Zucchini Boats Mexican Style are a lovely combination of Cal/Mex flavors served in a low-fat, no-carb zucchini "boat". Perfect for those too large zucchini growing in the garden, but can also be made with smaller versions of zucchini. Feel free to use brown or white rice or even Quinoa as a part of the filling
The making of Zucchini Boats Mexican Style
Q: Are Zucchini, also known as courgette's a fruit or a vegetable?
A: Zucchini, in the culinary world, are treated as a vegetable, but are in fact a fruit. They are a part of the family "pepo" and are the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower. (Does that sound YUM?)
Q: Are Zucchini Italian?
A. No. While a certain type of zucchini was bred in Italy and is commonly called Italian Squash, zucchini, like all squashes, ancestry comes from the Americas.
Q: When growing zucchini, can you have none one day and a big old giant one the next day?
A. YES, yes you can.
And big old giant zucchinis are not great to sauté, but they are great to stuff. And since they are not Italian, I thought to stuff mine Mexican style. And as I thought about it, every buffet I went to while traveling in Mexico and Baja California had zucchini in the mix. Generally steamed with tomatoes, onions, and peppers. So why are there so many Italian stuffed zucchini recipes?
Because people think zucchini is an Italian vegetable...see wrong on so many levels...
Well, to be honest, there are a few Mexican style recipes out there too...but I think mine is the best..
With my super large over-grown zucchini in hand, I set about to create a new stuffed zucchini recipe. At first, my mind did turn to Italian - zesty tomato, onions, ground meat, parmesan cheese...I remember my mom used to make stuffed peppers with these ingredients and I loved my mom's stuffed peppers.
But every once in a while mom would pull out her "German" Mexican taste buds and make the stuffed pepper with rice and beef. She would stir in some tomato sauce, chili powder and call it "Mexican Stuffed Bell Peppers". The fact they were being served in green bell pepper made all the flavor in the world.
Zucchini, unlike bell pepper, do not have a strong flavor. It tastes like ... zucchini. Mild, slightly sweet, but not strong. And its soft skin and flesh make it perfect for stuffing. So all you have to do is add some flavor.
If I were making this Italian style, I would use both ground beef and Italian sausage, along with tomatoes, onions, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme...
But I'm not, I'm making this Mexican style, so to get some flavor into the shell I decide to use some well-seasoned ground beef, just like I use in my taco mixture ... ground beef, onions, chili powder, oregano, cumin, garlic and onion powders (or fresh chopped garlic when I desire), and some cayenne for heat.
So for these "boats" (they do look like boats don't they?), I start with my well-flavored ground meat, and to add some deeper flavors I add poblano pepper, along with fresh in-season corn.
Corn - White or Yellow?
White or yellow, you choose, although I prefer yellow as I think it tastes more like corn. White corn has been bred to be sweeter and harvested younger, while yellow corn, a mutation of white corn, has more bite, more vitamins, and to me, more flavor.
Nothing, but nothing beats corn pulled right from the stalk. Corn sugars convert quickly into starch, so the quicker you get your corn from farm to table the better it will taste, and the juicer it will be. Back in the way back machine, when I was a kid, we had corn growing in a field right behind our house. Farmer Otani, a celery farmer from Gardena who was interned during WWII, had leased land from Edison Electric Co. and was farming both celeries, during the winter months, and corn, during the summer months. He told us that we could jump our fence and pick whatever corn we could use that night (and for as many nights as we wanted, but only for our own personal use) for free. So more nights then not, we would jump over our cedar block fence into the fields looking for that perfect ear of corn, taking care not to harm any of the remaining crop. Shuck that corn right in the field, jump back over the fence, and mom would have a pot of water simmering on the stove ... drop those ears in for 2 minutes to heat up ... slather it with sweet butter and oh my-my yes ... YUM. That's fresh corn.
