Easy Stuffed Zucchini, Israeli-Style

 

By Danielle Crittenden Frum

 

I'm often intimidated from making anything "stuffed." It implies a lot of time and labor. Thus as much as I love so many Middle Eastern dishes involving vegetables packed with ground meat and other ingredients,  I've hesitated from making them myself because I assumed they would be laborious. Most meals in my house rely on fresh, but fast, recipes.

For some reason recently I got a craving for stuffed zucchini -- probably because I'm still missing Israel. I browsed through my cookbooks and the internet, and realized preparing a zucchini for stuffing is about as labor intensive as peeling a carrot. And to test this theory, I only began preparing the dinner after I got home one evening at 5. On week/school nights I like family dinner to hit the table around 6:30 -- my belated start pushed dinner to 7, but only because the zucchini required longer roasting than I'd anticipated. The upshot was I had an extra half hour to enjoy a glass of wine. 

The recipe below is an amalgamation of several: I adapted the meat stuffing and tomato sauce recipes from Michael Romanov's excellent Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking  (he used these to stuff peppers). They were both flavorful and simple to prepare; the seasoning had the whiff of the shuk without necessitating a special spice run. The method of cooking a stuffed zucchini relied on internet research. The result was an all-in-one yummy meal, which has the added bonus of being delicious the next day, served at room temperature. In other words, perfect for Shabbat.

Serves 4 to 6.

Preheat the oven to 400-degrees.

For the Zucchini Boats:

2 pounds medium or smallish zucchini, 4-5 in total
2 tbs kosher salt

Wash and slice the zucchini's in half. With a melon ball cutter, hollow out the zucchini halves from end to end, leaving the shell about 1/3-inch thick. Discard pulp and soak zucchini in a bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes -- or while preparing the meat stuffing and tomato sauce. (Put the rice on now too -- see below. In our carb-phobic household I omitted it, to no loss.) Rinse and pat dry. 

Lightly oil a roasting pan large enough to hold all the zucchini snugly. Roast for about 15 minutes -- again while preparing the other elements.

For the Meat Stuffing:

2 tbs olive oil
2 onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 pounds ground beef (ground lamb would also work)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbs kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked Jasmine rice 
1 large egg
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (optional)
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish

 

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened but not begun to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the beef, cinnamon, salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate the beef, and continue cooking until the beef is cooked through and begins to brown, another 15 minutes. Mix in the pine nuts, if using.

If using rice: In a large bowl, add the rice, seasoned meat and the egg and mix well.  

If not using rice, you can omit the egg as well.

For the Basic Tomato Sauce:

5 tbs olive oil
1 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups pureed tomato (canned is fine)
2 tbs ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

 

Warm 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the onion and the garlic and cook until the vegetables have softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, coriander, salt and 1 cup water and cook until the sauce has thickened and concentrated, 15 to 20 minutes. Off the heat, whick in the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. (Note: The sauce will keep for a week in the refrigerator; 3 months frozen.)

Assembling the Zucchini Boats:

 Remove partially roasted zucchini halves from the roasting pan, and spread about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom.  Return the zucchini halves to the pan, and spoon the stuffing in and over the zucchini. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the boats, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until a knife slides in easily into the zucchini. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot, or at room temperature the next day.

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