The first time we came across biber dolması, we were staying with a Turkish friend and his family for a few days. Early in the day, mum was already preparing the evening meal and I remember glancing at the hob and seeing a pan with a glass lid, steam hissing through the gaps every now and then. Inside the pan were snugly-fitted, upright, green bell peppers. Boiled whole peppers? That was my thought. I wasn’t looking forward to this meal!
It was only when the peppers were served that we realised they were stuffed with a heavily-spiced rice (dolma means stuffed) and of course, the longer we lived in Turkey, the more we came to know that stuffed vegetables, particularly with this rice filling, are a feature of Turkish cuisine. We love them. It wasn’t until yesterday however that I actually attempted to make my own.
A Recipe for Turkish Biber Dolması
This recipe is great if you’ve got friends coming round for food. You can make it early in the day (or even better, the day before) to be served cold later on as part of a buffet and it’s filling so your guests won’t be going home hungry.
The Rice Filling:
First of all, you need to make your rice filling. This mixture is enough to fill 9 or 10 of the green dolmalık peppers (medium-sized bell peppers) you get from the market. We only had 7 peppers so we have a bit of mixture left over.
- Finely chop 2 onions
- Add a small handful of pine nuts to a pan and toast them lightly. (Be careful not to let them burn)
- After a few minutes, add a generous glug of olive oil and your chopped onion. Stir for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. If you want to, you can add a small, peeled and chopped tomato at this point, too. This is optional.
- Now add 1 mug of rice, salt and pepper (we also added chilli powder as we like spicy dolma) and stir around for a few minutes on a low light, being careful not to let the rice burn.
- Add 1 mug of water and a dessert spoonful of sugar, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer the rice until the water evaporates.
- Remove from the heat. The rice will not be fully cooked but you don’t want it to be as it will continue to steam when you stuff the peppers, later.
- As the rice is cooling, add a sprinkling of dried mint, cinnamon and allspice. Sprinkle in a generous handful of currants too. We used up some dates instead and it worked fine. Mix it all together (as in the photo above and leave to one side to cool)
Making Biber Dolması
The main thing you need to think about for this is your pan. Do a test first by standing your peppers in a deep pan. It needs to be a snug fit and they shouldn’t pop up over the top of the pan.
- Once you know how many peppers will fit into your pan, remove them, cut the tops off and take out the seeds.
- Fill the peppers with the rice mixture using a teaspoon to push the rice to the bottom. Don’t fill them too tightly.
- Place the stuffed peppers back into the pan carefully with their lids on. Some people use the top of a tomato to top their peppers – more aesthetically pleasing – but we were happy to use the pepper lids for just the two of us.
- Now pour warm water into the pan (being careful not to let any get into your peppers) until the water is about a third of the way up to the top of the peppers.
- Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and leave them to steam for between 20 and 30 minutes until your peppers are soft.
- Remove from the pan and leave them to cool.
Biber dolması is best served cold. We like it with a blob of süzme yoghurt, sprinkled with mint and chilli powder, on the side.
Biber dolması is one of the many dishes that make up Turkish zeytinyağlı dishes (olive oil dishes) and is also known as zeytinyağlı biber dolması so don’t be shy with your use of the olive oil when you’re making this (some recipes suggest up to half a cup!). It really makes the dish.
If you like the sound of of this olive oil dish, why not try our barbunya pilaki recipe (borlotti beans in olive oil). That’s a late summer favourite for us when barbunya beans are abundant on Fethiye market.