Most of my friends, like many women in Israel, work part or full time, have a busy family life and are constantly inundated with chores.
They are most definitely not stuffing vegetables.
It takes too long, is way too complicated and worse, after all the work, nobody might like them. Why bother?
What used to be the epitome of ethnic cuisine has fallen out of favor for the busy home cook. These delicacies, from Eastern European stuffed cabbage to Kurdish grape leaves filled with rice and herbs are relegated to restaurant cooks (or chefs as they call themselves today) around the country, from simple family eateries to more sophisticated venues.
It doesn’t have to be. Despite the lengthy preparation time, stuffed vegetables can be made beforehand and reheated the following day for a certain amount of convenience. In fact, they often taste better once the flavors have a chance to meld and develop.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get the neighbors together for a vegetable stuffing support group (kind of like a quilting club but tastier)? Perhaps I should arrange something like that here, as the time does drag on when this task is tackled alone.
Here onions are slowly caramelized to add depth of flavor to the filling. The number of zucchinis and onions needed for this recipe depends on their size. Of course if available, grape leaves can also be added.
The recipe for the filling was given to me by Oshnat Moshe who uses it to stuff her grape and cabbage leaves. Her family lived in northern Iraq near the Turkish border before immigrating to Israel in the 1950’s.
10 small zucchinis or summer squash, if they are large cut them in half
3-4 onions, sliced to the core
2 cups rice (I used short grain rice, but long grain is preferred by Oshnat)
2 onions, chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper
Sliced tomatoes for layering the bottom of the pan (optional)
Preparing Stuffed Vegetables
Core the vegetables using a long thin vegetable corer designed specifically for this job. In Syria it is possible to buy cored zucchinis but I have never seen anything like this here. A perfectly cored zucchini should have sides thin enough so the light can pass through but I am not a perfectionist. The onions should be sliced once to the core and microwaved for several minutes until it softens (they can also be boiled just until the onion layers are pliable).
Finely chop the two onions and fry them in a few tablespoons of olive oil until they turn golden brown and lose their volume. Combine the fried onions and the rest of the ingredients for the filling and mix until combined.
Layer a shallow, oven proof pot with tomato slices
Stuff the zucchini with the rice mixture so it is 3/4 full. The rice will expand so room should be left at the top. Lay the zucchini on the tomato layer side by side, leaving no space between them.
Peel each layer of onion (see the stuffed onion recipe). Place about 1 tablespoon of the filling in the middle of the onion layer and roll tightly. Add the stuffed onions to the top the zucchini.
Add boiling water so that it barely covers the stuffed vegetables. Cover and simmer on low for about 45 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the rice is soft. Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F). Uncover ovenproof pot and place in the oven for 1 hour until the onions brown.
For another variation of vegetarian stuffed vegetables try Liz’s recipe.