Monday, March 16, 2009

Dolma with Dried Eggplants (Kuru Patlican Dolması)

Have you ever had dried eggplants? Dried eggplants are very evocative of my childhood. My regular readers, may think that I have numerous foods that bring back my childhood memories. That is because I had not had most these foods since I was a young girl. Now that I am exploring cooking (especially Turkish cooking), I am recalling many foods that I have missed all these years. The first 10 years I had been in the U.S., I was almost completely removed from Turkish language, culture, people and hence the wonderful traditional food. A time comes when one does feel the reconnection with ones past; sooner or later. To me, this started when I started running into some very familiar Mediterranean ingredients in stores and got excited. Yes, I used to get excited when I saw Mediterranean foods or ingredients and was ecstatic when I saw Turkish brands. It was so rare or non-existent in most of the places I had lived.

Before I get off the subject, last summer when I visited home and was getting ready to come back to my other home, I asked my mother if she had any dried eggplants. It was the middle of the summer and thus fresh eggplants were everywhere; so no one had them.

I did leave home without the dried eggplants last summer and actually forgot about them, until recently when my sister visited home. My lovely mother had sent me bunch of dried eggplants with her. I had forgotten about them, but apparently, she had not. I guess that is how mothers are. I was very excited about them and did not take me long before I made dolmas with the dried eggplants.

Since ancient times, Mediterranean people dried eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and okra beneath the hot, intense Mediterranean sun during the summer in preparation for the winter. In the old times, vegetables were not always available throughout the year. Nowadays, we can find almost any vegetable or fruit year round due to agricultural advances; however, vegetables and fruits always taste the best when in season. In any case, the tradition of drying vegetables comes from lack of the vegetables during a certain season. The vegetables are salted and left on top of the roofs or balconies of houses in large trays or in long strings. This tradition still continues; not because of lack of vegetables, but because of that distinct flavor that comes out of dried vegetables. They are still sold in various markets in Turkey and maybe here in the U.S. too.

I have also seen eggplants cut in long pieces and dried for purposes of stew with tomato sauce similar to ‘Patlıcan Bastırma’. It would be cooked the same way by substituting fresh eggplants with dried ones. This recipe shows eggplants that are carved inside and dried to be used for making dolmas. This is what I was yearning for. So, here is the recipe.

Note: 50 eggplants may sound like as a large number, but they were very small. My mom said she particularly selected them small as they look cuter and easier to eat. If you have larger eggplants, you will need fewer than 50 for sure.

50 small dried eggplants
4 small tomatoes (cut up in small cubes to close the eggplants)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove
3 sprigs mint
2 cups water

Any stuffing; vegetarian (rice), beef or chicken will work perfectly. I used the stuffing with chicken from my Stuffed Bell Peppers recipe.

For the Chicken Stuffing:

1½ cups short grain rice
1 lb ground chicken
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 large chopped garlic clove (or 2 small ones)
Juice of 1 lime
½ chopped onion
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp red pepper paste
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

Fill a large pot with water and boil. When it boils, turnoff the heat and add the dried eggplants. Let them soak for about 20-25 minutes. The eggplants will become soft after soaking.

Wash the inside and outside of the eggplant with hot water 3 times. Since the eggplants are dried, we want to make sure we get rid of any dust they have collected. Let the eggplants drain after washing.

Mix all the ingredients for stuffing with your hands to make sure all the ingredients are integrated. Set aside. I always use first aid gloves for this as I do not want to make my hands take different colors.

Stuff each eggplant up to the top, but leave a 1/2 of an inch of room, so that when the rice expands after cooking, it will have room.

Close the eggplants with a small cube of the tomato.

Arrange in a large pot.

Squeeze the lemon on top of the stuffed eggplants and throw in the sliced garlic and the mint. Add the water and place two-three small plates to add weight on the eggplants so that they stay compact. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 30 minutes. Turn the heat to low and cook another 30-40 minutes.

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Mediterranean kiwi said...

i've never seen dried eggplants before. we produce quite a lot so i freeze a lot of them just as you pictured the dried ones
this is how i make dolmades in the winter, they are always a popular dish

Joie de vivre said...

Do you think I could make my own dried eggplants in a food dehydrator?

lisaiscooking said...

I've never had dried eggplant. This sounds delicious. Thanks for the info and for showing how to work with them!

