Oh how I wish I was a gardener. I like to say that I am a cook, not a gardener although I know there are people out there who are both. And those people likely save a fortune on groceries, especially if they are vegetarian and are buying a ton of produce a week. I admire people who can get totally Zen out there in the sun, weeding and helping their lovely vegetables and flowers to grow. I’m sorry, there are lots of bugs out there and I just can’t do bugs. Plus, at this point in my life, even if I were a gardener, I would have to choose each day whether to cook or garden, since my window of time without my baby boys is very small. I would choose cooking every time.
One summer while I was still in high school, I got it in my head that I wanted to grow a vegetable garden. There was a little plot in our yard where a climbing structure had been and it seemed perfect to my teenage mind. I had no idea what I was doing although I got a little advice from the nursery where I bought my seeds. I don’t even think the soil was soil – it might have been sand – but I was determined.
As with all good teenagers, soon after I planted everything and didn’t get immediate gratification, I kind of lost interest. Sometimes I would water my little garden, sometimes I wouldn’t. I never weeded. I hadn’t paid any attention to what kind of light this little plot got. And not surprisingly, nothing really grew. Except zucchini. I got, as everyone who has ever planted zucchini in this Pacific Northwest climate knows, a lot of zucchini. So much that I just stopped picking it and then it grew to obscene proportions.
When we moved into this house, I loved the idea of having a vegetable garden, but I was 7 months pregnant at the time and just knew that it was doomed for failure. Instead, we planted lots of herbs and I have absolutely loved having mint, oregano, 4 different kinds of sage, chives, and 3 different kinds of thyme just out there for the picking. I was sort of at peace with just getting my produce at the Farmer’s Markets and the grocery store until I went over to my new client’s house to bring them their first dinner. In their backyard, they have the most amazing array of vegetables, all in lovely wood boxes, all growing beautifully. There was fennel, chard, English peas, winter squash, zucchini, tons of tomatoes, and more. All in the backyard of a very urban area. I immediately started picturing our yard and where we could start our vegetable garden, but then the memories of my sad little garden 20 years ago came flooding back and I resigned myself to just being a cook.
Zucchini Stuffed with Chickpeas and Israeli Couscous
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s The New Classics
6 small zucchini (6-7 inches long), halved lenthwise
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, very thinly sliced into rings
2 tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of saffron
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
3/4 cup Israeli couscous
2 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour 1 cup of water onto sheet; set aside. Using a small spoon or melon baller, scoop out pulp from center of each zucchini, leaving a 1/4 inch thick shell. Transer pulp to a kitchen towel, and squeeze out excess liquid. Coarsely chop pulp; set aside. Sprinkle zucchini shells with 1 tsp. salt. Place shells, cut side down, on paper towels to drain.
2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil then add shallot, ginger, and jalapeno. Cook, stirring 1 minute. Stir in 1/2 tsp. salt, the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and saffron. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add zucchini pulp and chickpeas; cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes.
3. Stir in 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Add couscous, and return to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has absorbed and couscous is tender, about 9 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 mintues. Stir in parsley. Season with salt if desired.
4. Wipe zucchini shells to remove any liquid. Mound about 1/4 cup filling into each shell. Transer to prepared rack. Cover with foil, and bake until zucchini are tender and filling is heated through, 20-25 minutes.