Turkish stuffed peppers (biber dolması) are the perfect vegetarian addition to any feast! These sweet and tender small bell peppers are filled with the most flavorful lemony and tomatoey rice filling.
I’ve been told many times that my Turkish stuffed peppers rival the ones made by my husband’s grandma. I can’t take a lot of credit since a) his family shared the recipe with me and b) Turkish stuffed peppers are really easy to make. But no matter, it’s always a nice thing to hear. And believe you me, if I can make delicious traditional Turkish stuffed peppers, so can you! My friends always ask me for the recipe once they’ve tried biber dolması at my place.
DOLMA & SARMA
There is a whole category of dishes in Turkey called dolma that consists of things being stuffed with a rice filling (but other grains can be used like bulgur) and then cooked. The most common dolmas are: enginar dolması (stuffed artichokes), kabak dolması (stuffed zucchinis), çiçek dolması (stuffed zucchinis flowers) and midye dolması (stuffed mussels). Sarmas are a type of dolmas where leaves are wrapped around the rice filling. Typically vine leaves (yaprak sarması) or cabbage leaves (lahana sarması) are used to make sarmas.
You will always find a huge platter of dolmas at the center of the table at any family gathering. There is just something so convivial about dolmas! If you know that making dolmas takes time and effort, you can’t help but feel welcome and cared for at the sight of it. Turkish stuffed peppers easily are in my top 3 stuffed meals, just behind stuffed mussels and stuffed vine leaves. Nothing can beat warm stuffed mussels served on the beach! But Turkish stuffed peppers are really really good and way less time-consuming than stuffed vine leaves. If I spot the right kind of peppers at the Turkish store, it’s a no-brainer, I am going to make some biber dolması!
To make proper Turkish stuffed peppers you definitely need to use very small green bell peppers. They have the same shape as normal green peppers but they are only 7.5cm (3 in) high. They can generally stand upright without tipping over. I can only find them at the Turkish store where they are usually sold in bags with 6 or 8 inside. These small green peppers are only used to make dolmas so I’m not sure you could find them anywhere else.
I suppose you could try to make Turkish stuffed peppers with regular-sized green bell peppers. It won’t taste quite the same and I have never tried it but I would venture to say you can probably fill up to 5 green bell peppers with the filling in this recipe. You might also need to add more water to the pan because the water needs to arrive halfway up the sides of the green peppers.
If you can’t get your hands on Turkish baldo rice, jasmine rice (also called aromatic rice, fragrant rice, or thai rice) is in my opinion the best substitute. Jasmine rice cooks in a similar fashion but it won’t be as plump and chewy as baldo rice.
STEP #1: MAKE THE RICE FILLING
- Grate 1 tomato on the largest holes of a box grater into a deep plate and discard the skin.
- Cook the onion until softened over medium-low heat in a non-stick frying pan.
- Add the paste and spread it all over the onion using a wooden spoon and cook for 2 min.
- Stir in the grated tomato, caster sugar, wash and drained rice, and 2 tsp of salt. Cook for 7 min, stirring from time to time, and remove from the heat. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and your filling is ready!
STEP #2: STUFF THE GREEN PEPPERS
- Cut around the stems deep enough to cut the cores free. Pull the stems to remove the core. Shake the peppers to remove some of the seeds that have fallen at the bottom.
- Divide the filling among the green peppers making sure it fills each vegetable three-quarters full.
- Cut 2 tomatoes into pieces that’ll be just big enough to fit inside the top of the green peppers. Push the tomato lids on top of the filling, smooth side up.
STEP #3: COOK THE DOLMAS
- Make the cooking liquid by mixing the paste in 475ml (2 cups) of water using a whisk.
- Pour the liquid around the stuffed green peppers. Drizzle the olive oil on top.
- Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover with the lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. It takes around 50 min for Turkish stuffed peppers to cook on the stovetop.
LET THE DOLMAS REST
I find Turkish stuffed peppers to be much tastier if, like for every type of dolmas, you let them rest a bit before serving. The flavors will shine through if it’s not burning hot. Eating them with cold yogurt will help cool down but it’s not the same thing as actually waiting for the Turkish stuffed peppers to be just warm or at room temperature. I actually prefer them fridge-cold. The flavors really have time to develop and the dolmas get a bit firmer. But to get them fridge-cold by dinner time I would need to start pretty early and I usually don’t plan sufficiently ahead. Thank goodness for leftovers though!
The acidity and creaminess of yogurt really bring this dish together so do try it even if it seems weird to you to have yogurt in a more savory context.
