Story by Kim Domick
Photos by Ed Keller
During the peak of the summer growing season, you need little more than a pat of butter and some salt and pepper to enjoy many of nature’s treasures. Sliced fresh tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and squash are delicious eaten raw with nary an adornment, and cold suppers are a dream for the cook who prefers to not waste the warm days sweating over a hot stove. But, as days of summer shorten, we naturally begin to think about our next season. With the change in weather we see a change in our local food as well and begin adapting our eating habits to follow the slow food movement. Fear not food lovers, as the temperatures get cooler, our comestible choices are just beginning to heat up.
Granted, the fresh beans, corn, and tender lettuces are gone, but we begin to see heartier vegetables arrive and we have a plethora of wonderful options available at our local Farmer’s Market and stores. The cooler weather vegetables are just begging to be noticed. As the days of harvesting tender herbs such as dill and basil slow down, their heartier brethren are just coming into their own. The bold flavors of sage, marjoram and thyme can compete with the best of them in the roasting, braising and baking arena.
This is the time of year that a superstitious person would not even dare to mention root vegetables or tubers, because just to speak of such things as turnips and celery root may bring about the evil eye, and cause an early winter. So, before you even think about filing your own root cellar or waxing your rutabagas, just put on your rose-colored glasses and focus on the beauty that we still have left. We have a month or so to go before you need to start looking for pumpkin muffin recipes, and even Peter-Peter has time before he needs to start hollowing out his wife’s pumpkin shell home. It is however the perfect time for home cooks to hollow out late summer vegetables and fill them with savory goodness.
Stuffed vegetables can trace their roots to early Persia, between the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. In the 7th century, the art of stuffing vegetables spread throughout the Islamic empire. In the 11th Century, invading Turks adapted these dishes to their own tastes. In the Mediterranean area and surrounding regions, including the Balkans, Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East, “dolma” is the term for the family of commonly stuffed vegetables. These include peppers, onions, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. Dolma is a Turkish word meaning “to be stuffed,” and it refers to any vegetable that is hollowed out and filled. Dishes that involve fillings that are wrapped in vine leaves or cabbage leaves are called “sarma,” though we now often use the word dolma to refer to traditional Greek/Arabic stuffed grape leaves. In Arabic, stuffed vegetables are normally called “mahshi,” in Greece, “gemista,” in Albania,”japrak,” and Italy, “ripieni.” The filings vary from region to region, using local spices and herbs to put their own touch on this universal creation.
For local home cooks, this is the perfect time to utilize zucchini and squash that have grown a bit larger, as well as large bell peppers and eggplants. These are all perfect for oven roasting and can stand up to a hearty filling. Early thicker-skinned squash such as Indian Squash are already available and make a delightful vessel for a multitude of culinary tastes. Stuffing them with grains, sausage, chicken, sautéed vegetables or nuts and baking them creates wonderful one-dish entrees that will kickstart your end of season eating and help usher in the fall.
For those of you who have spent limited time indoors during the summer, these dishes will also help to reacquaint you with your kitchen… all without having to give up the idea of summer entirely. After all, I hear that Peter-Peter Pumpkin Eater has not even begun to look for new lodging, because he is too busy enjoying the last long fleeting days of the year… and you should too.
*These recipes use leftover rice, grains, chicken and sausages, and sautéed onions, garlic and peppers to jazz up the dishes. You can substitute any leftover meats or vegetables that you have on hand and add your favorite herbs and cheeses to suit your taste.