Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Squash Stuffed with Lamb

I've gotten good at bullshitting my way around a kitchen. I often read in blogs about people taking this and that recipe and putting them together to create their own recipe that already exists. So I did that. 

Having volunteered at my CSA July 4th I got to stock up on double and triple my usually quota since so many vegetables were leftover (yeah, I guess two heads of cabbage is excessive when you have no idea how to cook cabbage) and I had about six different sized squashes and zucchinis. 

And the lamb. 

One is naturally meant for stuffing the other.

I quickly made a tomato sauce with diluted tomato paste, onions, garlic, herbed olive oil, and a touch of honey, a doctored recipe I've read over and over again when searching for how to make North African stuffed peppers. Set that aside, then I put some onions (scallions work better for this) to sizzle in olive oil in a large pan and preheated the oven to 450.

While that combo worked its olfactory magic I went about the tedious task of gutting out the squash. I never realized the insides are solid previous to cooking, though I guess I should have known that since it's obvious when you slice them. Which I do often for ratatouille and stuff. But these are not natural connections one makes on a day to day basis. (Shut up.)  All my spoons were resting complascently at the bottom of an overflowing sink and trying to work the solid skin and seeds out with a knife resulted in pierced skins and uneven insides. I finally used a serving spoon and decided adamantly against making stuffed cabbage as a side dish. I'd had enough of stuffing things, thank you.

Garlic joined the onions in the hot oil. They caramelized very nicely, and shortly after the garlic came the insides of the squash (a step taken from two recipes online, my friends who make stuffed things usually just combine the meat with a starch like rice or potatoes, discarding the insides) and the crumbled ground lamb, dotted with fat and a hazy pink color. I salt and peppered it the night before since I hear you get a much better flavor from doing that (according to Food & Wine, apparently this is a technique you should avoid at all costs when making pork), then sprinkled liberal amounts of cumin, allspice, and cayenne over the mix. And more salt and pepper. 

The whole thing cooked more quickly than I expected. I'm into slow cooking but haven't mastered it so I always speed through my slow cooking. The squash melted, the lamb turned brown, the pan filled with liquid. As I spooned this mix into the empty squash shells I had a feelings I was missing something (as I tend to) then spooned some of the liquid over each of them. When I do things like that I have some vague notion of why I'm doing it which is rarely backed up by any concrete evidence. The idea behind adding the liquid was to keep the meat from drying out and for it to stew. I guess.  

The squashes looked pretty sitting in the roasting pan covered in crumbled meat but also looked incomplete. Something was just off. I added the tomato sauce, a marked improvement and remembered what I had meant to do: I wanted to mix in chopped parsley and lemon zest into the meat mixture. Next time, if there is one, I will add the parsley, maybe some cilantro too or some mint or scallion greens, something green for color and taste, lemon zest, and eggs, as a binding agent so the whole thing keeps together. But on with what I actually made.

I sprinkled parsley over the tomato sauce and squirted lemon juice over each squash (it sort of worked as a replacement) and put the whole thing covered in foil into the oven.

Somehow Eissa manages to cook this for 3 hours. Since last time I'd asked for a recipe I'd gotten snapped at I fought the temptation to text him and relied on published sources. All my recipes called for 30-40 minutes, I did 45 in the spirit of slow cooking but 30 would've been enough. The pan was filled with liquid again and the squash were fork tender without being mushy. Transferring them over to a cookie sheet revealed weakness in their structure, which can be remedied with a shorter baking time, no liquid spooned in along with the meat, and eggs. I crumbled queso fresco over them, I think a cheese with more flavor would've worked better, like mozzarella, but part of this exercise was to use stuff I had at home. Broiled them (more liquid came out, where was this coming from?) then served it with some fresh parsley for garnish and more lemon juice.

Robin says it's the best thing I've ever made for him, the flavors harmonized really nicely. It was better than I expected but still a work in progress. What I love about a recipe like this is that there are several key things you do: empty shells, be it squash, zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers or potatoes, then you combine meat (chickpeas are a nice vegetarian substitute, although the two combined are also quite nice) with the insides of the shell, eggs, cheese, or a starch, something to give the mix some body, add herbs and spices, then add a sauce. One recipe called for a yogurt sauce but the tomato sauce is more traditionally North African which was what I was going for. And bake. It's relatively easy, though time consuming, and the rest of it is so much what you choose to add to it.


  1. HOORAY I CAN MAKE A COMMENT! i like this one much.

  2. You commented on the wrong one, dummy.