Mediterranean Turkish Cook said...

Maria, I've never had frozen eggplants. That's a clever way to enjoy them in the winter.

Joie de vivre, why not? I've never used a food dehydrator, but I'd be curious to see how the results are.

Lisa, thanks, my pleasure!

Selba said...

Eggplants with stuffing? Wow! What a great idea. Here in Indonesia, we usually will cook eggplants only with oil, shallots, tomatoes, red chili, sugar and vinegar.

Anonymous said...

OMG! I am also excited!I didnt know about dried eggplants,I knew about dried bamia/okra on a string..but I first saw the dried small eggplants in the turkish shops in paris and I got really emotional..!I almost feel like drying some now just to make the recipe!They look DIVINE!Any left?I bet you finished them all up at once!I might actually be able to find some here-not sure..I havent seen any.But I definitely want to try and dry some myself for sure!Do you know exactly how?There`s something about these old traditions that are very special to me!Sagol!

Anonymous said...

Bythway,Do I know what you mean by missing the food..when I used to live in France I actually snuck in a wild plant of Zaatar(spice)in my suitcase coming back from a visit,and it survived and grew on my kitchen windowsill serving me with great loyalty as I added fresh leaves to so many salads and dishes!It made me ecstatic! :)

Reeni♥ said...

I love eggplant, have never seen them dried. They are the perfect vehicle for that delicious stuffing!

Mediterranean Turkish Cook said...

Selba, your version of eggplant dish sounds great too!

Mia, yes dried okra also is also very common. I have only a few of the dried eggplants left for the next time I make dolma. You know, I think the way the eggplants are dried is that they are carved first, so that there is space inside the eggplant for the stuffing. They are washed and salted and left under the sun. I don't know how long. I will ask my mother when I talk to her to make sure this is how it is done. This is how I think they're made.

Zaatar plant in a suitcase? You're worse than me. ha ha So far (only started this in the past few years), I'm lucky not getting caught in the customs with all these foods. I also feel special about these kind of old traditions.

Reeni, thanks; it sure is a great vegetable for stuffing!

Anonymous said...

I know in that respect Im totally crazy..theres just something so warming about bringing special traditional food products,even when travelling to visit other countries,I find it to be the best souvenirs along with handcraft items,its just so Authentic!

Joie de vivre said...

Just dropped in to say hi! Thanks for your comments on my blog!

Selba said...

Hi.. please pick up your award here :)

Anonymous said...

bythway Nihal..In Jordan I immediatly checked out the spice area..ofcourse..I found the strands of dried Bamiya..but not eggplant..also I asked a good friend there who is a fabulous cook :) originally from syria,and she never heard of it..I wonder if it`s only in Turkey?Do you think?why would that be?hmmm Just curious.. :) optum

Mediterranean Turkish Cook said...

Hmm...interesting. I've always thought it was a Mediterranean thing. In Turkey, it is very popular and I would be really surprised if other Mediterranean countries don't know it. Hope your travels are going well.

Anonymous said...

Grew up in Brooklyn NY and my father would always make these dried eggplants called Mekshi(sp?) Since he died a few years ago, I have picked up the tradition of making them. We stuff them with lamb, rice, mint and cook them in a tomato, lemon,garlic slices, water sauce. You can buy them in Paterson, NJ at Fattals on Main Street and also at a Turkish store on Main Street.

Anonymous said...

I was working in Istanbul last summer and saw the dried eggplant in the spice market. I bought a string to bring home. Thanks for sharing the preparation. I was wondering if I had to cook them before stuffing. Now I know. I am going to try them out as I have a 50/50 change of going back to Istanbul for work in 2 weeks. If I get to go, I will have to pick up some more (and a few more cooking utensils as well--the market is wonderful!)

Mediterranean Turkish Cook said...

Anonymous, thanks for stopping by my blog. I am glad you found this post helpful. Please do let me know how they turn out if you do try them. If you go back to Istanbul, have fun!

Mindy Jacobs said...

where can I buy dried eggplants?

Mediterranean Turkish Cook said...

Mindy, check out Turkish or any Mediterranean stores in your city. I hope you find them.

Anonymous said...

these are also used in arab levntine cuisine( syria,lebanon.palestine jordan) ..usually stuffed with rice meat and spices..cooked in tomoto sauce..the flavors the dried eggplant imparts is succulent, exquisite yet earthy