Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Man Can Cook #11 - Dabbling In The Middle East

Those of you who maintain your own vegetable garden know the drill. You work your tail off in the spring getting things ready, you fuss and worry about your plants hoping that one last frost doesn’t come. Then you meticulously tend to the plants through the summer, watering, fertilizing and keeping things generally healthy and then the reward comes…beautiful, fresh, home grown veggies and if you did a good job of things, lots of ‘em. By this point in the summer you’ve got tomatoes coming out your ears, so much basil that you are sweating pesto, enough green beans to sink the Bismark and zucchini…my god what’ll we do with all of this zucchini?

So, like me, I’m sure you are looking for new ways to use some of this stuff lest you have to schlep the surplus into the office to give it away or…gasp…let it go bad before you can use it all. My biggest surplus is tomatoes and zucchini and short of making my annual 2 gallon batch of tomato sauce I’ve pretty nearly exhausted my catalog of ways to use them. A few weeks ago however a friend of ours was over for dinner and inspired me to something I’ve never tried before. Lillian is her name and she’s a dear old friend of my wife Kathy’s family. Lillian is a 1st generation American, born to Lebanese immigrants and she told me about a dish called Kousa Mahshi which is zucchini stuffed with ground lamb and cooked in tomatoes. BINGO! But….she’d lost the recipe. Other than cous-cous, I’d never fiddled around with middle-eastern cuisine and the fact that I didn’t have a recipe to start from presented no small challenge as well.

After searching around on the internet I found two different recipe’s that were close, but not exactly as Lillian described and figured I could wing it from there. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Large skillet with a tight-fitting lid
  • Spatula
  • Tongs
  • Large sheet pan

  • 2-4 large zucchini
  • 1 1/2lb of fresh tomatoes (sliced ¼” thick)
  • 1lb ground lamb
  • 1c short-grain white rice (soaked in warm water for 20-30min)
  • 1c chopped yellow onion
  • 2tbsp butter (melted)
  • 2tsp butter (cold)
  • 1/2tsp turmeric
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2tsp ground cumin
  • Olive Oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Now normally one doesn’t want to let their zucchini get too big (That's What She Said!). Most varieties tend to get a tough, gourd-like skin and the seeds get too big. In this case, the bigguns are what we are after. The two varieties that I grow come from seed that we brought back from Italy and they don’t develop that tough skin. One of them grows into a 8”dia round shape and the other grows a 4”dia neck with a 6” bulb on the end. Both work great for stuffing. Whatever you are growing, you want to select a few really good sized fruits, split them, and scoop out the flesh until you have a ¼ - ½ ” thick shell. Keep about 1 ½ cups of the flesh. The shells should look about like this:

In a large mixing bowl, combine your drained rice with the ground lamb, melted butter, 1/2c water and onion. Take the reserved zucchini flesh you saved and finely chop it then add it to the bowl. Toss in your spices and about 1/2tsp each of salt and pepper. Use your hands to get in there and get everything combined ensuring that all the liquid is blended into the mix. Let the mix sit together for about 30min so the spices begin to do their thing.

While you are waiting, slice your tomatoes to about ¼” thick and give them a medium dose of kosher salt & pepper. Give your skillet a couple good splashes of olive oil and line the bottom of the skillet with your tomatoes. No store bought stuff here:

At this point you’ll gently stuff your zucchini shells with the lamb mixture and place them into your skillet arranged such that you can get the lid on without it making contact with the tops as shown here:

Then add your remaining water to the pan and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the skillet tightly and let it braise for 25min or until the lamb is cooked through and the rice is tender. Once fully cooked, gently remove the zucchini from the skillet to a sheet pan. As previously stated, I was kinda winging this and found that after they were fully cooked they were a little bland looking.

At this point, I transferred them to the sheet pan and popped them under a broiler for a few minutes. While is going on crank up the heat under your skillet and mash the tomatoes while reducing the liquid until thick. Use your tongs to pluck out as many of the tomato skins as you can. Once the liquid has reduced down to a nice thick sauce you’ll mount it with the remaining butter and whisk to fully combine.

Remove the now lightly browned stuffed zucchini from the broiler and plate them. Spoon a bit of the sauce over the top as seen below and serve.

I think it came out pretty darned delicious. But without prior experience, I've no idea how close I came to the traditional dish. If you have experience with this I'd love to hear what you'd add or omit. If not, I encourage you to give this dish a try, put your own twist on it and feel free to share.

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