Rhodes Island-style Stuffed Vegetables with Meat & Rice

Tomat a la Turka (Verdruras reynadas kon karne i arroz)

About the Recipe

Aubergines, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers are hollowed out and filled with lightly spiced ground meat, rice and fresh herbs then simmered with diced vegetables in an aromatic tomato broth. They make a colourful flavour-packed dish, delicious for entertaining or just wonderful at family gatherings. I like to make this a day in advance for the tasty flavours to develop.

‘Tomat a la Turka’ as this dish is affectionately called by the Rhodeslis, is one of those nostalgic childhood dishes that I love to recreate especially with my family joining in to scoop and fill the vegetables. It’s so therapeutic preparing the stuffed vegetable feast together. This wholesome meal is cooked and served in the same oven-to-table casserole accompanied with a fresh, zesty green salad. I do hope you give this dish a try, it’s easy to make and prep ahead!

Ingredients

For the vegetables:

4 baby aubergines/eggplant about 3in (7.5cm) long and 2in (5cm) wide

6 small firm ripe tomatoes

4 firm, thick zucchini/courgettes about3 in (7.5cm) long

4 small yellow or red bell peppers

sea salt

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

olive oil, enough for shallow frying.


For the filling:

1lb (450g) ground beef

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely grated

½ cup short grain rice, rinsed in hot water, drained

1 cup canned chopped tomatoes

1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

⅓ cup fresh dill, chopped

pinch dried oregano

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

½ tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and ground black pepper to taste.


For the vegetable base:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic whole

1 large potato, peeled and diced

reserved pulp of aubergine, tomato and zucchini, roughly chopped

2 cups canned chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato paste

½ tsp sugar

1 cup hot chicken stock

salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Preparation

Prepare the aubergines: Cut the stems off the aubergines and remove the caps. Using a sharp knife, peel ½in (1cm) strips at intervals along the length of the aubergines, leaving them striped. Push a corer into the cut end of the aubergine going as deep as possible, rotating it to scoop out the pulp, leaving a ¼in (6mm) shell. Be careful not to pierce the skin. Reserve the scooped up pulp for the base. Soak the aubergine shells in water with 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp lemon juice for 30 minutes, then drain. Heat enough oil for shallow frying in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Cook the aubergine shells in the sizzling oil until lightly brown. Drain on paper towels.


Prepare the tomatoes: Slice the top of each with a sharp knife, keeping each tomato cap. Hollow out the tomatoes using a spoon and carefully scoop as much pulp and seeds from each tomato as you can without piercing the skin. Sprinkle a little salt in the tomato shells and turn them over to drain for 10 minutes. Deseed and chop the tomato pulp, reserve for the base.


Prepare the zucchini: Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, refresh in cold water, drain. When cool slice off the stem end. With a long, narrow vegetable corer*, push and twist the corer into the zucchini at the cut end and hollow out, scooping out the pulp leaving a thin even shell. Be careful not to pierce the shell. Reserve the pulp for the base. Put a pinch of salt in each cored zucchini and let them drain in a colander until needed.


Prepare the bell peppers: Slice off the tops of the peppers ½in (1.25cm), keeping the stem intact, reserving for the lids. Keep the lids matched to the appropriate pepper. With a paring knife trim away the inner hard ribs and scoop out the seeds.


Make the filling: Place the onion, garlic, tinned chopped tomatoes, parsley, dill, oregano, toasted pine nuts; cumin and olive oil in a large bowl. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Stir in the meat and rice and knead mixing all well with hands.


Make the vegetable base: Heat the oil over a medium-high heat in a wide shallow, heavy pan with a lid. Add the onion, garlic, potato, reserved aubergine and zucchini pulp and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the reserved tomato pulp, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and hot stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.


Stuff the vegetable shells: Three-quarters fill the prepared vegetables with the filling as the rice expands during cooking. (Use a coffee spoon for filling the zucchini). Place the reserved matched lids over the tomatoes and peppers.


To cook: Arrange the stuffed vegetables upright, close together, in a single layer over the vegetable base. Arrange the tomatoes (stuffed side up) on the outer edge of the casserole as they cook the quickest. Add enough hot water to reach about 1 in (2.5cm) below the top of the vegetables.


Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer over a very low heat for 45 minutes or until the filled vegetables are tender and the rice is cooked. Shake the pan from time to time to prevent the vegetables from catching. Add hot water as necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning.


To serve: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Place the rack in the top third of the oven. Place the casserole uncovered in the oven for the vegetable tops to brown lightly. Baste with the pan juice during baking. Usually 15 minutes is enough, but keep watching. Serve hot in the casserole with a vermicelli rice pilaf (p177) and a green salad.


Stella’s Hint:

*Corer: For best results use a vegetable reamer or a long, thin ma’anara corer (found at Middle Eastern stores) for scooping the pulp from the zucchini.