You can also make a meaty version of Turkish stuffed peppers. It’s called etli biber dolması (stuffed peppers with meat) or kıymalı biber dolması (stuffed peppers with ground beef). For this version, follow the recipe as written but stir 225g (½ pound) of ground beef in the filling at the end of step 2. Mix with the wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. The meat will cook alongside the rice inside the green peppers once stuffed. You’ll probably end up with more filling than needed so buy a couple more green peppers if possible.
There is a variation of this recipe called kuru biber dolması. It’s made with dried peppers that have been rehydrated before being stuffed. It’s far less common, at least if you’re not from the South.
Looking for other Turkish vegetarian meal ideas? Here are some of my favorite recipes:Print
Turkish stuffed peppers are the perfect vegetarian addition to any feast! These sweet and tender small bell peppers are filled with the most flavorful lemony and tomatoey rice filling.
For the Turkish stuffed peppers:
- 200g Turkish baldo rice, or use jasmine rice (1 cup)
- 3 tomatoes, divided
- 5 parsley sprigs
- 1 big yellow onion
- 55ml extra-virgin olive oil (¼ cup)
- 3 tsp fine sea salt, divided
- 1 tbsp Turkish mild repper paste (tatli biber salçası), or use tomato paste
- ½ tsp caster sugar
- 1 lemon, juiced
- ½ tsp ground dried mint (nane)
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 10 to 12 Turkish mini green bell peppers
- to serve: Turkish yogurt, or use full-fat Greek yogurt
For the cooking liquid:
- 1 tbsp Turkish mild repper paste (tatli biber salçası), or use tomato paste
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Wash and soak the rice. Put the rice in a colander and rinse it under lukewarm running water until the water runs clear. Put the rice into a large bowl, cover it with lukewarm water, and mix in 1 tsp of salt. Let the rice soak for 30 min then drain using the colander again.
- Make the filling. Grate 1 tomato on the largest holes of a box grater into a deep plate and discard the skin. Pick off the parsley leaves from the sprigs, chop them and set aside. Peel the onion and finely chop it. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat. Cook the onion until softened, about 7 to 8 min, stirring occasionally. Add the mild red pepper (or tomato) paste and spread it all over the onion using a wooden spoon. Cook for 2 min. Stir in the grated tomato, caster sugar, drained rice, and the remaining 2 tsp of salt. Cook for 7 min, stirring from time to time. The rice should have softened slightly but still be crunchy. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon juice, chopped parsley, and spices.
- Stuff the green peppers. With a sharp knife cut around the stem deep enough to cut the core free. Pull the stems to remove the core. You might need to shake the peppers a little bit to remove some of the seeds that have fallen at the bottom. Take a lidded pot that will be wide enough to accommodate all the peppers sitting upright in one single layer. The green peppers will need to fit snugly to prevent them from falling over. If your pot is too wide, slice big chunks of potatoes or any kind of vegetable you have in the fridge. You’ll place them around the green peppers to stick them in place. Divide the filling among the green peppers making sure it fills each vegetable three-quarters full. The rice will expand while cooking so it needs some space! Arrange the green peppers sitting upwards inside the pot in a single layer. Make sure it’s a tight fit. Cut the remaining 2 tomatoes in half and remove the stalks. Cut the halves into pieces that’ll be just big enough to fit inside the top of the green peppers. Push the tomato lids on top of the filling, smooth side up. These will stop the filling from spilling out during cooking.
- Cook. Make the cooking liquid by mixing the paste in 475ml (2 cups) of water using a whisk. Pour the liquid around the stuffed green peppers. The water should not cover the green peppers, merely reach halfway up the sides of the green peppers. (or three-quarters up the sides at the maximum). If there isn’t enough liquid, add some water to reach halfway up the sides. Drizzle the olive oil on top. Bring to the boil over high heat. Cover with the lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. For example, the heats of my induction stove go from 1 to 9 ½ (9 ½ being the hottest) and I reduce the heat to 4 when I cook Turkish stuffed peppers. Cook the green peppers, covered, for 50 min. After 50 min, uncover and prick the biggest green pepper with the tip of a pointy knife. It should insert with no resistance. Remove the tomato lid and taste a little bit of the rice to check if it’s cooked. Be careful not to burn your tongue! If the green peppers or the rice aren’t soft enough to your liking, cook for 5 to 10 more min and try another one. Add more water if there isn’t enough left in the pot.
- Serve. Once cooked, grab the Turkish stuffed peppers one by one using a tablespoon and place them onto a serving dish. Let them rest and cool down for at least 15 min. Serve them warm or at room temperature. I actually prefer mine fridge-cold! Serve with big dollops of cold yogurt on the side.
You can keep the Turkish stuffed peppers stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up 4 days.
- Serving Size: 1
- Calories: 151
Keywords: summer vegetarian recipes, typical turkish food, meatless stuffed peppers