Recipe for Stuffed Zucchini with ground beef or lamb, pine nuts, tomato sauce and spices. Low carb, paleo, grain free.
Stuffed vegetables are such a comfort on a chilly autumn evening. In this meat-stuffed zucchini recipe, I took a page from my mother-in-law’s kitchen playbook and used the innards from the hollowed-out zucchini as part of the filling… that way, nothing is wasted or lost. Unlike many stuffed vegetable recipes I omit rice and grains for a leaner, low carb result (I’m not super up on the paleo diet, but my friend tells me this is also paleo-friendly). In this lull between Rosh Hashanah and the winter holidays we try to watch our waistline. Here, we’ve got a healthy meal in one dish with protein, vegetables, and nuts. It’s also got lots of delicious spices including turmeric, which fights inflammation.
For this recipe, I usually use the light green chubby variety of squash sometimes referred to as Mexican Zucchini. They are generally wider around the base, giving them more room for filling. I’ve also found their flavor to be somewhat milder that dark green zucchini, which can occasionally be prone to bitterness. Sauteing the filling before stuffing the squash keep it from cooking into one solid mass, giving it a better texture. It also allows you to gauge the spice and salt levels before you bake, so the end product is exactly the way you like it. Enjoy!
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Stuffed Zucchini with Meat and Pine Nuts
- 4 wide and fat zucchini about 2 lbs. total - the light green variety has the best shape and flavor
- 15 oz tomato sauce or tomato puree, unsalted 1 can
- 2 tbsp tomato paste divided
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp cayenne if you like spicy flavors, use 1/2 tsp
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb ground lamb you may substitute ground beef or dark meat ground chicken
- 1 whole onion minced
- 2 tsp minced fresh garlic
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- Pinch allspice
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley plus more for garnish
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes if spice sensitive, omit
- If you can find them, light green zucchini work best for this recipe-- they are fatter and shorter than regular zucchini, making them better for stuffing. If you can't find them, choose the widest zucchini you can find, no longer than 7 inches.
- Slice the stem ends and bottom tips off of the zucchini, then cut them in half lengthwise.
- Use a melon baller to scoop the insides of the zucchini out, leaving a 1/4 inch wall around the edge and a 1/4 inch layer on the bottom of each zucchini. Reserve the part that you scoop out, chop it into small pieces and place it in a bowl. Reserve.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, stir together the tomato sauce or puree with 1 tbsp tomato paste, paprika, cayenne, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and 1/2 cup water until well blended.
- Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Saute the ground meat, breaking it up into little pieces as it cooks, until it is evenly browned (it can be a bit "rare" at this stage).
- Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat out of the skillet and place it into the bowl with the chopped zucchini innards. Drain most of the fat from the skillet, reserving about 1 tbsp. Place the skillet back over medium heat and add the minced onion. Saute for a few minutes until the onion softens and browns a bit. Add the garlic and continue to saute for 1-2 minutes more until fragrant.
- Add the ground meat and chopped zucchini innards back into the skillet along with the remaining 1 tbsp tomato paste, pine nuts, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, chopped cilantro or parsley and 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce mixture. Stir to blend all ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper). Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then remove from heat.
- Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. Place the zucchini halves into the dish (it can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to make them all fit-- it's okay if they're snug). Fill each zucchini half mounded with the meat filling. Side note: you may have a small bit of filling left over. It never lasts long in our home, but if you have a lot left over you can repurpose it by stirring it together with some tomato sauce, then serving it over pasta, quinoa or rice.
- Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the stuffed zucchini, making sure each squash is fully covered with sauce. Pour any excess sauce into the bottom of the dish.
- Cover the dish with foil. Bake zucchini at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until squash is tender. Serve warm garnished with fresh cilantro or parsley.