A specialty of the Middle East, stuffed zukes are favorites with young and old.
In a Tel Aviv supermarket, I watched a mother soothing her tired, hungry little boy. “Just another few minutes, and then we’ll go to Grandmother’s house for lunch!” The little boy sniffled, looked up, and asked, “Are there going to be memoula’im (stuffed vegetables)?”
You can bet that Grandmother had an array of stuffed zucchini, eggplants, and maybe artichoke hearts for her family. Although you can sometimes pick up the vegetables all ready for stuffing in Arabic grocery stores, countless Middle Eastern cooks still pride themselves on their skill at hollowing them out. I myself bought a special peeler with a long, curved blade for this in Nazereth. The video below taught me how to use it. And if you have freekah around, you might enjoy using it instead of rice in this recipe. Treat it exactly the same as the rice.
Lebanese Stuffed Zucchini
12 medium zucchini, rinsed
1/2 lb. – 250 grams ground beef or lamb
2 cups rice soaked in warm water 30 minutes
2 tablespoons pine nuts, skillet-toasted in 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
8 cups water
Cook the meat in 1 tablespoon olive oil, stirring to break it up. Add the seasonings and cook another few minutes – about 10 in all
Drain the rice. Mix it with the meat and pine nuts and seasonings in a bowl. Cover and set aside.
Trim the rough flower end of each zucchini, keeping the slice level. Cut a thin slice from the stem (bottom) end.
Hollow out each zucchini with a peeler or sharp, thin, flexible knife, taking care not to pierce the bottoms.
Stuff each zucchini half-way up with the meat mixture.
Fry the chopped onion with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan large enough to cook the zucchini in. When the onions are golden, add the tomato paste and 8 cups water.
Bring the liquids to a boil. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste.
Place the zucchini in the sauce. Cook for 30 minutes on medium heat.
To test for doneness, pierce one zuke with a toothpick or thin knife. When all are tender and the rice is cooked, remove them to a platter and keep warm.
Reduce the sauce by boiling it another 15 minutes or till thick.
Spoon the reduced sauce over the zucchini and serve.
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Photo of stuffed zukes by mbp via Flickr.