Slow Cooked Stuffed Zucchini

Slow Cooked Stuffed Zucchini, Turkish Style

Old fashioned as they might be, there is a joy in stuffed vegetables, oozing with tomatoey rice or chickpea fillings, perhaps covered with cheese, melted and dripping down the sides. Nothing quite says cold weather more than stuffed vegetables. We love them. But then we were never one for fashion, especially in food.

This recipe is Turkish in origin, although many versions appear around the Middle East and gulf regions, from Israel to Afghanistan. We are stuffing our zucchini from the garden, the late ones that have grown slightly larger. We stuff them flat, that is, laying on their length, slit in half, and cooked with the stuffing in hollows left by the removal of their seeds and soft core. You can, of course, stuff them vertical – cutting into lengths without splitting down the middle, and using a manakra from your Middle Eastern store, to hollow out the middles – sort of like coring an apple.

We are using Ottolenghi’s recipe in Plenty More, but many similar recipes abound, using a range of grains to give substance to the filling. We are using Ottolenghi’s recipe because we have a little project at the moment, to cook through Plenty More, so it is a convenient way to add another dish to our project’s Cooked list.

The thing about many Zucchini dishes is that they are just as delightful served at room temperature as well as warm – this dish, for example, is divine. Today’s recipe is in the same class – serve it warmish, or at room temperature, with goat’s feta (Middle Eastern feta, beautifully creamy) and a salad of sliced onion, radish and tomato. Excellent. Make it a first course or a main dish.

Ottolenghi has changed the recipe for this dish over time, reducing the time taken to cook the stuffed zucchini from 2 hours to 40 mins. That raised a warning signal for us. We find that it all depends on your heat levels. I cooked mine with a heat diffuser to keep the heat low and it takes all of 2 hours to ensure the rice is cooked well. Higher heat levels will mean that cooking time is shorter.

Our suspicion is that the longer time might be more traditional, but less photogenic or visually pleasing. It is often the case with dishes from countries like Greece and Turkey, and neighbouring countries, that dishes are cooked longer than might be fashionable these days. Flavour goes through the roof but the visual appeal is lost. It’s a pity that we put so much store on visual presentation.

HOWEVER, we found that using Ottolenghi’s recipe, the zucchini was overcooked and the rice just a tad undercooked, even after 2 hours. After all, it is being steamed rather than boiled as is usual. Our recommendation is that the rice should be par-cooked before using in the stuffing, and that the cooking time is then reduced to 40 – 60 mins so that the rice is really soft. As it is, the recipe does not work. (See this Guardian article which also recommends precooking rice for stuffed courgettes in general.)

I am leaving the recipe as it appears in the book, in case I missed something or you have other insights and views. If so, let me know. It is unusual to have an Ottolenghi recipe that does not work.

It is Ottolenghi day on the blog – one of two days per month where we publish all the latest posts of recipes we have tried in our project of cooking from Ottolenghi books – those we have cooked directly and those we have been inspired by. Currently we are cooking from Plenty More, but not ignoring his other books completely. Note that I often massage the recipes to suit what is available from our garden and pantry. For the original recipes, check his books and his Guardian column.

Similar dishes include Stuffed Tomatoes with Cheese, Peppers Stuffed with Cherry Tomatoes, and Okra Stuffed with Chilli Paste.

Browse all of our Stuffed recipes and all of our Zucchini dishes. Our Ottolenghi dishes from Plenty More are here. We have written about our experiences cooking through this book. Or explore our Late Autumn recipes.

Slow Cooked Stuffed Zucchini, Turkish Style

Slow Cooked Stuffed Zucchini, Turkish Style

this is the recipe as appears in Plenty More. Please note the comments below the recipe about cooking times.

6 medium zucchini (courgettes)
30g mint leaves
60ml olive oil
90g Greek or Indian yoghurt

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1.5 Tblspn olive or safflower oil
300g short-grain rice
2 tspns baharat or allspice powder
1 Tblspn dried mint
1 small tomato, finely chopped
zest 1 lemon
2 Tblspn chopped coriander leaves
sea salt and pepper
some kitchen string

cooking liquor
450 ml vegetable stock or water
1 tspn baharat or allspice powder
1.5 Tblspn pomegranate molasses
1 Tblspn palm sugar or caster sugar
1 Tblspn dried mint
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tblspn lemon juice
sea salt to taste and black pepper

mint leaves, to garnish

make the filling
Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Sauté the onion on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally before adding the rice, spice powders and mint. Continue to cook for another 8 minutes before removing from the heat and stirring in the tomato, lemon zest, coriander, sea salt to taste and some black pepper.

Halve the zucchini lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds. Fill one half of each zucchini generously with the rice mixture and then place the other half back on top. Tie tightly with string in a few places to secure the filling inside.

make the cooking liquor
Put all the ingredients for the cooking liquor into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the stuffed zucchini. Top up with stock or water until the liquid comes up to roughly 1 cm from the bottom of the pan.

cook the zucchini
Place the pan on a low – medium heat and bring to a simmer. If the zucchini are tending to float, place a plate on top of them to keep them down. Cover the pan and cook on a very gentle simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours (or less if your heat is higher), until the zucchinis and rice are completely soft with very little stock left in the pan. Check the rice carefully, to make sure it is sufficiently cooked.

Remove the pan from the heat and cool the stuffed zucchinis to room temperature.

to make the oil
Place the fresh mint in a blender or small food processor and blitz with the oil and some salt until smooth. Set aside.

Beat the yoghurt with a little salt and set aside in the fridge.

to serve
Place a zucchini on a serving plate and spoon some yoghurt on top. Drizzle over the mint sauce and serve at once.

recipe notes and alternatives
We found that using Ottolenghi’s times for the recipe, the zucchini was overcooked and the rice just a tad undercooked, even after 2 hours. After all, it is being steamed rather than boiled as is usual. Our recommendation is that the rice should be par-cooked before using in the stuffing (simply simmer it for half the recommended cooking time for your rice), and that the cooking time is then reduced to approx 40 mins so that the rice is really soft. You may need to add a little less liquid to the dish, and watch carefully to ensure proper cooking of the zucchini and the filling.

other options
Add 2 Tblspn currants and 1 Tblspn pine nuts to the filling for variation.

Use parsley instead of mint.

We have served the zucchini with yoghurt, herb oil and Broad Bean and Butter Bean Puree.

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