Stuffed Eggplant is a dish you find everywhere in Turkey. And there are many regional versions of it. Indeed, we loved it so much we cooked 3 different versions of it!
Dolma refers to any vegetable which is stuffed with a grain such as rice or bulgur, other vegetables and sometimes meat. And one of the most popular dolmas are stuffed eggplants.
True to the guild system developed in the royal kitchens, the vegetable cooks had their own guild so it is not surprising dolmas and other vegetable dishes are so popular in Turkey.
Eggplants are a staple in Turkey. They go brilliantly with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil and there is usually no shortage of these used in the cooking process!
Rice is a major grain grown in Turkey. Of course, it is from Asia originally. But given the Istanbul Spice Market was the terminus for the Spice Route, it is not surprising rice is so popular in Turkey.
Turkey is one of only 7 countries able to feed itself. Can you guess which are the other 6? That means Turkey has a fabulous array of vegetables to choose from.
We noted vegetables were only available in season. And Turks claim their farming is basically organic with little use of fertilizers. Indeed we noticed whole fields were left “fallow” to rest. Isn’t that something all countries did before the advent of modern fertilizers and cold storage (and dare I say rather tasteless food)?
No cold storage going on here so that means the vegetables were full of flavor, with people looking forward to the season commencing and having their favorite vegetable become available.
Stuffed eggplants can utilize whatever ingredients are available. It is popular because small amounts go a long way and the dish is actually quite filling. They are very popular at lokantas.
We used bullhorn chillies (we did not de-seed them as they are not overly hot) and lamb mince for a more authentic Turkish experience. These can be easily substituted. As well it is simple to make this a fully vegetarian meal. Refer to the notes.
It is also worthwhile to make some garlic yogurt as a finishing touch. We came across this everywhere in Turkey, even as a meze by itself. It just gives the dish a touch of class.
Other Stuffed Vegetable Recipes
In addition to this stuffed eggplant recipe, we feature other stuffed vegetable recipes on Compass and Fork. What a great way to get more veggies into your children’s diet. They’re also fabulous winter warmer comfort foods.
This is a great dinner party dish. It can be prepared in advance up to the filling of the eggplants. If you are refrigerating you will need to add 10 minutes to the cooking time. As well, this dish can be made vegetarian, refer to the notes below.
This is an easy dish to prepare.
Using a small knife, peel 4 wide vertical strips off each eggplant, striped-pajama fashion. Cut each eggplant in half lengthways.
Heat the olive oil and shallow fry the eggplants over a medium-high heat until browned all over. You may need to cook in batches, depending on the size of your pan. Remove the eggplants and drain on kitchen paper. Reserve any remaining olive oil.
Pre-heat your oven to 350 F (180 C).
In the same pan over a medium heat, fry the onions for a few minutes stirring until translucent.
Add the bell peppers and cook, stirring, for a few minutes.
Add the beef or lamb mince and cook, stirring, for a further 2 minutes.
Add the diced tomatoes, pepper paste and half the chopped parsley to the mixture. Season with pepper and salt. Stir the mixture for a further 5 minutes and put aside to cool.
Place the reserved eggplants in a low casserole dish, cut side up. Using a knife, slice each eggplant vertically, about 2/3 of the way through and gently prise open the sides to widen the eggplant. Season with salt and gently press the sliced garlic into the flesh. Then fill each eggplant with the reserved filling.
Top each eggplant with the sliced tomatoes and sliced chilli. Pour the 1/2 cup of boiling water around the eggplant. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. Place in the oven for 45 minutes.
To serve, sprinkle the remaining parsley and paprika, if using. Serve with a green salad and garlic yogurt.
In Turkey, we used long skinny eggplants. The instructions on the cutting of the eggplants work for the egg-shaped eggplants we normally see.
Use small green chillies if you can't source bullhorn chillies and de-seed them if you prefer a milder taste.