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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