Stuffed Zucchini

These pair perfectly with stuffed grape leaves.  When my mom makes a big pot, she usually combines the two together.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • Approximately 10 narrow zucchini (cut in half)
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • First, prepare the pot
    • Place your slices of tomatoes along the bottom of a small pot – this will prevent the zucchini from burning while cooking
  • Soak the rice in very hot water for 1/2 hour – then strain
  • Mix the rice with the raw ground beef with your hands – season with salt and pepper
  • With a small spoon, scoop out the pulp of the zucchini until they’re hollow, but not open all the way through – leave about 1/8″-1/4″ around the interior wall
  • Stuff the zucchini with the rice and meat
  • Line the pot with the zucchini (if you’re also making grape leaves just randomly mix in the zucchini)
  • Place a small dish on top of the zucchini to add some pressure
  • Dissolve 1 tbsp of salt in 1 cup of water (for every cup of rice you need 2 cups of water) then pour the water into the pot
  • Cook it on high heat until it starts to boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low heat for approximately 1 hour
  • Check to see if the zucchini is cooked – once it’s cooked, pour in 1  1/2 oz. of fresh lemon juice
  • If the rice is not quite cooked, add in more water a little bit at a time (2-3 oz. at a time)
  • Once the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and let the pot settle while covered for at least 15 minutes
  • When you’re ready to serve, put a large round platter face down on the pot and tip the pot over
  • Serve with fresh pita bread and plain yogurt
    • If you have extra rice and meat, cook it in a small pot as you would normally cook rice (roughly estimate how much water you need – rule of thumb is 2 cups water to every cup of rice)

Stuffed Grape Leaves

This Middle Eastern classic is my mother’s specialty.  These barely last through dinner when she makes them…

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 jar of grape leaves (or freshly picked grape leaves) – approximately 100-150 leaves
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • Lamb chops (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • First, prepare the pot
    • Place your slices of tomatoes along the bottom of a medium pot – this will prevent the grape leaves from burning while cooking
    • If you want to use lamb chops, brown them 1-2 tbsp of butter first and then place them on the bottom of the pot, too, in between tomato slices
  • Soak the rice in very hot water for 1/2 hour – then strain
  • Mix the rice with the raw ground beef with your hands – season with salt and pepper
  • Boil the grape leaves (jarred or fresh) in water for about 2 minutes – you want them to be tender, but not too tender
  • Place the leaves in the strainer and cut off the stems – if the leaf is too big, cut it in half (ideally, the leaf should be about 3.5 in. wide)
  • Lay out a grape leaf and and place a heaping tbsp of rice and meat in the center of the leaf – form it into the shape of a your index finger up to your knuckle (same size, too)
  • Fold the sides over onto the rice and meat and roll it up like a small cigar
  • As you roll the leaves, line them up in the large pot that you have already prepared
  • Tightly arrange the stuffed grape leaves as you roll them – this can take a bit of time!
  • Place a small dish on top of the leaves to add some pressure
  • Dissolve 1 tbsp of salt in 2 cups of water (for every cup of rice you need 2 cups of water) then pour the water into the pot
  • Cook it on high heat until it starts to boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low heat for approximately 1 hour
  • Check to see if the leaves are cooked – once they’re cooked, pour in 3 oz. of fresh lemon juice
  • If the rice is not quite cooked, add in more water a little bit at a time (2-3 oz. at a time)
  • Once the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and let the pot settle while covered for at least 15 minutes
  • When you’re ready to serve, put a large round platter face down on the pot and tip the pot over
  • Serve with fresh pita bread and plain yogurt

Marushka’s Tabouleh

Here is my mom’s recipe for this traditional Middle Eastern salad.  It’s refreshing and full of so many different flavors.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large bunch of parsley
  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch of scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup crushed wheat (bulgar)
  • A few chopped leaves of fresh mint or 1/4 tsp of dried mint
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing*
*LEMON AND OLIVE OIL DRESSING
    • Mix equal parts of fresh lemon juice and olive oil and salt and pepper to taste – so easy!

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • Rinse the crushed wheat (bulgar)  in cold water and squeeze it dry
  • Combine the chopped tomatoes with the crushed wheat (bulgar) – mix well
  • Finely chop the scallions and season with salt and pepper – add this to the tomatoes and bulgar
  • Pick the leaves off the parsley stems and wash them well and squeeze them dry
  • Either finely chop the leaves by hand, or BRIEFLY place them in a food processor – one pulse and it’s done (don’t over process, it will turn to mush)
  • Combine the parsley with the mint and add it to the rest of the ingredients
  • Pour the lemon and olive oil dressing over the tabouleh and serve with fresh romaine lettuce

Caprese Panini

This fresh panini is classic and always satisfying – a great option for lunch or a light dinner.

INGREDIENTS

  • Fresh sliced country bread
  • Pesto sauce
  • Sliced tomatoes (about 1/4″ thick)
  • Sliced fresh mozzarella (grated mozzarella also works)
  • Balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • Olive oil

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • First, either spray or brush the outside of two slices of bread with olive oil
  • Flip the bread over and spread pesto sauce along the inside of the two slices of bread (optional: lightly drizzle balsamic vinegar on one side)
  • Next, place a layer of of sliced tomatoes
  • Top the tomatoes with mozzarella cheese
  • Place the other piece of bread on top of your sandwich and place it in a sandwich press or grill both sides of it in a frying pan over medium heat
  • When the cheese has melted and the outside of the bread is golden brown, your sandwich is ready!

Vodka Sauce

This sauce tastes amazing over any pasta… after making my own, I have a hard time enjoying it in restaurants.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 – 28 oz. can Pastene ‘Kitchen Ready’ tomatoes
  • 1 – 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small onion chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves for the sauce + more for garnishing
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 cup heavy cream (room temp)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • Saute the onion, garlic and 1 tbsp olive oil until the onions are translucent
  • Add in both cans of tomatoes along with the rest of the olive oil, chopped basil leaves (save a bit for garnishing later), bay leaves, sugar, salt and pepper
  • Simmer the sauce for at least 1 hour or until it’s thick (leave the pot uncovered and stir often – I also like to break down the tomatoes with the back of the spoon while it’s simmering)
  • Add in vodka on low heat until mixture reduces by 1/4, stirring often – about 20 minutes
  • Stir the cream into the tomato and vodka sauce (I’ve used light cream instead of heavy cream and it still tasted good, just not as rich)
  • Simmer over low heat until sauce is heated through
  • Stir in the Parmesan cheese until melted and well blended
  • Combine sauce with your desired pasta, top with fresh basil and enjoy!