zucchini dolma | dolm'it koosa

Dolm'it Koosa

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.

Dolm'it Koosa
Dolm'it Koosa

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).

Dolm'it Koosa
Dolm'it Koosa

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
Dolm'it Koosa
Dolm'it Koosa

dolm'it koosa | zucchini dolma

yield: 4 to 6 servings
active time: 1 hour
total time: 2 hours
download a PDF to print

preparing the zucchini

  • 8 large Lebanese zucchini *

  • Special equipment: zucchini corer **

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. 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.

  2. 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 uncooked 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

  1. 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.

  2. Spread the potato slices over the bottom of a medium dutch oven or stockpot.

  3. 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. ****

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Once 50 minutes are up, keep it covered, and let them rest for about 15 to 20 minutes, or longer.

  7. 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. 

Dolm'it Koosa

chicken curry

Chicken Curry

This is a really simple recipe for chicken curry, the way my mom and grandmother taught me to make it. It's a stew of chicken, veggies, and spices, and it's delicious served over basmati rice.

The main question here is where to find the spice mix you need to make it. If you go to an average supermarket and ask where the curry is, you'll probably be guided over to the spice aisle and handed something in a little yellow shaker, vaguely labeled "curry powder." Supermarket yellow curry can be hit or miss. Some are mostly turmeric, while some have more complexity, but it definitely doesn't hurt to blend your own.

curry powder
chicken curry

When you mix your own spice blends, you have total control over the finished dish. If you like a little more of a fresh, celery flavor, add some extra fenugreek seeds. If you prefer an earthier taste, double down on the cumin seeds.

Making your own spice blends is also a nice way to build up your collection of individual spices. It's a little expensive up front, but whole, unground spices last for a really long time, and you can very easily grind them in a coffee grinder (this one is my favorite). And once you have a stash of ground yellow curry powder, it will stay fresh for about 6 months (although you can get away with using it longer; the flavor will just get a little weaker as it ages).

chicken curry

chicken curry

yield: 4 servings
active time: 25 minutes
total time: 50 to 60 minutes
for an even easier version, try my
sheet pan chicken curry
download a PDF to print

  • 3 tablespoon cooking olive oil, divided into thirds

  • Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon total)

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces *

  • 1 small onion, diced

  • 3 tablespoons yellow curry powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)

  • 1 cup chicken stock or water

  • 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes

  • 1 pound waxy potatoes, cut into large 3/4-inch chunks **

  • 7 ounces carrots, cut into large chunks

  • For garnish: 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, or to taste

  • Serve with basmati rice

  1. Heat a stock pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon oil, swirl it around the pan to coat, and immediately add the chicken and salt to taste (about 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon, depending on your preference).

  2. Sauté the chicken for about 10 to 14 minutes, scraping the chicken up and stirring every minute or two, until the liquids have evaporated, the chicken has turned golden-brown, and there are some brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat as necessary while you're sautéing to make sure the chicken neither burns nor steams.

  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low, push the chicken to the outer edge of the stock pot, and add the onions to the center, followed by 1 tablespoon oil. Season with a pinch of salt.

  4. Cook the onions, stirring the center occasionally, until they have softened, about 4 minutes. Adjust the heat to prevent them from browning.

  5. Reduce heat to low, add the curry powder, red pepper flakes, and the final tablespoon of oil, and stir everything together for 1 minute.

  6. Add the stock or water to the pot, adjust heat to high, and immediately use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the stockpot.

  7. Add the can of tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots. Stir together, taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary by adding more salt.

  8. Once it comes to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables. To test whether it's done, take a potato out of the pot with a spoon and try cutting it in half. If it's still crunchy, continue cooking, covered, testing every so often for doneness.

  9. Serve the curry garnished with cilantro.

* If you're using bone-in chicken thighs, this comes from about 3 1/4 pounds bone-in skin-on chicken thighs. Here's a helpful video on deboning chicken thighs. If you'd prefer to use chicken breast instead of chicken thighs, sauté the chicken breast pieces over high heat for about 7 minutes, until they're no longer pink inside, and remove them to a plate before adding the onions to the pot. Cook everything else separately according to the recipe, then add the chicken back in once the potatoes are done, and simmer everything for 2 to 3 minutes.
** You can use any combination of Yukon gold, Adirondack blue, new, red, or another similar potato (just don't use russets, which will fall apart too much). If the potatoes are very small, you can just cut them in half.

chicken curry