Zucchini Zoo 1: Quinoa-stuffed

It wasn't all that long ago, before we began to tentatively dip our toes into the sunlit speckled, buzzing, and bedazzling world of home gardening, I was majorly impressed by mega-sized zucchini. By their staunch appearance, anyway. Like squat vegetable soldiers camouflaged for legions of the shadowy forest. Inside, I noticed, they weren't such stellar acquisitions, all squishy and airy. Then Sandra, a parent of two former students whose thumb will always be a thousand shades plus greener than mine, explained that zucchini giants are actually rotting inside. Much better to pluck them at their modest, tenderly unassuming stages.  A-ha. That's why pricking the big guys seems a little like letting the air out of the bag. Sometimes the simplest statements become little, memorable lightbulbs you wish you'd paused to figure out for yourself earlier, since they seem so obvious. Since, I've never looked at zucchini quite the same again,  and perhaps developed exaggerated sensitivity to size. It's a little like the case with squirrels... I don't mind them in the slightest, but I have lost some of the innocent, Beatrix Potter-like fondness for them since someone described them to me as rats with bushy tails... but as usual, I digress. The point I was steadily side-stepping  towards is, I know now that bigger is not better when it comes to my prolific summer squash. Nevertheless, here we are in August, and one standout product of our hot, tempestuous, busy summer is some neglected zucchini, flourishing to the point of being borderline grotesque. Thus, today I'm recording the first attempt at resourcefulness in controlling my mini Zucchini Zoo.


When you know the carrier trumps a good portion of the contents, such as is often the case with, say, race promotional material encased by cool canvas goody bags, discarding said contents feels far less wasteful than it otherwise might. So, with a bulging zucchini, it makes perfect sense to stuff and bake. As for the new stuffing, I wanted to assuage any specks of guilt for ruthlessly disemboweling my plant, using just what was handy or, better yet, also in need of being used quickly. I had some quinoa, leftover homemade chicken stock, a  container of black beans I'd cooked early in the week, some garden tomatoes, a carrot and some cheese. Oh, also an onion, basil, and some really old garlic. Seemed like a perfect combination.


Have you ever (and I'm sure you have) had a conversation where you and your acquaintance discover you share a similar experience to a remarkable degree? At first, there's a sort of exhilarating kinship, but then the coincidental details mount up to the point that it just gets weird? Maybe you even start to wonder if one of you is lying, with a discomfiting feeling in the pit of your stomach that the liar could possibly even be you. In the case of recipes, the coincidences are less coincidental and more to be expected, I suppose, driven by taste buds, nostalgia/tradition, and flavor profiles. So no one need feel like the "poser". I was pretty amazed, however, when, in the middle of making this quinoa-stuffed zucchini,  I found a strikingly similar recipe from Green Lite Bites.


The reason I happened to find to my dinner's doppelganger was, while what I had on hand sounded pretty sumptuous to me, it also seemed a little too much like the quinoa, black beans, and kale recipe on this site, minus the kale, and adding some carrot.  I felt self-consciously repetitive for an instant, and on a whim decided to google "quinoa-stuffed zucchini", in case some wilder variations were doable mid-cooking. When I clicked on the Lite Bites link, I honed in on a few phrases. Namely, the "gross zucchini in the fridge", the grape tomatoes (ours are cherry), "onions, and some really old garlic". Not hugely coincidental, but the recipe looked way too similar not to give it a  nod as the greater original, plus I think her photographs are much better. Enjoy. : )


Quinoa-stuffed zucchini 

Serves 3-4

  • 2 medium or 1 large  zucchini
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2  onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 1/2  cup low sodium chicken stock (or a combination of broth and water)
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon torn basil
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup cheese of choice (feta, shredded cheddar or mozzarella)
  1.  Slice of the tips and cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon or melon baller. (If you have a really overgrown zucchini like mine, you'll probably want to discard the flesh, but otherwise, set aside and add to the quinoa mixture later.)
  2. Heat the olive oil in a medium sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion starts to get transparent and garlic just starts to brown. Add chili powder, tomatoes, and carrots. Cook for a few minutes, stirring.
  3. Add the dry  quinoa and broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the quinoa absorbs most of the liquid, adding the black beans midway.
  4. Preheat the oven to 4oo degrees. Line a casserole dish or baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle the zucchini with sea salt and pepper.
  5. When the quinoa is tender and broth has been absorbed, stir in the basil and scoop the mixture into the zucchini boats. (If you have extra, it's really good on it's own, too!) Bake uncovered for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with cheese. Return to the oven for 5 minutes more, allowing the cheese to melt.