I’m spending the winter in Israel, where stuffed vegetables like these are a culinary treasure.
I originally learned how to make stuffed vegetables from chef Ori Menashe of Bestia restaurant in Los Angeles. His stuffed vegetables used onions and didn’t rely as much on tomatoes. The Arabella tomatoes and juice used in this recipe both flavor and moisten the meat.
Pre-cooking the meat before stuffing it into the vegetables adds an unmatched depth of flavor. If you don’t have time, you can make the mix without pre-cooking -- the vegetables will still be delicious. Just add another 10 minutes to the baking time.
1. Drain the tomatoes through a colander into a medium bowl, reserving the juice. Set aside.
2. Bring a 4-quart saucepan of salted water to a boil. Gently lower in the onion, cover, reduce heat and simmer until the onion can be pierced through to the center with a skewer, about 30 minutes. Remove from the water and cool on a plate.
3. Trim the ends from the zucchini. Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise. Using a pineapple corer or a long, narrow, sharp knife, hollow out the zucchini halves, leaving about 1/4 inch of flesh around the circumference of each piece. (You will fill these later.) Discard the zucchini filling, or reserve it for another use, such as vegetable soup.
4. Using a sharp knife, cut through to the center of the onion -- basically cutting halfway through -- and remove a thin wedge. Peel the 6 outer layers from the onion. (You will wrap filling in these later.) Chop the rest of the onion and set aside.
5. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon, and cook until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Remove the ground beef to a plate with a slotted spoon.
6. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil to the same skillet. Then add the onions and cook until golden, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, sumac, cinnamon, paprika, chili flakes, black pepper and cloves. Cook, stirring, 1 additional minute. Add the tomato paste and 2 tablespoons of the date syrup. Cook, stirring, another 2 minutes.
7. Return the beef to the pan, add the bulgur and continue to cook, stirring well, about another 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the strained tomatoes and 1 cup of the stock. Cook until the liquid evaporates, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a shallow bowl, cool slightly, then refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Stir in the parsley.
8. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish with oil.
9. Stuff each hollowed-out zucchini half with 2-3 tablespoons of the filling, packing in as much as possible. Wrap each onion layer around 1 scant tablespoon of filling. Stuff each prune with a bit of filling. Arrange the onions, zucchini and the prunes in the dish. Scatter the remaining strained tomatoes over the stuffed vegetables, then pour the reserved tomato juice and the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock over the vegetables. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons date syrup, sprinkle with sumac and cover tightly with aluminum foil.
10. Bake until the vegetables are soft and some of the liquid has been absorbed, about 2 1/2 hours. Serve the vegetables with the sauce, and garnish with additional parsley and the pine nuts. This dish can be served hot or at room temperature.
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This recipe was created with funding from Muir Glen, whose tomatoes we love. In fact, Lynne picked them as the best-tasting canned tomatoes in a blind test way back before they were an underwriter of the program. Now our relationship works like this: Muir Glen gave us the money to create more recipes that use tomatoes. We asked our friend Adeena Sussman, who appeared on the show back when she authored this cookbook, to come up with nine original recipes that include canned tomatoes as an ingredient. They're great, and we're rolling them out over the course of nine months. We'd like to thank Muir Glen for the support and for allowing us the creative freedom to produce this content independent of any editorial oversight.