Brian and I had one year of successful corn growing in our garden. It was, of course, the year we knew nothing about farming, and dumb luck just blessed us with a great crop. So now I go, with everyone else, to the farmer's market to get my corn. And I still look for yellow.
How to pick the best corn
To pick the best fresh corn, pull the husk down slightly exposing the first kernels, and take your fingernail and push into one of them, it should "squirt" liquid back out. If it doesn't, it's old and dry. Close it put it back and try again. And don't worry about getting perfectly straight rows of kernels, it may look pretty, but it doesn't make it taste any better.
Rice or Quinoa? Spicy or Mild?
For this recipe feel free to use white or brown rice or even Quinoa. Also, use your favorite fresh salsa. We like ours hot, so we used hot salsa, but you could use mild or medium if you prefer less heat. Same with the spices, add more, or less, depending on your preference. This is especially important depending on your salsa choice. If you use mild salsa, you may need to increase the heat with some additional chili powder, or add some cayenne. If your fresh salsa doesn't contain cilantro, you may want to increase the cumin.
How to cook your Zucchini Boats
Once the boats are "stuffed", cover them tightly with aluminum foil and put them into the preheated oven for about 20 - 25 minutes. Cooking them covered helps to soften the zucchini but still leaves it with a nice bite. If you prefer a softer shell, drop the prepared (but unfilled) boats into a pot of salted boiling water for about 2 - 3 minutes; remove to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking (this is called blanching or par-boiling), then dry them off and proceed with the recipe. Once you have baked them for the 20 minutes, uncover, add the cheese over the top and bake 10 minutes more, or until the cheese has melted.
If you like your cheese more browned, you can place it under the broiler for a few minutes. Up to you!
As I said, my zucchini was pretty large, so one zucchini was enough for four people. If you have a medium-sized zucchini, probably a half of one would be a nice-sized serving, and yes, you can even make these with small zucchini. Then one whole zucchini per person would be about right. Because you are scraping out the insides to make a boat, and all the boats have about the same amount of flesh to skin, they should all cook at just about the same time.
Zucchini Boats Mexican Style
No matter how you serve them, serve some today!
Hope you enjoy your squash!
Serve this with a lovely salad of summer lettuces such as this Baby Greens Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Zucchini Boats Mexican Style
- 1 very large or 2 medium or 4 small zucchini squash
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- ¾ pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
- ½ cup about ½ medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 poblano pepper seeded and chopped
- 1 cup about 1 large ear fresh corn cut off the cob or 1 cup frozen thawed corn
- 1 cup cooked rice white or brown or 1 cup cooked Quinoa
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano crushed between your fingers, or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin or to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground onion powder or to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground garlic powder or to taste
- 1 cup prepared fresh salsa your preferred brand and heat
- Sliced black olive optional
- 1 cup shredded Mexican style cheese
- Heat the oven to 350°F.Cut the zucchini into halves lengthwise; using a spoon, scrape the soft center and seeds out, leaving about ⅓ to ¼ inch thickness for the "boat". You may either, chop and use the removed center as a part of the recipe, save it for another use, compost it, or feed it to the chickens.Should you like a softer "boat", you may par-boil the zucchini for about 2 - 3 minutes in boiling salted water; plunge into iced water to stop the cooking process, then dry and set aside.
- Heat the oil over medium heat; add the meat; cook and break it apart with the back of a spoon; once the meat has lost all color, add the onions and poblano pepper along with some salt and pepper; cook, stirring for about 5 minutes or until soft, then add the corn, rice (or Quinoa), stir well. Stir in the spices and salsa; cook for about 3 to 4 minutes or until well incorporated; taste and adjust for seasonings. Remove from heat.
- Place the squash boats in a baking dish; split the filling evenly in each boat, then top with the black olives, if using. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 20 - 25 minutes; uncover and spread the cheese over each boat; cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes more. If you want more crispy cheese, place under the broiler for a few minutes to brown. Allow the boats to sit for 3 minutes, then, serve.