Dolmeh Felfel, Stuffed Bell Pepper in the Persian Manner

Dolmeh Felfel

The Sultan Missed a Delight

The Nimat-Namah, known as The Sultan’s Book of Delights, is a late 15th Century book inscribed in Persian, for the Delhi Sultanate represented by Sultan of Mandu, Ghias ud-din Shah and completed under the reign of his son, Sultan Nasir ud-din Shah. Bearing the son’s seal, this gem is housed at the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library, containing page after page of fifty intricate miniatures, painted in the distinctive Shirazi school style in jewel-like tones.


Miniature painting from the Nimat-Namah, British Library.

The sybaritic Sultan Ghias ud-din Shah had a rather blasé attitude towards Courtly Affairs, with a preference for, “Women, Wine or Snuff”. Keats would have certainly approved.

As important, if not more, I believe, was his desire for The Culinary Pleasures. Sultan Ghias ud-din Shah had a coterie of women swirling around him, serving him delicacies of flaky, musk-spiced deer meat samosas and puddings steeped in essence of rose. The Sultan’s kitchen was heavily influenced by the cuisine of the Persian courts.

Regrettably, there are no capsicum-based recipes in the The Sultan’s Book of Delights. The Sultan Missed a Worldly Delight: the capsicum. This bell pepper only came to India in the 16th century, at the tail-end of Sultan Nasir ud-din Shah’s rule. The red capsicum is one of my favourite vibrant vegetables, adding a candy-like vibrancy to a salad, with it’s china-red glossiness or adding a sweet, caramelised note when impaled on a skewer alongside glistening onions and chicken kebabs.

Dolmeh Felfel is an Irani dish of Basmati rice, verdant herbs and fragrant savoury mince, encased in a bell pepper, with the scarlet version being my preferred choice. I have steamed, rather than baked it, in a tomato sauce, in order to preserve the integrity and shape of the capsicum, and perfumed it with delicate emerald leaves of mint.

mint

dolmeh felfel

When served, all this dish asks for is a slathering of creamy, milky yoghurt.

dolmeh felfel

A few cooking notes:

  • Please do use the scarlet version of the bell pepper, or even the buttercup-yellow or orange ones. Perhaps one should veer away from the green variety; it has been rightly said that green bell peppers are “merely unripe red peppers”, to which I agree. They impart a sour taste, which in my humble opinion, would not meld nicely with the subtly-spiced stuffing.
  • I prefer steaming the pepper to baking it in the traditional manner. I feel this helps the pepper maintain its shape, rather than slumping down over itself with the papery skin escaping from its tender flesh.
  • Insert the blade of a sharp knife to test for doneness; if it glides through, it is ready.
  • Feel free to use leftover Basmati or savoury mince.
  • Mint is a favourite herb in our kitchen, but you can play around with other herbs in this dish; parsely, dill, chives or tarragon.
  • I do not use lean meat to prepare this dish. Because of the fat-content of the meat, I do not add any oil when preparing the savoury mince.

Serves 4
Preparation time: 1 hour (includes cooking time for the mince, rice and tomato base.)
Active Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
*4 red capsicum
*1 lb minced beef or lamb
*1 + 1/4 tsp salt
*1 + 1/2 garlic clove, minced
*1 small onion, finely chopped
*1 13 oz can tomato sauce (set aside 2 tbsp tomato sauce for savoury mince)
*pinch chili pepper
*pinch turmeric
*1 cup water
*pinch cinnamon
*2 cups cooked Basmati
*Bushel of fresh mint, in chiffonade form
*Yoghurt for serving alongside dish

Preparation:

Step 1: Prepare the savoury mince:
* In a heavy-bottomed pan add beef (or lamb), 1 tsp salt, 1 minced garlic clove, minced onion, 2 tbsp tomato sauce, a pinch of chili pepper and turmeric, 1 cup water. Stir, cover and leave to cook on a low-medium flame for one hour. Stir/check every 20 minutes;
*When the meat looks ready, turn the heat to medium-high and stir till the water has evaporated;

Step 2: Prepare the tomato base:
*In a pan with a large surface area (this pan will be used later for steaming the peppers), fry on a medium flame, 1/2 clove of garlic till golden and fragrant, add the canned tomato sauce, 1/4 tsp salt and a pinch of cinnamon. Stir for 5 minutes. Leave to rest;

Step 3: Prepare the Basmati
*Here is the link to the earlier post on how to prepare Basmati.

