This is a dish I love, but did not consider Jewish until some recent research. When I lived in Israel I had good friends who are members of the Greek Orthodox Arab community. They are descendants of people who had lived in Israel prior to 1948, and had not fled beyond what were then Jordanian lines. Although they have a lot of cousins in Jordan today- something I learned when they invited me to come to Jordan with them in ’96- that was an incredible experience.
But back to the zucchini, each year Samir and his family would host a huge Christmas party in January (when Orthodox Christmas falls on the Julian calendar). Among the many dishes were platters of stuffed zucchini. They were stuffed with chopped meat, onions and spices and then braised in sauce until you could cut it with a fork. I would attempt to make it myself from time to time, hunting for good looking small squash in the open air market of Ramle, but I was never able to match the flavor.
A week ago I was strolling through the new west side Berkeley Bowl and came across perfect globe shaped zucchini- I couldn’t resist them. Along with some other goodies I took them home and started looking for a recipe. I found, in Claudia Rodan’s cookbook, an entry for stuffed zucchini, which she describes as a dish common amongst the Jews of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and its use in large festive meals. Using her recipe and making some allowances for my own tastes and some of the seasonings from friend Samir used I came up with something slightly different.
Recipe after the break
4 small round zucchini squash
1 lb ground beef (I ground short rib, which has a nice fat content)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp all spice
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 can chopped or diced tomatoes
Take the zucchini and remove the tops by slicing them off. Then take a grapefruit spoon and gently work all of the flesh of the squash out. You can use it for making zucchini bread or discard it. In bowl combine the meat, spices and onion with a wooden spoon or better yet your hands. Using your hands stuff each zucchini fully with the mixture and set in a baking dish that just holds them. Take the tomatoes and insert them into the spaces between the squash. Place in a 350 oven for 45-50 minutes or when the interiors reach 150.
Serve with rice or couscous.