I was going to pretend I’m posting this recipe because the weather has turned chilly, and everyone is suddenly in the mood for warm, slow-cooked, comfort food. But in reality, we make this dish in my household year-round, whether it’s boiling hot out (this can be made in the slow cooker), or sleeting rain. It’s that good. While I love trying out new recipes and spending time tinkering with ingredients, there are some days where having a few standard recipes in one’s back pocket is crucial. Especially dishes that pack in a ton of flavor without too much active effort. This one is my husband’s dish, which we adapt a little each time to incorporate what we have in the fridge. It’s a common dish in Turkey, but this version has ingredients found in US supermarkets, maybe with the exception of bulgur.
If you really want to make this authentically Turkish, use Turkish tomato paste (domates salcası), and a bit of red pepper paste (biber salcası). These are staples in Turkish cooking and found in markets throughout the country, but harder to find stateside. The blog Delicious Istanbul has a recipe for red bell pepper paste here, and it’s as simple as slow roasting peppers, removing the skin and seeds, and pureeing it. The red bell peppers found in Turkey are sweeter than those in the US (and more of a long pepper shape, similar to a poblano pepper), but using the US variety will get you 95% of the way there, with tons of sweet roasted pepper flavor. As for Turkish tomato paste, it has a bit more flavor than the kind you’ll pick up in US supermarkets, bearing a closer resemblance to sundried tomato paste.
Of course, this dish turns out quite well with regular old US variety tomato paste, so don’t let the challenge of finding the Turkish kind deter you. I also like to add sliced green onions and some torn mint leaves to the stuffing, for extra texture and flavor. As for the bulgur, if you’ve ever found yourself at my most favorite NYC food shop, Kalustyan’s, you’ll realize there’s more than one kind of this hearty grain. Kalustyan’s carries no fewer than 10 different varieties, from #1 fine grind to brown Lebanese bulgur. I chose a medium grind for this recipe, and cooked it much as I do rice. Rice is a fine substitute, as is quinoa, brown rice, or farro. In fact, we’ve even made it without grains, stuffed simply with ground beef cooked with tomato paste, onions, chopped fresh tomatoes, and toasted pine nuts.
Let the peppers cook longer than you want to, so they get very soft. Usually this is around 60-90 minutes. And these keep well in the fridge for a few days, warmed in the microwave. It’s crucial not to forget to top the peppers with creamy Greek (or Turkish, of course!) yogurt. Enjoy!
- 1 1/2 cups bulgur*
- 4 1/2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste, divided in half
- 1 large tomato, cored and chopped
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 6-8 medium bell peppers, cored and tops cut off
- 1/2 - 1 cup water or chicken broth
- Bring water to a boil, add bulgur and cook until tender, about 7-10 minutes. Cover, remove from heat and let steam 5 minutes. Drain excess water and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil and half of the chopped onion, cook until onions are translucent about 3-4 minutes.
- Add ground beef and cook until browned, breaking apart with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and 1/4 cup of the chopped tomatoes. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
- To cooked and drained bulgur, stir in 2 tablespoons tomato paste, remaining chopped tomato and chopped onion, lemon juice, and olive oil.
- Add ground beef and stir until well combined. Stir in toasted pine nuts.
- Place peppers so they stand up securely in 1 or 2 baking dishes, making sure you'll be able to cover them with a lid or foil.
- Stuff peppers with bulgur mixture to the tops, and place pepper lids on top. Pour water or broth into bottom of pan(s), so that it comes about 1/2 inch up the sides.
- Cover tightly and bake until peppers are soft, about 60-90 minutes. Serve hot with Greek yogurt.
* Bulgur is a hearty wheat grain that can be substituted with brown rice, quinoa, farro, or any other hearty grain.