Step 4: Assemble
*Once the rice has cooled, add the savoury mince and toss lightly with a fork, so as not to break the delicate Basmati grains. Add the mint chiffonade;
*Cut carefully around the bell pepper’s stem to create a lid. Remove it, and slice the thick white skin underneath it. Wash the inside of the pepper, removing any seeds;
*Spoon the stuffing into the pepper and replace the lid.

Step 5: Steam
*Place the capsicums upright in the pan with the tomato base, add half a cup of boiling water, cover with a lid and let the peppers steam for 25 minutes over a low- to medium-flame.

*Serve with lashings of creamy yoghurt.

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Comments

  1. I look forward to your posts every week, Shayma. Love this!

  2. oh my, i wish you had a restaurant that i could go and order all this stuff from because i dont think i could ever whip up something looking this good!

  3. I love stuffed vegetables especially the red pepper ones.
    It looks so tempting.
    Iffet

  4. aah…the red pepper!…sublime..Mr A is very impressed with your blog and thinks we should pair up and open a restaurant..i wonder what ill bring to this venture..washing up?

  5. Mmm…mouthwatering!!

  6. the beauty of stuffed peppers is that its devoured by ” stuffed shirts” as well as the ordinary. Most of all, spicey, you made it so easy, so attractive, and so healthy that a third category would love it…the dieters of the world…cest moi le Gourmand!!

  7. I love the stories you tell preceding each entry! I can see this as an amazing publication one day! Fit for the true connoisseur of food, history, and life!

    The pics are great as well. You’ve given us the appropriate angles and conveyed the subtle textures to comprehend the dish in its detail!

  8. Oh Shayma! you´ve done it again – its not even close to dinner time here and i´m salivating…plus you´re making me homesick for mom´s dolma…have never tried to do it myself – seemed like soooo much work – especially dolma with grape leaves or cabbage leaves – wrapping the little bundles – there had to be a few women involved – and while the huge pot got filled with the stuffed veggies – aubergines, bell peppers, onions, zucchinis – the ladies caught up on each other´s lives…to me growing up it seemed sooooooo arduos & boring…but you make it sound fun & easy! plus doubt our moms or grandmoms ever cooked for two…
    will try out asap and let you know – stuffing 4 bell peppers has got to be a lot faster than stuffing 20… love the photos also!!! brava!!!!keep it coming!

  9. @M @Iffet @Kalsoom Thank you so much.

    @Fati Lovely- it’s a 1 hour flight, come to our home anytime.

    @shmooz I like Mr. A’s idea, perhaps first we should strategise how we can both live on the same side of the ocean. Washing-up? Just like uni days!

    @Gourmand Thank you- it’s quite low in calories- buon appetito.

    @Reimas You made me smile, a lot. Thank you. I still need some photography lessons from the Master- when is our phone date?

    @Nairy Thanks, dearest. But wasn’t it so amazing and beautiful that people came together that way? Now we seem to rely on emailing, sms’ing and a phone-call if we’re lucky. So many of my memories linked to you from Yerevan, Rome and Madrid involve food and wine, which is lovely. Un bacio.

  10. Growing up, my mother made stuffed peppers all the time. I have always loved them. I shall definitely try this recipe and love the idea of serving it with yoghurt. Maybe this could also be prepared vegetarian style with tempeh? xx

  11. @So Lovely- Dearest, I haven’t worked with tempeh but am sure it can be used. I have made a vegetarian stuffing of aubergine, pignolia nuts, rice and parsley. Thanks for visiting. xx

  12. I love this version of the stuffed pepper. In Italy we stuff vegetables with wet bread crumbs. I love how you can trace the origins of food ad recipes just by looking at ingredients (and at lovely books).

  13. @Petulia Thank you- I am sure your lovely mamma has a gorgeous recipe up her sleeve.

  14. Great recipe. I remember you gave me this recipe to try years ago for a dinner I was having and it turned out great. love, Z

  15. …..well the pepper looks really pretty and… irresistible!…Shayma this is art!

