My grandmother loves to remember the way they preserved food on their farm in Syria. Just as our ancestors had done for centuries, they combined cheese with caraway seeds, and buried it under ground in clay jars. Her father was a carpenter, so they put grapes up in sealed crates of sawdust. And at the end of the summer, they would harvest their zucchini crop, core them, thread them with twine, and hang them to dry for winter dolma.
While you might think of dolma as one particular kind of dish (your mind might go to grape leaves in particular), it’s actually a very broad category of stuffed produce. And that’s the key quality that unites every variety: dolma absolutely must be stuffed. But it can be stuffed with anything from lemony rice to herby or spicy meat, and it most often contains some combination of the two, plus a few other flavorful ingredients. The shell can be just about anything, including (and certainly not limited to) tomato, cabbage, swiss chard, apple, potato, onion, grape leaves, eggplant, and zucchini. If you can core it or roll it, someone has probably made dolma of it. Some pots of dolma contain a lot of different veggies jumbled together, which creates an incredibly complex dish whose flavors all meld together, while some pots of dolma specialize in one particular veggie, for a more focused and clear flavor (in this case, zucchini).
One key to making great dolma is to find a pot that’s the right size for your batch, so that the braising liquid reaches at least halfway up their sides. In other words, you don’t want a couple grape leaves or stuffed zucchini floating around in a big pool of liquid. This is one reason that making dolma in a gigantic batch, without a recipe just makes sense. When my family makes dolma, we normally throw together a huge heap of stuffing, then we stuff everything until the pot is full, and pour liquid in the pot to the right level. But if you’re making dolma for the first time, it’s a lot easier if you have a recipe that takes all this into consideration for you and guides you through making a modest amount.
I’ve tested this recipe several times (as always), to make sure the proportion of stuffing, zucchini, and braising liquid is correct, so that you don’t end up with leftover zucchini or stuffing at the end. As long as you find a pot that fits them all as snugly as possible, your dolma will turn out perfectly. However, these photos are from a batch I made where I probably could have squeezed one or two more dolma in. But as long as you let them slump a little to one side (as in the photos below), you’ll be just fine. I thought about retaking these photos with the perfectly tetrised batch I made the other day, but I thought it was more important to illustrate that everything will turn out just fine either way.
my Assyrian vegan stuffed grape leaves
Maureen Abood’s Lebanese stuffed zucchini
Makos’ meatless Greek stuffed vegetables
Saveur‘s Armenian stuffed cabbage
zucchini dolma | dolm’it koosa
- Prep Time: 1 hour
- Total Time: 2 hours
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
To prep the zucchini:
- 8 large Lebanese zucchini *
- Special equipment: zucchini corer **
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
To stuff the dolma:
- 1 cup green onions
- 3/4 cup parsley
- 3/4 cup dill
- 3/4 cup cilantro
- 1/4 cup minced, seeded hot peppers (from about 1 banana pepper)
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or finely minced
- 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, strained, juice reserved
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 cup uncooked medium grain rice, rinsed (e.g., Calrose)
- 3/4 pound sirloin, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
- 1 medium potato, sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Preparing the zucchini: Cut each zucchini in half (into 2 shorter pieces), and then core the zucchinis, *** leaving the uncut side closed. Core them so that the zucchini shell is very thin (see photos). I do this by gouging out 3 big circles from the middle, and then using the side of the zucchini corer to whittle the insides down until they’re the right thickness.
- Evenly sprinkle the carved insides with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let them sit for about 30 minutes and then pour out and discard the water that’s collected inside them. You can even do this step the night before, and let them brine in the fridge overnight.
- Making the dolma: Combine the green onions, parsley, dill, cilantro, hot peppers, garlic, strained diced tomatoes (but save the juice for later), melted butter, rice, sirloin, and salt.
- Spread the potato slices over the bottom of a medium dutch oven or stockpot.
- Stuff the zucchinis with the filling and place them vertically in the dutch oven. If it isn’t a snug fit, let them lean to the side slightly, so that there aren’t any big gaps. ****
- Slowly pour the reserved tomato juice directly over the tops of the stuffed zucchinis (some of it will seep into the stuffing and some will overflow down the sides). Next do the same with the lemon juice. Then pour the water through a gap between the zucchinis. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over the tops to finish.
- Place the pot over medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 50 minutes. You should maintain a good simmer, not a bare one; it should be as close to a boil as possible, without making the dolma bounce around too much.
- Once 50 minutes are up, keep it covered, and let them rest for about 15 to 20 minutes, or longer.
- Uncover and serve.
* Any other variety will work fine, but you might have extra stuffing or zucchini left. Lebanese zucchini are also known as Korean zucchini. Look for zucchini that are approximately 8 inches long and 2 inches wide.
