Turkish Stuffed Zucchini – Kabak dolmasi

Stuffed zucchini is a classic dish from the East Mediterranean cuisine. Food writer Roy Yerushalmi shares his version, combining a Sephardic touch with Turkish flavors from the black sea

Stuffed zucchini is a classic dish from the East Mediterranean cuisine. My variation is a mix between Jewish-Turkish (Sephardic) cooking methods – and the Istanbulite NATO Lokantasi restaurant's dish of spicy stuffed vegetables.

I love cooking this dish on Friday night evenings. A true delight in summertime, when I'm in Büyükada at the peak of zucchini season.

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Büyükada island, Istanbul (photo: unsplash)

Turkish Stuffed Zucchini – Kabak dolmasi

For this recipe, choose light colored and shiny zucchini, as light-weight as possible. They shouldn't be too long or too thick (about 2"/5 cm in diameter).

One more thing: For an easy emptying of the zucchini, use an apple corer.

Vegetarian version: instead of minced meat, use double amount of onion confit (see details in the recipe) or replace with beyond meat.

Ingredients for a large pot (preferably sauteuse):

8 zucchini

For the sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chicken or beef stock
Plenty of salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons butter – optional
1 leek, cut into slim rings
2 chilli peppers (preferably Anaheim), chopped to rings – optional, but keep in mind that most of the spiciness disappears in cooking
1 peeled tomato, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon sugar

For the filling:
300 grams double ground beef
2 medium onions, very finely chopped and fried in 1/8 cup of olive oil on low heat for 30 minutes
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon isot (Turkish paprika) or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon hot or red paprika
1/4 cup round rice, preferably Baldo
2 teaspoons sugar


Peel 4 horizontal stripes from each zucchini. Keep the peels and heads aside and add later to to the sauce and filling.

cut off its edge and head so each zucchini is as identical in length and shape as possible.

Take out the inside of each zucchini with an apple corer. Firmly grab the zucchini when doing so, and extract the tube-like core from it with your fingers. Keep the zucchini exterior as intact as possible. Keep the cores aside and add them to the sauce .

The sauce:

Pour olive oil and add butter into a heavy sauteuse with a lid that can also be used into the oven. Add leek and chilis and fry over lowest heat for 15 minutes.

Add the zucchini cores and heads and the rest of the ingredients except the stock and the empty zucchini. Cook on low heat while preparing the filling.

The filling:

Chop the zucchini peels as small as possible. Mix with the minced meat and all the rest of the filling ingredients by hand for 2 minutes. Add more salt than you think is necessary – the rice tends to absorb its taste.

Push the filling into each zucchini with your fingers, almost to the end. You don't need to leave much room for the rice to absorb water as one does with other stuffed vegetables (the filling will soften otherwise).

Arrange the stuffed zucchini in the sauteuse in a circle. The stuffed zucchini should be lying down, in a spiral shape. Pour hot stock up to half the height of the zucchini. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower to medium heat and cook for 45 minutes.

Remove the lid and carefully transfer the pot to an oven that has been preheated to 200 Celsius degrees (on turbo plan). Bake for 12 minutes, or until the sauce is sizzling and the zucchini is golden and just lightly charred.

Cover the pot in the oven. Turn off the oven and allow the flavors to combine in the pot for about 30 minutes to an hour before serving. Serve along with rice and greek yoghurt.

stuffed zucchini

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