It would be impossible to grow up in the Balkans and not have a soft spot for dolmas, the name given to array of stuffed vegetable dishes which are just about the ne plus ultra of regional comfort foods.
Originating in sultanate-era Turkey, Balkan dolmas are most often whole vegetables (peppers, eggplants, zucchini, even onions) with their cores removed, then stuffed with rice or meat (or both), and roasted in liquid. A meat-filled dolma is usually served hot, while a rice-filled dolma may be served at room temperature. Our favorite Bosnian version is punjeni patlidzani, a hearty combination of succulent eggplant (which caramelizes from the heat) and savory ground beef.
Punjeni Patlidzani (Stuffed Eggplant)
You can’t hurry dolma: letting them roast slowly is key, so allow yourself at least 90 minutes to prep and cook this dish.
2 good-sized eggplants
1/4 cup salt for prep, plus 1/2 tsp for seasoning
1/4 cup olive oil
2 small onions, diced fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground beef
2 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground pepper
28 ounce can diced tomatoes (with juice)
Optional: fresh parsley
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- If desired, peel the eggplant, either in stripes or wholly. (If you like the texture of the skin, by all means leave it on.)
- Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop out the center of each, yielding four “boats.”
- Sprinkle the quarter cup of salt over the boats and let them rest for at least half an hour to draw out their juices.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium-high, then add the onion and garlic.
- When the onions are translucent, add the ground beef, the remaining salt, and the pepper.
- Brown the meat mixture and cook through (8 minutes or so), then remove from heat.
- Rinse the salt and juices off the eggplant boats and pat down with a paper towel.
- Coat a baking pan with oil or cooking spray and lay the boats inside.
- Divide the meat mixture to fill the hollows of the four boats.
- Spread diced tomatoes across the tops of each boat and on the floor of the pan, pouring the juice into the pan as well.
- Cover the pan with foil and puncture to make several small steam vents.
- Bake for one hour, then remove the foil.
- Serve each boat on its own plate, garnished with parsley (optional) and a squeeze of lemon.
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