Sitting down here at my desk editing my photos and typing this post while slowly and neatly biting on a delicious Eid cookie and sipping on my second latte for today, feels so daaaamn good!! I did miss my coffee the most during Ramadan. I am not a coffee addict and I usually have just one in the morning, but I figured out that this one latte in the morning makes such a big difference in my day. It might be a psycological thing. I’m not too sure. But what I’m sure of, is that it really lifts my mood and pumps me up for the rest of the day.
Now that Ramadan and Eid celebrations are over, I’m trying to get back into my normal routine with both work and exercise. I slowed down a lot during Ramadan and I’m so glad I did. I think we all need to slow down this fast pace and focus on ourselves every now and again.
At the beginning of this week I was feeling so energetic and motivated to go back to the gym and get these lazy muscles working hard again. So I started with a body pump class (which was a killer!), then the next day I did a massive 45 mins advanced cycling class which I really struggled to finish, but I had to push through until I managed to complete it without fainting, was so close though. I realised the next day that I should’ve taken it a little easier on myself because I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, my whole body was aching badly. I went for a long walk outdoors yesterday to ease this muscle pain, and thankfully it helped a lot. I’m taking a break from the gym today and probably tomorrow as well, so I can catch up on work too. There are a few recipes that I wanted to share with you during Ramadan, but unfortunately the lack of coffee and sleep was holding me back from finalising them.
This is one dish I have made a few times during the last month for family and friends and it was such a pleasure to see them loving it so much and asking me for the recipe. It’s my take on the classic middle eastern stuffed zucchinis with lamb. Tadddaaaaa!
Some people like zucchinis and others absolutely hate them. There are only a few people I know who LOOOVE zucchinis, including my mother. I swear, mum wouldn’t mind eating them raw, thats’ how much she loves them! I see zucchini as a challenging vegetable to cook, because it is a little boring in taste to be honest. It lacks flavours, it really does. But one good thing about zucchinis, is that if you cook them right, they can easily turn into the most delicious vegetable ever! Trust me on this one, zucchinis only need to be treated the right way.
A few things you need to be aware of when cooking zucchinis, and I promise these tips will make you fall in love with this vegetable all over again:
- Add big flavours: the best way to cook zucchinis is to let them soften in a delicious tomato broth, so they can absorb all the flavours. For my beef or chicken bone broth recipe which I have used in this dish, click this link http://afoodiesaffairs.com/2017/05/11/back-to-basics-how-to-make-beef-or-chicken-bone-broth/
- Seasoning: make sure they are well seasoned with salt and pepper. You need to be quite brave with seasoning, otherwise you will end up with a very bland dish.
- Moisture: Zucchinis are like cucumbers, they preserve water, and so when you start cooking them they release a fair amount of moisture. You need to take this in consideration when adding fluids so that you don’t end up with a watery dish. That’s exactly why I’m against baking raw zucchini with bechamel sauce on top, because the moisture from zucchinis always ruins the consistency of the sauce and you end up with a soggy green and white mess!
- Cook zucchinis until their skins soften, nothing is worse than biting on a hard zucchini skin that was only 10 mins away from being heavenly delicious.
NOTE: The rest of the photos and my step-by-step guide on how to hollow and stuff zucchinis are below this recipe card, scroll down.
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- 18-20 small/medium size middle eastern zucchinis
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 500g good quality lean lamb mince
- 1 large brown onion, very finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup organic white quinoa
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large brown onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced + 4 whole garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, extra for seasoning the zucchini
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chilli flakes (more or less according to preference).
- 1 litre pure tomato puree (passata)
- 2 cups chicken stock (check blog archive for a delicious stock recipe)
- 2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts
- fresh coriander leaves.
- start by covering the quinoa with water and soak until ready to use
- put the olive oil in a pan over medium heat, add onions and stir until they soften a little, then add salt, pepper and cinnamon. Stir for a few seconds until fragrant.
- add the lamb mince immediately and mix through on medium/high heat, trying to break down the lamb mince into small pieces using a wooden spoon. see pics below the recipe card.
- mix and break the large pieces of mince for 6-8 mins or until the lamb loses its pink colour and change into a light brown colour. set aside to cool.
- put the olive oil in another pan on medium heat, add the chopped onions and minced garlic and stir for 2 mins until they soften.
- add salt, pepper and preferred amount of chilli flakes, and mix through for a minute.
- add the tomato puree and stock, then bring the liquid to boil.
- lower the heat and simmer for 5 mins.
- Cut the tops off the zucchinis and discard (*try to make all zucchinis the same height when cutting the tops, so that they sit perfectly in your oven dish)
- Hollow the inside of each zucchini using this utensil shown in pics above( you can find it in any middle eastern shop, just ask for a vegetable corer), alternatively you can use an apple corer: push it almost all the way down the centre of zucchini, pull it out, then use a small knife and gently push it into the centre and rotate it to remove the flesh. You can continue using the knife to make the walls of zucchini thinner from the inside by gently scraping out the flesh, that way you can get more stuffing inside.
- If you are using the special utensil shown in the pictures, then use the same concept as the apple corer to hollow out the zucchinis, but I highly recommend starting gradually by removing a small round piece from the centre, then slowly working your way down making sure you rotate the zucchini while coring so you can hollow it evenly from the inside. *If you try to go all the way down at once, you will probably end up going the wrong way and damaging the outside skin of zucchini. you will get the hang of it after you finish hollowing the first one.
- preheat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius.
- drain the soaked quinoa, add it to the cooled lamb mixture and mix to combine.
- fill the zucchini with the lamb and quinoa mixture without forcing the mixture in, fill each zucchini almost all the way and then tap the base gently on a solid surface (plate) to let the mixture settle in as shown in pics below. *leave a little space at the top of each zucchini (1/2 cm) for the quinoa to swell as it cooks to avoid overflowing.
- arrange the stuffed zucchini neatly, standing on their bases in a deep oven dish. *if you place all zucchini in the dish and you still have an empty spot, you can always fill in the gap with a whole peeled onion or a whole tomato to help balance the zucchini in the dish and keep them all standing on their bases.
- now season the stuffed zucchinis with a generous pinch of fine sea salt (about a teaspoon), by sprinkling on top.
- pour the prepared tomato broth over the zucchinis making sure you fill in each one, and then pour all over. Drop the 4 garlic cloves in the tomato broth for extra flavour.
- The tomato broth should cover the bottom half of the zucchinis, if not then add some filtered water to reach the desired level.
- cover tightly with a lid or aluminium foil, and place in the middle rack of the preheated oven for 10 mins on 210 degrees Celsius.
- lower the heat to 180 degrees celsius and bake for 2 hours or until zucchini is fully cooked.
- zucchinis should be ready when you can easily cut through their skin.
- uncover and put the oven grill on for 5 mins to colour the top slightly.
- on serving add the toasted pine nuts on top and fresh coriander leaves to garnish
- Stuffed vegetables always taste better the next day, so do look forward to the left overs. They are the best.