Stuffed summer vegetables, a staple of pan-Mediterranean cuisines, are an integral part of my food life, and one version or another appears in almost all of my cookbooks. The ones I grew up on, made by my mother to my Armenian father’s specifications, had the stuffing as lamb and rice. Bell peppers and zucchinis were featured as containers for the filling, However, I always found zucchini’s texture and taste somewhat boring. Still, when it’s summer, they’re everywhere, a natural part of the vegetable bouquet in gardens and markets, so let’s use them.
Following an idea from Mexican food maven and cookbook author Diana Kennedy, I grate the zucchini and mix it in the meat stuffing where it lends freshness and verdant flavor without the mush. The zucchini should be a medium size one, too small and it won’t lend enough moisture; too large and it will lend too much.
A yogurt salad is a must with the stuffed peppers. One from my childhood, with cucumbers and mint or dill, is a foremost side dish in Turkish, Greek, and Armenian cuisines. Farther south and east, Indian tables sport a veritable menu of yogurt salads called raitas, in which the yogurt might envelop carrots, tomatoes, spinach, even bananas. With these stuffed peppers, I like to lean in the raita direction with grated zucchini, doubling the zucchini theme.
Makes 8 medium-size stuffed peppers
3/4 pound ground beef chuck, preferably grass-fed
1 1/2 cups packed grated zucchini
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 teaspoons finely shredded fresh mint leaves
1/2 scant teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 medium-size bell peppers, preferably a mix of colors
Zucchini Yogurt Salad, for serving (see the sidebar)
1. Combine the ground beef, zucchini, onion, mint, allspice, salt, and pepper in a bowl and knead with your hands to thoroughly mix. Refrigerate for 1 hour for the flavors to blend.
2. Cut the caps off the peppers, reserving them. Pull the seeds and membranes out of the center of the peppers. Loosely fill each pepper with about 1/2 cup of the stuffing. Place the peppers upright in a microwave dish and set their caps atop each. Pour 1/2-inch water into the bowl around, not into, the peppers. Set the dish in the microwave, cover loosely, and cook on high until the peppers are collapsing and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. While the peppers cook, make the Zucchini Yogurt Salad.
4. Serve the peppers with the yogurt salad in a separate bowl alongside.