Our gardens grow an abundance of zucchini. This is not necessarily the result of amazing gardening skills (although our parents can grow pretty much anything that can be planted), but is simply a testament to the un-finickiness of zucchini plants. And so, around this time of year, zucchini takes over our fridges and counters. Thankfully, we have many delicious ways of using them up, like making zucchini chips, or cooking them on the grill.
A happy consequence to having so much zucchini, is that we also end up with lovely zucchini blossoms or flowers; growing up this was a common summer ingredient in our parents’ kitchen. Imagine our surprise when, a few years back, we were having dinner at a particularly chic downtown restaurant and the menu featured a dish made with zucchini flowers; there it was, listed between foie gras and fancy oysters. We took note of the price and choked a little on our aperitifs. It seems that the zucchini flowers we always assumed were everyday fare, were, in fact, a delicacy. There was a fortune in our garden!
Through further research (we were now, very intrigued), we discovered that zucchini flowers or blossoms are enjoyed in many different ways. They are sometimes served uncooked in salads, stuffed with cheese and deep-fried, or even grilled. All of these ways sound lovely, but our parents have always only served them one way…stuffed with herbs and rice, making them a wonderful vegan meal. Because the blossoms are not readily available year round, these stuffed flowers are our parents’ limited edition version of yemista.
Although we are referring to these edible flowers as zucchini flowers or blossoms, they can actually be found on several summer squash plants; zucchini being the most popular. Zucchini blossoms must be picked in the early morning, when they are fully open; by mid-morning they will already be closed tight. Pick them gently off of the zucchini plant and, using a spoon, carefully remove and discard the inner stem. You can store them for a few days in the refrigerator, but keep in mind that the fresher they are, the better they are; they do not keep for longer than 2 – 3 days. In order to store them, stack them together and place them in an airtight container in the fridge; make your container solid, so that they don’t get squished by your zucchini.
If you don’t grow your own zucchini, you can try finding zucchini flowers at a farmers market or speciality grocer. Because you may not know when they were picked, it is best to plan to use them the day they are bought.
When you stuff your zucchini flowers keep in mind that the rice will expand with the cooking. For this reason, and because the zucchini flowers are quite delicate, you don’t want to overstuff them. Loosely fill your blossoms with the rice and herb mixture and then fold the petals over to keep the filling in place. When you place your stuffed blossoms in the baking pan, fit them in closely together (but do not pack them in too tightly); this will help keep them closed.
This recipe calls for long grain rice. As we mentioned in our post for rice with vegetables, it is a good idea to soak your uncooked rice for a few hours (or even overnight) before cooking it. Otherwise, you can rinse your rice thoroughly before adding it to the pot.
Our parents use their homemade tomato sauce for this recipe (and most recipes). If you have homemade sauce, great! If you do not, simply purchase the best quality tomato sauce you can find. Alternatively, for the filling, you can substitute an equal amount of grated fresh tomato. Peel your tomato first, remove the seeds and then grate the flesh until you get 1 1/2 cups of grated tomato.
Mia Kouppa: Stuffed zucchini flowers
- 30 – 40 zucchini blossoms For the filling:
- 1 cup Greek olive oil
- 1 cup chopped, white part of spring onion
- 5 – 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups long grain rice
- 2 cups chopped fresh mint
- 3 1/2 cups chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2 cups chopped, greens of spring onion
- 2 cups loosely packed grated zucchini, unpeeled
- 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
- 3/4 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper For the baking pan:
- 1 tablespoon Greek olive oil
- 1/2 cup vegetable or corn oil
- 1/2 cup tomato juice
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- In a large saucepan, over medium heat, add 1 cup of olive oil, the chopped onion (only the white part) and garlic. Cook the onion and garlic for 3 – 5 minutes, until softened, stirring constantly so that the garlic does not burn.
- Rinse the rice and add it to the pot. Mix well. Add the mint, parsley, green part of the onions, grated zucchini, tomato sauce, salt, pepper and mix well. Remove from heat.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add one tablespoon of Greek olive oil to your baking pan and use that to grease the bottom. Set aside.
- Fill your flowers. Gently take one flower at a time and add about 1 tablespoon of filling to each flower. The exact amount of filling will depend upon the size of your zucchini blossoms. Fold the petals over the filling to fully enclose it, and place the stuffed blossoms into the baking pan. Repeat until you have used up all of your filling, or all of your zucchini blossoms.
- Mix together the vegetable or corn oil, tomato sauce, water and salt and pepper. Pour this mixture into the baking pan, over the stuffed zucchini flowers. The liquid should come half way up the flowers. If it does not, add more water until it does.
- Bake uncovered for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Test for doneness.
- Allow to cool and enjoy.