Dolma, moussaka and koftas: Aleksandar Taralezhkov’s summer zucchini recipes | summer food and drink

You say zucchini; I say zucchini (or tikvichka in Bulgarian). In the Balkans, in the height of summer, we appreciate this often underestimated vegetable for its lightness. They are the gift that keeps on giving, growing abundantly. I’m particularly interested in its ability to both pack some serious flavor on its own as well as allow other ingredients to shine. As a general rule, zucchini are good friends with yogurt, garlic and dill, which complement them wonderfully. These two recipes bring back fond family memories. Nostalgia aside, they’re also extremely quick and easy.

zucchini dolma

A beautiful, light and summery dish that happens to be of plant origin. In Bulgarian culture, we call meals that don’t include meat postno, and they usually have a designated day of the week when we don’t eat meat. “Today I feel like postno” is a phrase that often comes up when making plans to have lunch or dinner in Sofia. We see it as a way to achieve a good balanced diet. Serve at room temperature with tahini sauce mixed with lemon juice and some minced raw garlic for an extra kick.

Homework 30 minutes
Cook 30 minutes
It serves 4

150 g bulgur wheat
2 onions
peeled and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium tomato
2 teaspoons of salt
480 ml of vegetable broth
½ bunch of dill
4 zucchini
1 small handful of currants

Dry roast the bulgur in a skillet over medium-high heat for five to six minutes; this is the key to the flavor of this dish, and it will smell beautiful. Don’t be afraid to let some of the beans burn and char. Pour the bulgur into a bowl, then saute the onions in two tablespoons of oil until soft and translucent. Return the bulgur to the pan with the grated tomato, salt and about 60ml of stock and allow the wheat to absorb the liquid. Add the dill and let cool. The bulgur should still have a little bite to it, because it’s only semi-cooked.

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Heat oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9. While heating, prepare zucchini for stuffing. If the skin is thick, use a serrated knife to gently scrape them off. Cut the zucchini into slices about 2cm thick and use an apple corer or knife to cut the center of each slice.

Fill each zucchini circle with the bulgur mixture. Spread the excess filling over the bottom of a greased cookie sheet, arrange the zucchini slices neatly on top, then place a few redcurrants on each dolma.

Gently pour the remaining broth into the pan, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, then cover tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove, uncover immediately, and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature with some creamy lemon tahini sauce in a bowl on the side.

Zucchini and Parsley Koftas

Koftas, or kyofteh in Bulgaria, are any mix in the form of patties or balls. In summer, a classic vegetable kofta is prepared with zucchini. I love the combination with parsley, but feel free to experiment with other herbs – I once made a great version with sweet wild fennel.

Homework 35 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
It serves 4

for the kofta
500g zucchini
2 teaspoons of salt
2 eggs
2 spring onions
sliced ​​and finely chopped
100g feta cheesefallen apart
40g oats
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 bunch of parsley
leaves collected and finely chopped
Olive oilto fry

for the sauce
300 g yogurt
1 handful of dill leaves
chopped up
1 clove garlicpeeled and chopped
6 radsfishfinely chopped

Grate the zucchini on the coarse setting of a grater. Put in a bowl with the salt, then pour into a colander and let drain for 30 minutes, until all the excess water has drained off, then drain the remaining liquid from the grated courgettes; repeat if necessary.

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Toss the zucchini with the eggs, scallions, feta, oats, black pepper, and parsley, then shape and form into 12 patties: you want them fairly flat, so they cook all the way through when fried.

Put all the yogurt sauce ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then fry the koftas, in batches if necessary, for about six minutes on each side, until they’re a nice golden brown finish. Let rest for a few minutes and serve with the yogurt sauce.

zucchini moussaka

Potatoes are usually used as the base for Bulgarian moussaka, but since it’s summer and the zucchini are at their best, this makes for a lighter summer version. I use summer savory, because it’s the signature flavor of the region, and I’d recommend an adventure to the local Eastern European shopkeepers to find it (it often goes by the name chubritza), but if all else fails, use oregano instead.

Homework 35 minutes
Cook 40 minutes
It serves 6

for the base
1 kg zucchinidiced
4 teaspoons of salt
2 onions
peeled and diced
2 carrotstrimmed and diced
3 garlic clovespeeled and sliced
4 tablespoons of olive oil
500 g minced lamb
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon summer savo
rydried or oregano
1 teaspoon nutmeg

for coverage
250 g yogurt
3 eggs
2 tablespoons of flour
100 g kashkaval or cheddar cheese
1 pinch of baking soda
a pinch of salt

Toss the diced zucchini with half the salt, then place in a colander and let drain over the sink for 30 minutes.

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Heat oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Over medium-high heat, sauté the onions, carrots and garlic in half the olive oil for a few minutes, until soft. Add the minced lamb and cook until the meat is shredded and dry (in Bulgaria we use the term “in oil” which means most of the water has evaporated), then add a teaspoon of salt and all the spices. Set aside.

Fry the zucchini in the remaining olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon of salt, and cook over high heat for about five minutes; you want them to take on a bit of color, but don’t overcook them or they will soften.

You can now mix together the lamb mixture and zucchini, or layer them in the bottom of a 12″ x 9″ baking dish.

Mix all the ingredients for the topping in a bowl with a pinch of salt, until it has a thick batter consistency, then pour over the top of the minced meat and zucchini. Bake for 40 minutes, turning pan occasionally so it bakes evenly, then remove. Serve hot with a large spoonful of cold yogurt.

Aleksandar Taralezhkov is a Balkan writer and cook.

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