• Dolma or stuffed vegetables reminds Samah of her cultural roots. (Alan Benson)Source: Alan Benson
It was the stuff of my childhood and my large family dinners - I'll always be thankful for stuffed vegetables.
Farah Celjo

29 Aug 2018 - 1:30 PM  UPDATED 29 Apr 2021 - 10:06 PM

I grew up eating most of my vegetables stuffed or doused in olive oil because well, olive oil.

My Bosnian mama always knew how to handle any likelihood of a vegetable stand-off in our household - dolmas with loads of herbs and spices, in a tomato-based sauce (because we ate tomatoes like apples) and to always use one ingredient to fill another. It was a great way to fill up.

Originating in Turkey, dolmas are popular all over the Mediterranean, Middle East, the Balkans and beyond.

Dolma means "to fill" so that means stuffing with pretty much anything. I come from a family where stuffed vegetables were a regular feature and usually, it was a selection of capsicum, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and onions that satisfied our stuffed desires. What was also so important to these stuffed dinners was the "saft" - the tomato-based sauce, which was usually the cooking base and also doubled as a dressing for salads, rice, roast potato sides, and of course, allowed us to wield our bread wisely. The filling consisted of rice, minced meat, grated carrots, onion and zucchini as well as salt and pepper, a little Vegeta (a staple in our household) and tomato paste to add that creamy factor and bind it all. Tray-baked or cooked in a deep saucepan over low-medium heat, this was a household staple and weeknight favourite. 

Sogan dolma (Stuffed onions)

This savoury recipe uses the natural sweetness of onions to encase a savoury mince and rice filling. 

Similarly, stuffing grape leaves, cabbage, spinach and silverbeet were also very prominent choices on our table and for that matter, in my lunchbox. At home, we adapted the first-in-best-equipped policy, so if you want to stick your fork into dolma you almost had to do it when it was being transported from the kitchen counter to the table, to make sure you got one - definitely hot property in our house. What I loved most was that something so simple, so wholesome was so uniting and if anyone has come to one of my family dinners, you'll know that we spend the first 10 minutes talking about all the food on the table and usually bowing down to my mother. Dolmas were no exception here and it has become a favourite amongst my circle of friends.

Whatever you're keen to stuff, here are a few simple notes about mastering the dolma:

1. Any broth or sauce will do, just don't cook it too high or too quickly!

2. Use fresh vegetables, never frozen, and make sure you blanch them prior to stuffing to soften them and make them more malleable. This will keep them intact when filling.

3. Rice and minced meat are the popular fillers, but don't let what you've come to know to stop you from adding beans, lentils, bulghur, even potato. The beauty of using one ingredient to fill another is that it really paves the way for your imagination and buds to get creative. 

4. You can always use the same filling and simply change up your vegetable carriers. This brings colours to life and means you can create a single batch of filling.

5. Be tactile and don't be afraid to shape, mould and gauge your filling with your hands.

So now, all you have to do is get stuffing. Dolmas are a great way to cook for a crowd - they make a colourful addition to any feast, year-round. 

Stuffed vegetables

Try using a range of vegetables with this rice and pine nut stuffing as they’ll look so pretty together on a serving platter.

Stuffed red capsicum

These vegetarian capsicums are stuffed with rice, herbs and baharat, an aromatic spice blend used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Other stuffings include pine nuts, chickpeas, sumac and paprika. Serve as an entrée or as part of a banquet - either way, you'll be more than satisfied with what's on your plate!

Dolma or stuffed vegetables reminds Samah of her cultural roots.

Eggplant dolma

This is one of our Top 50 vegetarian recipes on-site and is a speciality of chef Somer Sivrioglu's mother.  Traditionally in Turkey, small long eggplants are cut in half, hollowed out, then put on strings and dried out in the sun. In some rural areas, it is not possible to find eggplant in winter, so this is a great way of preserving them. 

Want more?

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