Meat (and rice) stuffed zucchini are a staple of Lebanese home cuisine. Preparing whole zucchini for stuffing is a tricky job; the smaller, the better (look for finger-size zucchini . . . yes, this exists!), though this makes coring them more difficult. For that you need to cut off the stem end, and start emptying the center with a man’ara, a long metal utensil, a semicircular-shaped skewer (or the thin long handle of a dessert or drink spoon); the trick is to dig enough so as to have a hollow whole zucchini with very thin walls, that will hold the maximum amount of stuffing. It will take some practice (and some broken ones) before you achieve a satisfying result. The scooped-out portion of the zucchini makes a perfect filling for an omelet or a stuffing for fatayer (pastry pies).
- 3/4 cup (150 g) short-grain rice
- 10 ounces (300 g) coarsely ground beef
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Ground cinnamon
- 15 small zucchini, cored (see headnote)
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 2 medium tomatoes
- Kamal Mouzawak
Wash and drain the rice. Combine the rice and beef in a bowl and season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Mix until well combined. Stuff the cored zucchini with this mixture so that each zucchini is two-thirds to three-quarters full. The rice will absorb water and swell as it cooks, and will break the zucchini if too packed. So not too little and not too much!
Cut the onion into thick slices and place them in the bottom of the pot. Arrange the zucchini over them. Peel the tomatoes if desired (blanch them in boiling water for a minute to loosen the skins), cut into big chunks, and add to the pot. Add enough water to cover the zucchini and add salt to the water.
Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for about 1 hour, until the zucchini and stuffing are cooked through. Serve hot.
Note: This stuffing is used for all kinds of hollowed-out vegetables—eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers—or rolled ones, such as grape leaves, cabbage leaves, and Swiss chard leaves. In the stuffed-leaves version, loads of garlic slices are added to the pot between the layers of stuffed leaves. In the cabbage version, a topping is added consisting of pounded garlic and dried mint, sautéed in butter or olive oil and added at the end of cooking. These are all delicious smells to fill the house!