This year we celebrated Sukkot with our friendly neighbors, Hagit, Amnon and their family. It was a pleasant affair, especially for me since I didn’t have to do any major cooking. I was responsible only for bringing the stuffed zucchini, meatballs and a loaf of sourdough bread. Hagit, like me, always fears one of her guests might faint from hunger at the dinner table and was still chopping mounds of vegetables when the guests walked in. “Do you think there’s enough food?” she kept asking while calculating her guest’s appetite as if each were a sumo wrestler (or my dog, Rambo). This phobia of having half starved guests scraping the last bit of rice from the pot always leaves me in a bit of a panic before any dinner party but the worse that has happened is a week’s worth of leftovers.
During sukkot it is traditional to sit in the sukkah, which resembles a small makeshift hut with branches for the roof and fabric for the walls, commemorating the forty years during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert. For an entire week all meals are eaten in the sukkah and my boys, who love to camp take it a step farther and have started a tradition of inviting friends and sleeping in it. This is also the time to recite special prayers while holding the four species, the date palm (lulav), citron (etrog), myrtle (hadas) and willow (aravot), a ritual steeped in symbolism and folklore. Some believe that the first American pilgrims were inspired by the biblical celebration of sukkot and assimilated it into their yearly traditions. Perhaps the religious pilgrims sought solace in the old testament in their times of hardship and found an analogy in sukkot, the biblical harvest festival. It is customary to serve colorful fruits and vegetables especially in their stuffed form, representing the cornucopia of the fall harvest and abundance for the following year.
Stuffed Zucchini, Medias
Known as the Moors, The Arabs and Arabized Berbers went on to conquer Spain in 711. They kept North Africa in contact with Spain for centuries fusing ingredients of the Mediterranean with those of the Maghreb. When the Spanish Moors and Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 during the Inquisition of Ferdinand and Isabella, many chose to settle in North Africa, and they brought their cuisine with them. A large portion settled in either Morocco or Algeria with smaller numbers in Tunisia and even Syria. The Spanish Jews brought this lovely dish to Israel. Some Syrian Jews of Spanish origin still use the Spanish name, medias to describe the dish. The word medias in Spanish means half, here the squash are split in half but there are recipes of the same name using artichokes and other vegetables.
This recipe was given to me by Tova Ben Senyor, the woman who runs the local youth center. Her family originally came from Spain but has been living in Israel for several generations.
500 grams ground meat
1 garlic clove, finely minced or crushed
1 small bunch coriander, chopped
1/2 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup of water
6-9 medium sized zucchinis or summer squash (~15cm in length or longer ones cut in half)
1 egg, whisked
Flour for dredging
Vegetable oil or lamb tail fat
4 tomatoes liquefied in food processor or peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste (50 grams)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2-1 cup chicken stock or water (to cover zucchini)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil or lamb tail fat
Fry the onion in olive oil until translucent. Add 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and paprika and fry for a minute or two to release the flavors. Add the chopped or liquefied tomatoes and sauté them forabout 20 minutes. Dilute with chicken stock or water and cook for about 30 minute. Add salt and pepper
Slice the zucchinis lengthwise and scoop out the pulp with a small spoon such as a dessert spoon so there is a small hollow to stuff with meat. In a bowl add the meat, coriander, egg, garlic, spices and water. Knead to form a smooth mixture. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well
Add enough of the meat mixture to the empty the zucchini shells to form a slight mound. Dip in the egg mixture and then the flour. Fry belly side down in vegetable oil or lamb tail fat (olive oil tends to burn. Flip when meat no longer sticks, about 4 minutes. Fry a few minutes on opposite side. Remove to a plate
Place the stuffed zucchinis in the sauce, meat side up. Take note that the zucchinis will release moisture so it is not necessary to submerge them in sauce. The sauce should come 3/4 up the last layer (if there is more than one) and cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check to see periodically to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. If the sauce has not thickened enough at the end of this period, .gently remove them and reduce the sauce. Serve with white rice