over whose stuffed peppers are better. I cheated by combining the best from each style. This recipe of stuffed peppers is my mom’s and aunt’s legacy. The meat is slowly braised for over an hour so it becomes extremely tender and juicy. I love serving stuffed bell peppers with sour cream on a side but if you prefer to keep it dairy-free, the juices from braising make a wonderful sauce!
Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 1.5 hours | Serves: 4
6 bell peppers
1 lb ground pork
1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup packed parsley, chopped
1/4 cup packed dill, chopped
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tbsp salt
Pepper to taste
1 tomato, diced
1 spring of rosemary
Prepare rice for stuffing. Rinse rice well under cold water. In a pot, combine 1/2 cup rice, 1 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover with a tightfitting lid. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until cooked halfway through. Remove from the stove and let stand for 10 minutes without removing the lid.
While rice is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add onions and carrots and sauté until soft, for about 5-7 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine rice, sautéed vegetables and ground pork. Add parsley, dill, sweet paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Prepare bell peppers for stuffing. Cut a thin slice from stem end of each bell pepper to remove its top; reserve the tops. Remove seeds and membranes.
Stuff each bell pepper with pork and vegetables mixture.
In a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold stuffed peppers in one layer, arrange a thin layer of diced tomatoes. Place bell peppers in an upright position over the tomatoes, place the reserved tops over each bell pepper. Pour enough water to cover 1/2 of stuffed peppers. Add a spring of rosemary.
Bring water to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Braise stuffed peppers on low heat for an hour, checking occasionally if the water is not boiling.
Before serving, pour the braising juices over stuffed peppers. Garnish with parsley and serve with sour cream on a side.
Just like borscht, stuffed peppers are only better with age. Make enough for at least two dinners, and they will be even better after sitting in the braising juices overnight in the fridge. Be patient and gradually heat up the stuffed peppers over low heat in their juices before serving the day after cooking, try to avoid microwave.