Wednesday, June 28, 2006

needs improvement

I was really excited for dinner tonight, and I'm still excited for the concept of dinner, but it didn't quite work out as planned. Dinner gets an E for effort, but this recipe's going to need some extra credit before it can get to the top of the class.

All the talk of Sephardic cooking this weekend had me craving a few things: Middle Eastern flavors, ground meat, stuffed vegetables. On top of this, I had some of the fresh mint from Auntie Mohtaram's garden. Decided to put it together and make stuffed tomatoes and zucchini. It came out good, but could use a little help. Things to improve:

  • Do not start cooking after 8 pm. Stuffed vegetables are labor-intensive!
  • Do not attempt to rinse grains in the plastic bag you bought them in, in order to dirty one fewer dish. How exactly do you expect to get wet grains off the sides of the bag?
  • When Whole Foods' Bulk Basics pamphlet tells you to use 2 parts water to every 1 part quinoa, then tells you it will expand by 4 times, do not get the numbers mixed up and drown your quinoa. (Also, Whole Foods: you give it only twice as much water, and it expands fourfold? Really? I'm not convinced.)
  • Do not get a surprise phone call from a friend in New York while chopping onions, the distraction causing you to chop them so big you probably couldn't stuff a watermelon with them, let alone a zucchini.
  • Do not leave your baking dish at the home of the last book club host, forcing you to use a bowl, and forcing the zucchini to stand on their ends.
  • Do not assume that zucchini standing on their ends will fit in your toaster oven.
  • Really Tannaz, lose the ego and use a recipe!
There is nothing authentic about this recipe, it's all made up, mostly from ideas I have in my head about stuffed vegetables. I sauteed the insides before stuffing them; I thought it would taste better, cook faster, and be more foolproof (although as you can see, plenty of foolishness occurred anyway). I used ground lamb to feed that craving for Middle Eastern flavors -- ground turkey or beef would probably work just as well. I had intended to add some bulghur, but at the market quinoa ended up calling my name.

And in spite of all the 'constructive criticism' above, the end result ended up pretty delicious. The vegetables got pleasantly lenient and soft, the flavors on the inside blended together for something savory and slightly spicy, and all of my cravings were met. So, hey, teachers -- leave us kids alone!

Stuffed Zucchini and Tomatoes

1/4 C quinoa
2 zucchini (the kind with pale green skin and a fat bottom... mmm sexy)*
2 medium roma tomatoes
olive oil
1/4 C onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic
1/4 lb ground lamb
2 Tbs cumin
dash crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbs fresh mint, finely minced

Bring the quinoa and 1/2 C water to a boil in a small pot. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until water is gone.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. For the tomatoes, make a cylindrical cut about 1/4 inch in from the skin of the tomato, careful not to pierce the bottom. Using fingers or spoon, pull/scrape out tomato flesh, discarding juice and seeds (you might want to do this over the sink -- it can get messy). Chop tomato flesh.

For the zucchini, make a similar cylindrical cut. Then using a small spoon (a serrated grapefruit spoon would be great) or melon baller, scoop out the insides, leaving a shell about 1/4 inch thick. Chop zucchini flesh.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Add onions and cumin, and saute over medium heat until slightly browned, stirring. Add garlic; saute 1 minute more. Raise heat to medium-high; add meat, breaking up chunks with spatula. After about 2 minutes, add zucchini and tomatoes, continue cooking and stirring for another 4 minutes. Remove from heat; add quinoa and crushed red pepper, season with salt and pepper, stir to combine all ingredients.

With a spoon, fill vegetables with meat mixture. Place in a small pan and bake about 15-20 minutes, until vegetables have softened.

Makes 2 servings.

So, here they are. I know, they look a little dejected. But they've just had a minor blow to their self-worth. Be nice to them -- it's been a rough day!

* It should be noted that the site this image comes from is pretty great. A website in French, called Mon Mexique, all about Mexico, with a page devoted to fruits and vegetables?! YUM! And another devoted to that dream town, Guanajuato?! I don't speak French, but still!

1 comment:

  1. Your recipe sounds fabulous, I'm going to have to try it! Thanks so much for sharing it and the dish looks yummy!!!