Peppers stuffed with beef & rice in tomato & cream (yogurt) sauce. Dolma (sarma) dish recipe
Stuffed peppers are a version of middle-eastern sarma (sarmale) or dolma. The more traditional Russian version of sarma is actually “Golubtsy” (stuffed leaves of large white cabbage). But stuffed sweet peppers (as well as large tomatoes) are now also used, sometimes mixed with stuffed cabbage leaves in one dish. Here in the UK large white cabbages (so typical for Russia) are not available and locally grown ones (small, firm and very tight-leaved, good for coleslaw) are way too small for stuffing. So most often here I use sweet (bell) peppers for my sarma, very tasty and hearty dish. Peppers seem to be less trouble cleaning and work just fine for stuffing and the flavour. For better looks of the dish use peppers of different colours.
For stuffed peppers with minced beef and rice you will need:
1 lb (1/2 kg) low fat minced beef
½ cup dry rice (brown works fine), boiled al-dente or steamed
8-9 large sweet peppers of different colours
Handful of prunes
250 g (a small pack) of soured cream or 0% fat Greek yogurt
5 Tsp tomato puree or 400 g tinned tomatoes, blended
2 cloves garlic pressed
Salt, pepper to taste
Dry herbs (parsley, basil, thyme) to taste
Strong meat, chicken or vegetable stock (optional)
Put the rice to boil. Meantime prepare the peppers. Cut the tops of and save them. Deseed and rinse the peppers inside, cut off the soft internal part of the top.
In a large bowl prepare the sauce by whisking the soured cream (use Greek yogurt for a low fat version, it works just fine!) with blended tomatoes or tomato paste, salt, pepper, dry herbs.
When the rice is ready, in another large bowl mix it well with the minced meat until even. With a spoon stuff the peppers, not too tight and not too lose, cover them with the matching top and stand them up side by side to each other in a large sauce pan with thick sides and bottom. When the bottom of the sauce pan is covered arrange the rest in the top layer.
If you have extra peppers left (or cabbage leaves, or tomatoes), just add them to the pot unstuffed if you wish. They will cook well in tasty sauce alongside the stuffed peppers. Drop the prunes and pour the cream (yogurt) and tomato liquid on top. Turn on the gas, top up the level of liquid to cover about 2/3 of the peppers height by adding hot stock or just boiling water.
If you ask me what the prunes are doing there I can honestly tell you that I don’t know. My grandmother, who cooked this dish with cabbage leaves, always added a handful of prunes and they really brought a little twist to the dish. My grandfather was from Armenia. I can only guess now that this little prune part was inspired by the real dolma that is also native to the ex-Soviet north Caucuses. It is typical for real oriental dolma to contain meat mixed with fruit.
When the peppers start boiling, turn the gas down, cover the pot tightly with the lid and let the stuffed peppers cook until ready (for about 40 minutes). Soon the liquid will cover the peppers totally. When the peppers are ready taste and adjust the seasoning. Turn the gas off and let the pepper dolma sit for a couple of hours tightly covered with the lid.
Serve stuffed peppers (dolma) in deep bowls accompanied with fresh baguette. Enjoy!