My grandmother loves to remember the way they preserved food on their farm in Syria. Just as our ancestors had done for centuries, they combined cheese with caraway seeds, and buried it under ground in clay jars. Her father was a carpenter, so they put grapes up in sealed crates of sawdust. And at the end of the summer, they would harvest their zucchini crop, core them, thread them with twine, and hang them to dry for winter dolma.
While you might think of dolma as one particular kind of dish (your mind might go to grape leaves in particular), it's actually a very broad category of stuffed produce. And that's the key quality that unites every variety: dolma absolutely must be stuffed. But it can be stuffed with anything from lemony rice to herby or spicy meat, and it most often contains some combination of the two, plus a few other flavorful ingredients. The shell can be just about anything, including (and certainly not limited to) tomato, cabbage, swiss chard, apple, potato, onion, grape leaves, eggplant, and zucchini. If you can core it or roll it, someone has probably made dolma of it. Some pots of dolma contain a lot of different veggies jumbled together, which creates an incredibly complex dish whose flavors all meld together, while some pots of dolma specialize in one particular veggie, for a more focused and clear flavor (in this case, zucchini).
One key to making great dolma is to find a pot that's the right size for your batch, so that the braising liquid reaches at least halfway up their sides. In other words, you don't want a couple grape leaves or stuffed zucchini floating around in a big pool of liquid. This is one reason that making dolma in a gigantic batch, without a recipe just makes sense. When my family makes dolma, we normally throw together a huge heap of stuffing, then we stuff everything until the pot is full, and pour liquid in the pot to the right level. But if you're making dolma for the first time, it's a lot easier if you have a recipe that takes all this into consideration for you and guides you through making a modest amount.
I've tested this recipe several times (as always), to make sure the proportion of stuffing, zucchini, and braising liquid is correct, so that you don't end up with leftover zucchini or stuffing at the end. As long as you find a pot that fits them all as snugly as possible, your dolma will turn out perfectly. However, these photos are from a batch I made where I probably could have squeezed one or two more dolma in. But as long as you let them slump a little to one side (as in the photos below), you'll be just fine. I thought about retaking these photos with the perfectly tetrised batch I made the other day, but I thought it was more important to illustrate that everything will turn out just fine either way.
dolm'it koosa | zucchini dolma
yield: 4 to 6 servings
active time: 1 hour
total time: 2 hours
preparing the zucchini
8 large Lebanese zucchini *
Special equipment: zucchini corer **
1/4 teaspoon salt
- Cut each zucchini in half (into 2 shorter pieces), and then core the zucchinis, *** leaving the uncut side closed. Core them so that the zucchini shell is very thin (see photos). I do this by gouging out 3 big circles from the middle, and then using the side of the zucchini corer to whittle the insides down until they're the right thickness.
- Evenly sprinkle the carved insides with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let them sit for about 30 minutes and then pour out and discard the water that's collected inside them. You can even do this step the night before, and let them brine in the fridge overnight.
stuffing the dolma
1 cup green onions
3/4 cup parsley
3/4 cup dill
3/4 cup cilantro
1/4 cup minced, seeded hot peppers (from about 1 banana pepper)
4 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or finely minced
28 ounce can diced tomatoes, strained, juice reserved
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup medium grain rice, rinsed (e.g., Calrose)
3/4 pound sirloin, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 medium potato, sliced thinly
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Combine the green onions, parsley, dill, cilantro, hot peppers, garlic, strained diced tomatoes (but save the juice for later), melted butter, rice, sirloin, and salt.
- Spread the potato slices over the bottom of a medium dutch oven or stockpot.
- Stuff the zucchinis with the filling and place them vertically in the dutch oven. If it isn't a snug fit, let them lean to the side slightly, so that there aren't any big gaps. ****
- Slowly pour the reserved tomato juice directly over the tops of the stuffed zucchinis (some of it will seep into the stuffing and some will overflow down the sides). Next do the same with the lemon juice. Then pour the water through a gap between the zucchinis. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over the tops to finish.
- Place the pot over medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 50 minutes. You should maintain a good simmer, not a bare one; it should be as close to a boil as possible, without making the dolma bounce around too much.
- Once 50 minutes are up, keep it covered, and let them rest for about 15 to 20 minutes, or longer.
- Uncover and serve.
* Any other variety will work fine, but you might have extra stuffing or zucchini left. Lebanese zucchini are also known as Korean zucchini. Look for zucchini that are approximately 8 inches long and 2 inches wide.
** You can easily find zucchini corers online, and in some Middle Eastern grocery stores. In addition to making dolma, they can be used for lots more. For instance, cut a cucumber in half and then cut a small slice off each end so they can stand up on their own, core the inside (leaving the bottom closed), salt it lightly, and fill it with water (my grandmother would make these for us all the time when we were children). Use a zucchini corer as part of your jack-o-lantern tool kit around Halloween. Use one to core and stuff mini-cupcakes.
*** If you're looking for a way to use up the leftover zucchini guts, try my recipe for zero waste zucchini bread.
**** The key here is to get them to fit snugly, so you need to choose the right size pot. If you only have a gigantic stockpot / dutch oven, just increase the recipe accordingly.