This recipe is very versatile, as it can be made with zucchini, green peppers, grape leaves, eggplant, tomatoes..the list goes on and on! I have chosen zucchini because the eggplant has been scrawny and overpriced, and we have found that we prefer the grey squash variety. I use the same filling interchangeably, whereas people that have prepared stuffed zucchini for me have usually used more dill and less tomato and pepper paste. This combination has come out of lots of experimentation, and when I make it for myself, I never stick to the measurements, so it comes out differently. So fell free to add more or less spice, herbs, meat, or rice to your liking. This version is still mild, but we like it with more red pepper paste and crushed red pepper flakes and more of the lemon juice or pomegranate syrup.
Whenever we go to Turkey, the first meal we find at every house we’ve been invited to is usually a form of this dish. It is relatively quick and has all your meat, veggies and starch in one package. It’s also very flavorful and hearty. If anything, it’s overdone and something we actually won’t cook at home often, especially if we have just recently returned from a visit in Turkey!
10-12 grey squash, or zucchini
1 small onion, finely minced
3/4 lb. ground beef or lamb, uncooked
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (you can used canned diced tomatoes as a time-saver!)
1/2 c. rice, uncooked
1/4 mint, fresh, chopped
1/4 c. parsley, fresh, chopped
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. red pepper paste (optional, more to taste) *This can be found in some ethnic markets, but I did not find it in Maine)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice or pomegranate syrup (nar ekşisi) *can be found in the ethnic aisle in some supermarkets, or middle eastern markets
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (omit if you want to keep it mild)
*An apple corer makes easier work out of a task that is usually tedious if done with a knife and a small spoon.
Cut the tops off of the squash and reserve. Lightly score the outer skin of the zucchini with the serrated end of the apple corer. Clean out the insides, taking care not to break through the skin. Soak them in a large pot of cool, salted water while preparing the rest of the squash.
* you can save the squash you scrape out and grate or puree it to use in other recipes. Click here for a great use for all those leftovers in a family-friendly chocolate cupcake!
Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and knead thoroughly. Drain the squash and and spoon the mixture into each until about 3/4 full and close with reserved tops, sideways. You can also close the tops with cubed tomatoes.
*Do not fill the squash to the top because the rice will expand while cooking!
Stand upright in a large pot, or lay diagonal around the perimeter. Pour some water around the dolmas to cover the bottom- this will help to steam them. Cover tightly and cook on medium-high for about 30-40 minutes or until the rice and meat are cooked. Overcooking will result in soggy squash that falls apart while serving, and can even dry out the stuffing.
You can serve with yogurt to garnish or just eat them plain with a green salad.