Dolma, or stuffed vegetables, are a mainstay of Azerbaijani cuisine.
The name comes from a Turkic verb meaning “to fill” or “stuff”, “dolmaq” in Azerbaijani. The most popular dolma in Azerbaijan are stuffed vine leaves, aubergines, tomatoes, peppers or cabbage leaves. Quince dolma make an unusual, tasty alternative, however, with a pleasing contrast between the tangy fruit and the savoury filling. This is an autumn dish, when quince and chestnuts are readily available.
Preparation time: 45 mins
Cooking time: 50 mins
For the filling
200 g/8 oz lamb or veal or a combination of the two
1 medium-sized onion
25 g/1 oz melted butter or 1 tbspn of vegetable or olive oil (butter is traditional)
a handful of chestnuts
1 tspn of ground cinnamon
1 tspn of allspice
a pinch of turmeric or a couple of strands of saffron
salt & pepper
5 quince, smooth, without blemishes and, preferably, soft
2 dessertspoons of sugar or honey and 1 dessertspoon of lemon juice
1 glass (or more, depending on cooking time) of bouillon or hot water
If using saffron, put the threads in a cup and add 1 tablespoon of boiling water. Cover and leave to infuse.
Pierce the chestnuts. Cover with water in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and shell. Don’t take all the chestnuts out of the water at once, as they are difficult to shell when dry. Roughly chop the shelled chestnuts.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Put the minced meat, finely chopped onion, chopped chestnuts, spices, melted butter or oil and salt into a bowl and mix well with your hands.
Mix the honey and lemon juice in a saucer.
Wash the quince and rub them with cloth or kitchen paper to remove any down from the outside.
Slice off the tops and set aside. Remove the cores and some of the flesh of the fruit to create a hollow for the stuffing. This is the hardest part!
Rub the inside of the quince with the honey and lemon juice mixture. This helps to prevent the quince from going too brown and to bring out the flavour.
Stuff the quince with the meat mixture, pressing the filling down hard. Put the tops back on the quince as lids.
Wrap each quince in foil (to help them keep their shape and moisture) and stand upright in a baking dish or ovenproof shallow pan.
Add half a glass of bouillon or hot water to the baking dish.
Place the dish in the hot oven and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the fruit are soft.
Pour the cooking juice over each quince when serving. Serve with fresh crusty bread and yoghurt (optional).
You can use the cores and flesh removed from the centre of the quince to make a tasty fruit drink (sherbet) while the the dolma are cooking. Put the quince pieces, one chopped up apple and 1-2 tablespoons of granulated sugar or sugar loaf into a pan. Add water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring to make sure all the sugar dissolves. Set aside. Strain before serving.