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Stuffed vegetables have a long tradition in many Mediterranean countries. Greeks, Sicilians, Lebanese, Turks, Egyptians, and the Cypriots might argue that their version of a given stuffed vegetable dish is best and claim its origin as their own, but in reality, stuffing vegetables is a common preparation shared widely in the Mediterranean.

Dolmadakia, or stuffed grape leaves, is a classic dish in Greece. The Greek word dolmadakia is actually a direct form of the Turkish word dolma (or plural, dolmades), which means stuffed or filled. However, in Turkey, dolma often refers to vegetables, typically zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and bell peppers; whereas, sarma, meaning stuffed and rolled (wrapped), often refers to stuffed and rolled grape or cabbage leaves. In Greece, gemista (or yemista) are stuffed tomatoes and peppers filled with rice, and lots of fresh herbs, including mint. In Italy, stuffed tomatoes (pomodoro ripieni) are filled with rice, cheese, and plenty of fresh herbs and baked in the oven. As the tomatoes cook, their flavor intensifies and the rice packed inside absorbs all those scrumptious tomato juices.

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Mashi translates to stuffed in Arabic. In Egypt, anything that can be hollowed out is fair game for stuffing, for example, eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, peppers, grape leaves, and cabbage leaves. Each serves a popular vessel to be filled with a traditional rice, herb, tomato sauce, and spice mixture.

Piquillo pepers are a classic Spanish tapa, stuffed with anything from goat’s cheese to bonito (tuna) to salt cod pureé (bacalao).

From late spring to early fall, you’ll likely find beautiful yellow/orange squash blossoms in your garden or at your local farmers’ market. The soft, delicate, mild tasting flowers of summer and winter squash are the perfect vessel for stuffing. In Italy, a local delicacy consists of squash blossoms filled with ricotta cheese and herbs that are lightly battered and deep-fried until airy and crispy on the outside and oozing with warm cheese on the inside.

In addition, stuffed rolled eggplant (rollatini di melanzane) and stuffed artichokes are classic Italian antipasti (appetizers). The former consists of eggplant stuffed and rolled with mozzarella and basil, layered with tomato sauce, and baked in the oven. The latter, large globe artichokes, are traditionally stuffed with Parmesan, breadcrumbs, and herbs and baked in the oven until the artichoke leaves are tender. The stuffed artichokes are then finished briefly under the broiler, which allows the top layer of cheese and breadcrumbs to get nice and crispy.

Stuffed dishes in the Mediterranean extend beyond vegetables. Given squid’s tubular shape, they make an ideal vehicle for stuffing. From Sicily to Spain to Turkey, you’ll find various versions of stuffed squid. They are often filled with rice or bulgur, breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, and squid tentacles and simmered in tomato sauce or baked in the oven until tender and flavorful. Aromatic, seasoned rice-stuffed mussels, midye dolma, is a classic regional Turkish dish and a common street food on the streets of Istanbul.

Porchetta or pork belly, stuffed with fresh herbs and spices (rosemary, thyme, fennel), and a good amount of garlic and slow-roasted until the fat renders out—the meat succulent and juicy, and its skin crispy—is a classic Italian preparation.

Of course, we can’t overlook desserts. Stuffed dates are a traditional Moroccan sweet served during Ramadan and special occasions. Orange blossom water and cinnamon are used to flavor almond paste before it is stuffed into pitted dates. In Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, you’ll encounter mammoul, buttery, shortbread cookies stuffed with a date, walnut, or pistachio paste, which has been infused with rosewater or orange blossom water, pressed into decorative, wood-carved molds, baked in the oven, and finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.

With plenty of vegetables in season, September is the perfect time to perfect (or try for the first time!) stuffed Mediterranean delights!
 

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Comments

Jeanette
Love your recipes - thank you!
Lynn Pelletier
The entire content of this wonderful article made my mouth water. I now have to stuff everything! A recent trip to Spain and Italy taught me so much and now this. Perhaps do indeed need to spend 3 months in "the Med". Thank You..

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