  16. Looks delish!

  17. This looks so delicious, great story. Thanks

  18. Oh, I could definitely go for some of this right now. Mind you, it’s 10:00am. :) Simply gorgeous, Shayma!

  19. Hi Shayma !!! :)

    So happy to see your comment cause it leads me to your BRILLIANT blog !!!!! I really really enjoyed of it,of your photos,recipe and great explanations.
    I’m happy to have a lovely dear friend like you!
    About this Dolme,in my family,we served it with fresh lemon.and we made it just with Iranian rice.

    I wish you the best
    Parisa

  20. Shayma, First of all, you are beautiful. :)You blog is spectacular ..from what I ve seen so far. wh means i wl look further :). And third I love that you mentioned the miniature paintings. It reminded me of Orhan Pamuk’s book..My name is Red.. wh I read and at once fell in love with miniature paintings and gildings and so forth. I was smitten by the art. How I wish I cld see some in their real forms.

    And not least your recipe for the pepper is wonderful and I too like the fact hat the pepper is steamed as opposed to baked. I can see that the colour remains vibrantly scarlet and without a doubt healthier.

    I was amused by your post on the basmati rice. I never imagined posting a post on rice. Its brilliant and the descriptions of it being close as brothers but nt sticking or tt it shd curl like a girls eyelash is totally enchanting.

    Tq for visiting my place…n m sure Pakistan and Malaysia have a lot in common. Perhaps more than we think.

  21. @Zarreen @Fran @Azita @Yasamin Many thanks to all of you.

    @Parisa Thanks, dear. Everyone, Parisa, a Teheran-based artist, has an absolutely beautiful mixed media/illustration blog- pl do visit: http://parisamahmoudi.blogspot.com/

    @Zurin Thank you for your long and kind message. Malaysia and Pakistan certainly does have a lot in common.

  22. Husband is a pepper fanatic. I will earmark this for next time I can actually be bothered to make something for him (BAD WIFE). As usual, beautiful writing. That’s what I really come back for. xo

  23. I was just reading this post, enjoying it enormously, thinking thank god no green peppers, when I saw the quote. I thought it rang a bell – and imagine my surprise when it linked to LLG! Thanks sweetie! Big ether kiss LLGxx

  24. Thank you So much Shayma !!! :D
    I added your lovely link on my blog,dear friend.

    XoXoX
    Parisa

  25. This looks delicious – I love red bellpeppers! Beautiful photography too.

  26. Stuffed is one of the few bell pepper applications I enjoy. Love it than you steam yours. Very smart!

  27. What a beautiful and informative post. Funnily enough I actually have a print of that very same miniature on my wall….! I love the sound of this, can’t wait to give it a go.

  28. Hi Shayma,

    This looks incredible! I love how informative you are with these posts, they are very enlighting.

    I’ve also add you on to my links – how could I not, especially when everything is this delicious.

  29. Shayma, I adore your blog.

  30. That looks absolutely delicious – must make it soon.

  31. Hi Shayma, this is an excellent recipe (like all others!) I’m definitely going to try it once Ameen returns from Lahore. I continue to be most impressed by your blog and can’t wait for more recipes! Thanks.

  32. Shayma,

    This was completely fascinating to read! Congratulations on your blog … can’t wait to read more!

  33. Shayma,

    Made the stuffed pepper this weekend. AMAZINGLY yummy. Loved the taste of cinnamon in the sauce.

    Looking forward to trying out more stuff.

    R

  34. great colorful pictures. absolutely love the addition of cinnamon to savory dishes. it’s def. stuffed peppers weather here in brooklyn, ny!

  35. This reminds me of my grandmother’s bell peppers (which she learned from a Turkish cook.) She also steamed the peppers over the stove in a cast iron pan instead of baking them. I think it might be time to make them now.

  36. Shayma

    Found your blog via the Irish Times last weekend. Love both your recipes and the evocative postings that accompany them.
    Tried your stuffed peppers last night; used coriander instead of mint and left out the turmeric (I’m not keen on either). Way better than previous attempts; the steaming trick is definitely the way to go. You’ve also improved my rice cooking. Next will be those yummy sounding potatoes and cumin (you can’t keep an Irish away from potatoes)
    Keep up the good work girl.

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