The general assumption is that the Tropics, across the board, have more variety of vegetables than regions of four seasons. This I have found to be largely true and lamented several times since moving to the US. Coming from India and then Japan (where I found fruits and vegetables I had never seen before) I felt like I had suddenly landed in a desert of sorts. While, once upon a time, I could have greens for every meal for a week and not have to repeat any or eat salad, I found myself wanting for inspiration of using the same 4 varietals in different ways and thus succumbing to the easier choice of using meat!
There, I'll say it. Being a vegetarian requires far more creativity especially in the 'Western' world than cooking with meat. It is not often that a single vegetable plays star, even in Indian cuisine. It is more a set supporting characters that come together as greater than the sum of parts.
But, yet, there is one variety of vegetable that the West completely trumps the Tropics on. Squash - Summer and Winter varieties. Let's stack them up.
Growing up in India we had a fair few for sure - 2 varieties of pumpkins (yellow and white flesh) and about 4 to 5 varieties of gourds, which, are like summer squash. And, well, you get all of them sort of year around given the climate. However, the thing is, they are get cooked pretty much the same few ways - in a curry or stir fried with some coconut and chana dal. I am not considering fusion cuisines. Also, ovens are not very common in India, even today. I definitely grew up with only a stove on top of a counter, not a range but just the burners!
Here, however, they are a bounty. They are also a riot of colors! oh my! The hues! The textures! Stripes, solids, speckled! Zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan squash, courgettes, funky ballon shaped squash that I don't know the name of. This is just Summer. Then Fall comes along and we are over run by another vibrant color palette from pumpkins to kuru squash, butter nut squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash to name only a few. I read there are at least 15 Fall/Winter varietals!!! Wow!
! Seriously! You can do so much with it. Cook it in
or stir fry of course. But also,
, eat it raw, roast it,
and other things I haven't even explored yet! Really, you can make it the star of the plate.
These days, I buy my vegetables as they come into the season, conveniently from the Sunday market in front of my apartment. I find vegetables there that I have never seen in a store or super market. It brings such joy to me. I go bouncing around with a huge smile and usually the vendor/farmer has this amused look on his face when I come to the till, arms overloaded and a beatific look on my face. haha. Recently, I found gorgeous patty pan squash that I stuffed with its own flesh sautéed lightly with some fennel and peas, seasoned simply with salt and pepper and topped with melty cheese. It was divine! So much so, that I didn't take any photos. Simply devoured!
This Sunday, I picked up gorgeous courgettes. They are also called globe or round zucchini. Although, I have seen them around on the web, I had never ever before set y eyes on them in reality. So, you can well imagine how thrilled I was to see the lovely produce looking so well and in its prime.
The thing about these squash aside from their aesthetic beauty is their versatility and ability to take the stage with aplomb. They are so well proportioned for a meal and give in nicely to pretty much any stuffing you fancy. Yet, they will still be the lead actor on the plate. Such a delight to work with really!
I stuffed them with their flesh (always use their flesh to stuff back. It adds a lot of moisture into the dish), ground pastured beef with a little bacon, onion, garlic and a little pesto I had on hand. I cooked in leftover stuffing with some diced tomato for a heartier sauce. It was awesome! Clean flavors that enliven every ingredient.
To make this vegetarian, go for a bean or grain stuffing or one with sweet potatoes. Unlike the patty pan squash, courgette are bigger and have higher water content. You will typically need something else other than its own cooked flesh to fill the cavity. You don't need to cook them in a gravy but doing so, makes a whole one pot meal! So, I would choose that.
Besides, this dish cooks in under 40 minutes! So, that is a easy and healthy weekday dinner any day! Woot!
Stuffed Courgettes in Meat Sauce
4 courgettes or globe zucchini
1/2 lb ground beef
1 onion, diced fine
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
1 tsp sriracha
3/4 cup stock or water
salt and pepper and oil as needed
Heat a heavy bottomed pan, large enough to hold all the courgettes with oil and sauté onions and garlic until soft on low.
As the onions cook, cut the head off each courgette (at about 1/8 from the stalk), to create a cap. Reserve the cap. Cut as little as needed to scoop out the innards but not too much to waste the flesh on the cap side. You don't eat the cap in this recipe.
Scoop out the insides to form squash cups and reserve. Chop the insides finely.
When the onion and garlic is cooked, add the meat and brown all over. Add the insides of the squash and the sriracha sauce and cook for about 10 minutes, till the meat is cooked through.
Leave the pan on the stove and using a spoon, fill each prepared courgettes with the meat sauce up to the lip.
Add the tomatoes to the remaining sauce and place stuffed courgettes into the pan in one layer. Cover each courgette with its cap. Add the stock or water.
Close the pan with a lid and cook for about 15 minutes on medium heat. Open the lid and if the sauce is too thin, cooked on high without lid to reduce liquid.
Serve immediately as is or over cooked grain or pasta (optional).