Although I’ve given away or sold most of my cookbooks, one of the few I’ve held on to is Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. I’ve kept it as a sentimental artifact of an earlier period in my life, when vegetarian cooking was a daily thing, not an occasional thing—a time when I’d turn down turkey on Thanksgiving, when I scoured the ingredient panel of everything I bought, looking for evidence of animal contamination.
Whatever happened to that poor, hungry girl with all that time on her hands, you ask? She got married to a man who grew up on a cattle ranch. Then she had children. And then she moved to Texas.
Throughout all of this, I’ve held on to the Moosewood Cookbook because it’s cute—Katzen’s hand-drawn and hand-lettered pages are really charming—and because it contains a few recipe-starters that I still enjoy. One of those is the stuffed zucchini I made for dinner tonight. My version does not include soybeans or tamari sauce—that granola is a little too crunchy for me, at this point in my life—but it does retain the brown rice of its progenitor. Mixed with ricotta cheese and some eggs, the brown rice is mostly undetectable yet very nutritious.
Worried that my kids might balk at eating a mostly-green thing for dinner, I decided to offer something that looked a little more familiar as well—so I tried out a new (adapted) recipe from Tasty Kitchen, Lentil Meatballs. In searching for lentils at the grocery store, I discovered that my HEB carries about 85 kinds of canned beans (and canned boiled peanuts—why, why, why?), but no canned lentils. I had to spend a good deal of time looking for lentils in the dried bean section as well, until I discovered the one available variety. All of which is very unfortunate, because lentils are a powerhouse of fiber and protein in a very small package.
The verdict? Both kids loved the stuffed zucchini. They were much less enthusiastic about the lentil “meatballs”, but both my husband and I thought they were great. This was my kids’ first encounter with lentils, though, so the fact that they ate them at all is a pretty good sign.
A few things before you get started: choose zucchini that are relatively the same size, so they’ll all cook at the same rate. Since zucchini are round and wobbly and hard to split it half, here’s a trick: place the pointed end of a large knife right in the center of the zucchini. Then, lower the knife until it breaks the skin—but don’t slice all the way through the zucchini yet. Flip the zucchini around and, once again, put the tip of the knife at the center—the beginning of the previous cut—and lower the knife. Now you have the beginning of a straight line. Just fit the blade into the notch you’ve created, press down, and voila! Two halves of zucchini. I used a melon baller to remove the innards from the zucchini shells, but you can also use a spoon. And if you slice through the skin of the zucchini, don’t panic. One of my zucchini shells was broken in half, and the filling still held it together after baking.
Be sure to cook your lentils before you get started (unless you’re fortunate enough to find them canned). Cook them in 2 cups of water for each cup of lentils; keep the heat on low for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft, and make sure the cooking pot is covered throughout the process. I cooked the whole package of lentils, just to save time later, and measured them out in 2-cup portions for the freezer. One package of dry lentils produced six cups of cooked lentils—two cups for this recipe, and two 2-cup portions to be used later in a soup, stew or salad.
3 zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise
1 T. olive oil
½ cup diced onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup chopped or grated carrots
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ c. part skim ricotta cheese
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup cooked brown rice
½ tsp. each basil, thyme, and oregano
Use a melon baller or a sharp spoon to remove the zucchini innards from each half of a zucchini. Leave a thin rim (maybe a quarter inch) of zucchini flesh inside the skin, to help retain its shape during baking. Chop the zucchini innards roughly and set them aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; allow these to cook for about two minutes, then add the carrots. Let this cook for another two or three minutes, until the carrot starts to soften. Finally, add the chopped zucchini innards and herbs; cook for another two minutes, then take this mixture off the heat.
In a large bowl, blend the beaten eggs and ricotta cheese. Stir in the mozzarella and brown rice, then the vegetable mixture. Pile this mixture into the zucchini shells—each one will take a generous portion of the filling. If the filling slides over the edges a little, don’t worry—the baking process will hold everything together.
Bake zucchini for 45 minutes, until the tops are lightly brown.
2 cups cooked lentils
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup ricotta cheese
2/3 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Canola oil, for cooking
Marinara sauce, for topping
In a large bowl, mash the lentils into a paste with a potato masher. Stir in the beaten eggs, ricotta, breadcrumbs, Parmesan and parsley. Refrigerate this mixture for a couple of hours.
When it’s chilled and easy to work with, roll the mixture into “meatballs”. Pour about half an inch of canola oil into a skillet with tall sides and turn the burner to medium heat. (To check if the oil is hot enough for cooking, dip the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil, touching the bottom of the skillet. If the oil starts to bubble around the handle, it’s ready.) Place “meatballs” in the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Fry for two or three minutes, until browned. Use tongs to turn them over and cook the other side for two or three minutes.
Place “meatballs” on a plate lined with paper towels and allow the excess oil to drain off. Serve them covered with marinara sauce and more grated Parmesan.