At some point, she started rolling the filling in cabbage leaves instead, and I was hooked. What else could be stuffed?
So many vegetables, of course — and in so many cultures. One of my favorite Mexican dishes is chile relleno, another stuffed green pepper — although a poblano is a pretty far cry from a plain bell. And what doesn’t taste good when you coat it in a batter and fry it, especially after you stuff it with cheese?
The squash family of vegetables is full of great candidates for stuffing. In the winter, pumpkins can be hollowed out and baked to showstopping effect. But this time of year, I’ve got yellow summer squashes (still) coming out of my backyard garden faster than I can use them, and now that the nights are cooling down, it feels right to stuff them.
Dishes like these are a staple of Iraqi and other Middle Eastern cooking, and it was in an Iraqi cookbook that I found my latest method. The book, by Lamees Ibrahim, a Baghdad-born Londoner, has recipes for stuffed zucchini, stuffed cucumber and, my pick, stuffed mixed vegetables — all of them simmered in a tomato sauce.
I love the combination approach because it offers the most flexibility. I used a yellow squash from my garden, plus a zucchini from the farmers market and a bell pepper from the grocery store. If I had run across any appropriately sized (that is, not gigantic) eggplants, I would’ve subbed in one of those instead. Ibrahim’s recipes are vegan, so she calls for using “vegan mince” (or what we might see marketed as crumbles) and grains in her stuffing, and that would work just fine, but I wanted to use up some of the (many) lentils in my pantry instead.
My favorite aspects of her recipe are the use of a hefty dose of chopped parsley and a full tablespoon of spices: I used a Lebanese seven-spice blend from Maureen Abood’s online store, but baharat would work well, as would a pinch each of a handful of common spices.
With the spices, the tomatoes, the long simmering and the one-pot nature of the dish, it proved warming and homey — just what I want as summer turns to fall.
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Make ahead: The rice and lentils need to be soaked at least 1 hour and up to overnight in advance of cooking.
Storage: The stuffed vegetables can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Where to buy: Baharat or Lebanese seven-spice blend can be found in Middle Eastern markets and online.
- 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
- 1/3 cup brown lentils
- 1 medium-to-large zucchini (12 ounces)
- 1 medium-to-large summer squash (12 ounces)
- 1 large red bell pepper (8 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion (8 ounces), chopped
- 1 1/2 cups water, divided
- 1 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more leaves for garnish
- 1/4 cup red or white quinoa
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
- 1 tablespoon baharat or Lebanese seven-spice (may substitute a scant 1/2 teaspoon each of ground coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, turmeric and ginger)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, divided
- One (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juices
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, combine the rice and lentils and add water to cover. Soak for at least 1 hour and up to overnight, then drain.
Cut off the stem ends of the zucchini and summer squash, and cut the stem end off the bell pepper, about an inch from the top; reserve these bits. Halve each squash lengthwise. Using a spoon or corer, remove the flesh in a channel from the zucchini and squash and chop the flesh. Discard the seeds from the bell pepper. Use a fork or skewer to poke holes all over the outside of the vegetables.
Set a shallow Dutch oven or other oven-safe, lidded pan that can hold the vegetables in one layer over medium heat. Pour in the olive oil, and when it shimmers, add the onion and cook, stirring, until it softens and lightly browns, about 5 minutes. Add the soaked rice and lentils, the chopped vegetable flesh, 1/2 cup of the water, the parsley, quinoa, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, the spice mix and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the rice and lentils start to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat, let the mixture cool slightly, then fill the zucchini and squash halves with it, and place one half on top of the other to close them up. Fill the red bell pepper with the stuffing. Place the vegetables in the same pan and nestle the reserved cut stem ends against the squash and zucchini, and place the stem-end top back on the bell pepper, to prevent filling from spilling out too much during cooking.
In a large measuring cup or bowl, mix together the diced tomatoes with the remaining 1 cup of water, the tomato paste, the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Pour it over the stuffed vegetables in the pan.
Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the vegetables are tender and the rice and lentils are cooked, 30 to 45 minutes.
Garnish with the additional whole parsley leaves and serve hot.
Per serving (half a stuffed vegetable plus 1/4 cup sauce), based on 6
Calories: 236; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 548 mg; Carbohydrates: 38 g; Dietary Fiber: 8 g; Sugar: 8 g; Protein: 9 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
Adapted from “The Vegan Iraqi Cookbook” by Lamees Ibrahim (Babylon Books, 2020).
Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to email@example.com.
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