** You can easily find zucchini corers online, and in some Middle Eastern grocery stores. In addition to making dolma, they can be used for lots more. For instance, cut a cucumber in half and then cut a small slice off each end so they can stand up on their own, core the inside (leaving the bottom closed), salt it lightly, and fill it with water (my grandmother would make these for us all the time when we were children). Use a zucchini corer as part of your jack-o-lantern tool kit around Halloween. Use one to core and stuff mini-cupcakes.
*** If you’re looking for a way to use up the leftover zucchini guts, try my recipe for zero waste zucchini bread.
**** The key here is to get them to fit snugly, so you need to choose the right size pot. If you only have a gigantic stockpot / dutch oven, just increase the recipe accordingly.
Made the filling only today in my Instant Pot – juice of one lemon and no water. I ate it in a bowl but it would also be a good filling for lettuce wraps. Under pressure for 7 minutes and 10 minutes NPR
The filling is so good on its own! My mom makes it like that sometimes and eats it with lettuce wraps. It’s the best 😋
I made these today and they were a big hit! Thank you and your grandmother. The herb mixture was perfect…but you knew that.
Aw that’s so awesome! I’m so very glad that you enjoyed 🙂
Thank you! (I tried to respond to your comment, but I don’t have a square-space account and despite being 27, I am a hopeless Luddite. I’m the worst millennial). Unfortunately I’m fairly freezer-limited… this fall we needed to freeze 11 gallons of cider, and the process involved bothering literally every neighbor I have.
My 28 year-old husband jokes that he is a baby boomer at heart (which is actually kind of accurate 😂). I wouldn’t worry, I think anyone would be happy to be your neighbor. Your life sounds magical!
Ok so I finally got around to asking my grandmother detailed questions about the preservation. This will be a fun project for she and I to do later next summer, and hopefully post about it. Sorry if I’m missing details, and you can probably use your own know-how to fill in the gaps, but this is what she told me:
Core the zucchini harvest and salt them moderately (I think something like kosher salt would probably work best here). Place on their sides on a drying rack or screen on a table outside (you want them to be elevated, so that air can circulate around them). Place a breathable fabric sheet over the zucchini to keep them from getting dirty, but to avoid trapping moisture. The weather should be very dry, not humid (they would do this in north eastern Syria). Leave them for about 2 days, until they dry out a little bit. Then take a large metal needle (or find something to improvise, to make them easier to string) and thread them onto long pieces of twine (the thread should go through the cored hole, you’re not actually poking a new hole). They would store these in their attic by hanging them from the ceiling (they often hung things from the ceiling to prevent pests from getting to them, and my grandmother says they never had a single mouse in the attic, so I guess it worked!). The attic had windows so it was easy to air out to make sure they dried really well.
They also did this with zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. Grape leaves were way, way easier, because they could just be threaded with a needle and thread, and just hung up to dry (definitely trying this this spring!).
To cook with any of these things, you just rehydrate them with water.
Ok, this is amazing. I know we’ve been playing weird instagram-blog tag, but I read this through again and realized i actually have a question! When you say thread through the cored hole- do zucchini corers cut a hole in the bottom of a zucchini? I’ve obviously never used one. Or do you mean that you go in through the big hole (created by the corer) but still punch a new one in the bottom of the zucchini?
Also, MAN am I excited to try this. I live in Utah, so I’ve got the arid climate thing covered. Thank you so much!
I had such a hard time getting my grandmother to explain which she meant when I first asked her about this, so good question! The zucchini corer just makes the one big hole all the way through the length of the zucchini (turns the zucchini into a tube). They would string them up by threading the string through the one big hole, just like you would thread a string through a plastic drinking straw. There’s probably a simpler way to explain that, but I haven’t figured it out yet, haha. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!!
Hello! I know there is a (beautiful) recipe at the end of this post, but I got kind of distracted by the description of your grandmother drying cored zucchini at the beginning. I’ve recently turned into the kind of crazy person who wants to preserve everything (one summer spent rescuing my community’s fruit, and now I’m pickling everything) and I also suffer from the same yearly gardener’s zucchini overload.
Which is all the long, annoying way of asking if you have any details on how drying cored zucchini works. What kind of humidity/temperature is required? What does a dried cored zucchini even look like? Once it’s dried, do you have to dehydrate it before you make dolma, or does the braising liquid handle that?
(sorry about all the questions! I love dolma, and have been looking for a non-pickle way to preserve zucchini for years)
Oh my gosh this is the best comment ever. I’m going to talk with my grandmother and get back to you with more details soon. I keep meaning to do more posts about traditional preservation, and you’re totally motivating me to get my act together! If it helps at all in the meantime though, dolma can be a good way of preserving zucchini (if you have freezer space), because it freezes beautifully (unlike a lot of other zucchini preparations).