This dish was introduced to me by a Syrian friend a few years ago and I fell in love with it right away. The flavor profiles on the dish are very complex, yet the preparation and ingredients are super simple.
Many Sephardim, especially Turkish Jews, eat some form of stuffed vegetables dishes (usually tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, or grape leaves) so right away I loved the concept of stuffing zucchinis. The reason for stuffing vegetables was usually because Sephardic communities had limited amounts of meat and wanted to stretch it as much as possible.
Although I’ve had many different types of stuffed vegetables dishes before, what really makes this dish unique is the very interesting flavors of the sauce and meat mixture.
The original recipe is already fairly healthy, but as someone who doesn’t eat a ton of rice I loved how easy it was to substitute cauliflower rice without changing the flavor profile of the dish. You can also use ground turkey or chicken meat instead of beef. If you’re a vegetarian I’m sure you can even substitute a meatless stuffing or use vegetables/rice.
So here is my version, keep in mind that it’s fairly similar to the original with only a few modifications.
- 8 medium/large zucchini, cored and chopped in 2/3 segments
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoon tamarind paste (substitute juice of 2 lemons or pomegranate molasses)
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- 1.5 cup of tomato sauce
- 1.5 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of finely diced onion
- 2 tablespoons garlic
- 1 tablespoon Baharat spice mixture
- 1/4 cup of canola or vegetable oil (olive/grapeseed/avocado are okay to use as well)
Hashu (Beef mixture)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 cup cauliflower rice (or regular white basmati rice)
- 1 tablespoon Baharat spice mixture
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 cup of pine nuts (check for bugs)
- 1/4 cup of finely diced dried apricots (I use my food processor for this – just make sure to open them and check your apricots for bugs)
- 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic (about 4 cloves)
- 1/2 cup of yellow onion – very finely diced (You can use a food processor for this as well)
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1. Prepare the hashu (beef mixture) by mixing all of the ingredients together in a bowl. If using rice, make sure to thoroughly check the rice for bugs and then soak the rice in water. To soak rice, run it under cold water in a small bowl and leave uncovered for 30 minutes, rinse and then drain.
2. Begin coring zucchinis: I like to chop my zucchinis into 2 or 3 pieces since it makes it easier to stuff them. I aim for about 3-4 inches for each piece. Use a corer to scoop out a hole in the zucchini and then loosely stuff it with the hashu mixture. You don’t want to overfill it because the rice will swell as it cooks. Also make sure that you leave a bit of the core at the bottom to keep in the beef mixture. Because this is baked in an oven instead of cooked in a pot (traditional method) it doesn’t really impact the dish if you over scoop, but do your best to ensure that you leave a tiny bit of core since it will hold in the mixture better and makes for a better presentation.
Also feel free to save the zucchini cores for another dish! They taste great lightly sauteed with olive oil and garlic. In a traditional Sephardic kitchen almost nothing goes to waste.
3. Place the zucchini meat side up in a baking casserole. Ensure that there is at least an inch or so of space between the top of the zucchinis and the casserole. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and then set aside the zucchini.
4. Prepare your sauce on the stove top. Heat your oil in a medium size pot and then caramelize your onions/garlic. Once they’re golden brown, add your tomato sauce, water, tamarind, baharat, honey, salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes. Make sure to taste the sauce, ideally you’re looking for a sweet/sour tomato sauce, feel free to add more honey, tamarind, salt or tomato sauce per your taste preferences.
Keep in mind that traditionally mehsi are cooked in a pot, I like to make mine in the oven because I think it’s a bit easier to cook it that way and it reduces the risk that your mehsi will burn, tear, or get too overcooked.
5. Pour the sauce mixture on top of the zucchinis, ideally covering them almost completely. If you find that there isn’t enough sauce to do that, just add a bit more water to the sauce.
6. Cover with tin foil and bake the zucchinis for about an hour and a half at 350 degrees. Make sure to check your mehsi before you serve to ensure the rice and beef mixture is fully cooked, if it’s not fully cooked, bake for another 15-20 minutes in
the oven. You might also need to flip the zucchinis midway to cook the rice through, check them about an hour into cooking and turn them over if the rice on top isn’t fully cooked.
7. Let sit for about 10 minutes and then serve!