Meat Free Baked Stuffed Onions with Hellim

By Meliz Cooks

I love making something really delicious out of humble ingredients. These really rather incredible, yet very budget-friendly, and vegetarian, Kıbrıs Usulü Hellimli Yalancı Soğan Dolması

(Meat-Free Baked Stuffed Onions with Hellim) showcase how simple produce can create exceptional flavours when treated well.

Top Non-Food-Waste-Tips:

I often find that when it comes to vegetarian dishes, the most simple fresh and store-cupboard ingredients can produce the most delicious offerings, especially with a few key techniques in the kitchen – and this really is one of those recipes. 
Use olive oil when frying onions (and vegetables in particular), and take your time when softening them on the hob, with a good pinch of salt – they really will add a delicious sweetness to your dishes 
Cook down pastes and purees for a few minutes to add a stronger depth of flavour to recipes
Whack up the heat in your oven for a few minutes at the end of the cooking time to caramelise your vegetables – this will add a delicious contrast to the flavour, texture and the final appearance of your meal.
Some of my top tips and hacks to prevent food-waste are perfect for this recipe, such as using surplus finely chopped onions, lemon juice, fresh parsley and tomato puree from the freezer, and even freezing blocks of hellim (halloumi cheese) for when you need it next. 
This dish is really elevated when fresh tomatoes are in season and sweet-smelling fresh spearmint of Moroccan mint can be sourced. However, if more suitable, feel free to swap out the fresh tomatoes for good-quality finely chopped tinned tomatoes, and the fresh mint for 2 tbsp of dried mint. 

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200g short-grain pudding rice

4 large, ripe tomatoes

6 large onions

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ tsp fine sea salt

3 tbsp tomato puree

50g fresh flat leaf parsley, stalks and leaves very finely chopped

15g fresh mint leaves, very finely chopped

1 block (225-250g) hellim (halloumi cheese), cut into 1cm cubes

¾ tsp coarse black pepper

60ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

200ml boiling water

200ml cold water

1 tsp pomegranate molasses


To garnish

¼ tsp pul biber

1 heaped tsp Fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped 


This will make about 24-26 medium-large stuffed onions, depending on the size of the onions but 6 large onions will make close to the above amount.


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Preheat your oven to 180c fan / 200c. 
Wash the rice in a sieve under cold running water until the water runs clear, then allow to drain fully.

Cut the tomatoes in half, then coarsely grate them (cut, fleshy side against the grater) into a large bowl, discarding the skins. 
Peel the onions (without cutting them), then finely chop one of them and leave to one side. 

Vertically from the bottom up, slice halfway into the remaining 5 whole onions, only to the core, not all the way through. Cut the bottoms off the onions. This will make it much easier to separate the layers of the onions once cooked.  Place the onions into a pan and cover with cold water. Place the pan on the hob over a medium-high heat, bring up to the boil, then turn down and simmer over a medium heat for 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Add 2tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil to a small frying pan and place on the hob over a low-medium heat. Once hot, add the finely chopped onion to the pan, along with half of the salt, and cook the onions for around 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and caramelised. Add 2 tbsp of the tomato puree to the pan, and stir it into the onions for a couple of minutes. Add the grated tomato flesh to the pan, stirring well into the onions and tomato puree, and cook for 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes start to bubble and thicken ever so slightly. Take the pan off the heat.

Carefully drain the water from the pan of the cooked, whole onions and top the pan up with cold water. Leave for 2-3 minutes then drain the cold water from the pan. Separate the larger and medium sized leaves from the onions taking care not to tear or break them, and leave these leaves to one side – these are the onion leaves that will be stuffed – you should have around 24-26 good-sized leaves from the 5 large onions. Finely chop the very small leaves / core of the onions, to add them to the stuffing.  

In the large bowl you used to grate the tomatoes into, mix together the drained rice, the cooked onion and tomatoey sauce, the finely chopped boiled onions1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, the chopped parsley (retain a heaped tsp or so of the finely chopped parsley leaves for garnish), mint, the cut cubes of hellim, remaining sea salt, the coarse black pepper and lemon juice.

Stuff each of the onion leaves with around 2 tablespoons, or enough of the filling mixture as possible, that will enable you to wrap the onion over itself slightly without the filling spilling out. Place the stuffed onions, seam-side down into an oven-proof baking dish big enough to keep them snug, but not cramped or too loose. I use either a deep 28-30cm circular casserole dish or a 24 x 30cm rectangular oven-proof dish.

Lay a sheet of greaseproof over the stuffed onions and place a dinner plate or two smaller plates on top to weigh everything down a little. Add the remaining 1tbsp tomato puree and the 200ml boiling hot water to a small jug, and stir well until fully dissolved. Top up the liquid with the 200ml cold water and carefully pour it all into the side of the oven dish. Pop the lid on the dish (or cover very tightly with foil), then put it on the middle rack of the oven for an hour.
In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and the pomegranate molasses.

After an hour, remove the dish from the oven, and very carefully remove the lid / foil, the plate(s) and greaseproof paper, the brush the tops of the onions with the extra virgin olive oil and pomegranate molasses mixture. 

Carefully place the dish back in the oven on the middle rack, increase the heat to 210c fan / 230c and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the tops of the onions have caramelised. Remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle with pul biber and fresh flat leaf parsley and allow to rest, covered with the lid / foil, for 30 minutes before serving with the garlic yoghurt, fresh salad and crusty bread. 

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