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Bulgur and Beef Stuffed Vegetables, a Levantine Recipe


 

This recipe for stuffed vegetables is down-right comfort food; whether referred to as Meesov Tsavari Letsk in Armenian, Mehshi bi Burghul in the Middle East, or Dolma throughout the Levant.

Bulgur is a wheat cereal that is usually sold parboiled, dried, ground, and sifted into distinct sizes.  It can be found in natural food stores as well as ethnic and traditional grocery stores.  It differs from cracked wheat in that it is pre-cooked.

Start by gathering some vegetables, keeping “pretty” in mind, and by that I mean assorted, colorful and blemish free.  Maybe now is a good time to hit your local Farmer’s Market for some fresh goodies.

You can use small Japanese eggplants and round Indian eggplants, zucchini, Mexican Tatuma squash or Globe squash, bell peppers and long peppers such as Lipstick or Anaheim peppers.  Try to select bell peppers that are medium-sized and standing; we don’t want a “leaning tower of Pisa” situation going on here!  And while you’re still on the go, get some preserved vine leaves or fresh Swiss chard leaves; keeping in mind that chard leaves have to be blanched and trimmed before use.

Preserved vine leaves are sold in jars or vacuum-packed.  If you are feeling adventurous and have access to fresh grape vine leaves hop over to this article to learn how to jar them yourself.

You will need a small paring knife and some basic vegetable coring tools or a small teaspoon.

Trim edges of vegetables and hollow out the inside, reserving tops, and transfer into a large bowl of water with some salt and lemon juice to prevent discoloration.  Keep aside trimming pieces (not pulp) to use at bottom of  pan.

Rinse preserved vine leaves in plenty of warm water, dry on paper towels and snip stems at base of leaf.  If using fresh Swiss chard leaves, blanch and remove hard stems.

Prepare stuffing and cooking sauce as instructed in recipe.

Stuff filling into vegetables, without pressing it in tight, to about half and inch from the top; then cover with reserved tops.  Roll vine or chard leaves; reserving torn leaves to use at the bottom of the pan.

Arrange reserved vegetable trimmings at bottom of a large nonstick pot and then cover with reserved torn vine leaves.

Arrange vegetables in this order:  rolled vine or chard leaves (seam side down), zucchini, eggplant and lastly peppers – sprinkling with salt and some cooking liquid sauce between each layer evenly as you do so.

Top with enough water to cover vegetables by half an inch.

Cook as instructed in recipe.

That’s it folks … just transfer onto a serving platter and enjoy.

 

BULGUR AND BEEF STUFFED VEGETABLES, A LEVANTINE RECIPE

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Indian eggplant and/or small Japanese eggplant
Italian zucchini or Mexican Tatuma squash or Globe squash
Medium standing bell pepper, assorted colors
Long red Lipstick pepper or Anaheim pepper
Preserved vine leaves, or fresh chard leaves

Large bowl of water, juice of 1 lemon and salt

Filling:

18 oz ground beef, preferably coarse ground beef
1 ¾-to-2 ½ cups coarse bulgur, #3 or #4
1/3-to-1/2 cup water
3 large red-vine tomatoes, peeled, grated
1 jumbo onion, finely diced
1 Anaheim chili pepper, finely diced
1 Jalapeno chili pepper, finely diced
1 small red chili pepper, finely diced
1 Tb pomegranate molasses, optional
1 Tb sumac, or more to taste
3 Tb tomato paste
1 ½ Tb pepper paste
3 Tb oil
4 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tsp red Aleppo pepper
½ tsp Middle Eastern 7-spice or allspice, optional

Cooking liquid:

½ cup + 6 cups water
1-to-2 Tb pomegranate molasses
Half a lemon, juiced, or to taste
1-to-2 Tb tomato paste
½ tsp pepper paste
1 ½ tsp chicken bouillon base
½ tsp sumac
Salt

Add juice of one lemon and some salt to a large bowl of cold water.  Core vegetables, reserving tops, and add into bowl to prevent discoloration.  Keep aside trimming pieces (not pulp) to use at bottom of the pan.  Rinse preserved vine leaves in plenty of warm water and snip stems at base of leaf.  If using chard leaves, blanch and remove hard stems.

Make filling.  Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a pan on medium heat; add tomato and pepper pastes and sauté 3 minutes.  Add bulgur in increments as you stir; sauté about 5 minutes.  Turn off heat; mix in 1/3-to-1/2 cup water, set aside to cool.

Once cooled, add remaining filling ingredients except beef and mix to combine well.  Add beef and gently mix with the tip of your fingers just to combine (do not squish filling together).

Stuff filling into vegetables, without pressing it in tight, to about half an inch from the top; then cover with reserved tops.  Roll vine or chard leaves; reserving torn leaves to use at the bottom of the pan.

In a small bowl combine ½ cup water, molasses, lemon juice, tomato and pepper pastes, bouillon base and sumac.  This is your cooking liquid sauce.

Arrange reserved vegetable trimmings at the bottom of a large nonstick pot and then cover with reserved torn vine leaves.  Arrange vegetables in this order:  rolled vine or chard leaves (seam side down), zucchini, eggplant and lastly peppers; sprinkling with salt and some cooking liquid sauce between each layer evenly as you do so.  Top with enough water to cover vegetables by half an inch; about 6 cups (depending on your pot).

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover with a heavy inverted plate and lightly press down.  Gently boil 5 minutes.  Cover and simmer on medium-low heat 20-30 minutes until cooked to your liking (check occasionally after 20 minutes).

Drain liquid completely (reserving some in a bowl for re-heating purposes).  Cover and simmer on low an additional 12 minutes.  Turn off heat, let sit 8 minutes before serving.
 
 

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