Zucchini Improv

I just got back from a fun date with my husband at a chain Italian restaurant in Moscow called Mi Piace. I enjoyed a delicious tomato soup from their lenten menu. We happily walked back home in the only slightly chilly evening to find we had walked ‘auto-pilot’ to our previous apartment building on Noviy Arbat (just one identical building over from where we currently reside). “We were due,” Andrei said as we back tracked to our current building.  We were bummed to only have discovered the lenten menu with one week to go. Last time we were there they only gave us English menus (everyone always guesses we are American) which never include the lenten options. This menu at Mi Piace is great because it includes a good variety of options instead of the typical fried potatoes with mushrooms (which I admit I could happily eat everyday for the rest of my life). Variety is key though because sometimes things can get old fast.

A great group was started on Facebook to let Orthodox friends share their favorite lenten dishes. It’s an excellent way for everyone to add some variety to their days of vegan-ness. Despite the vast vegan recipes now available, on Facebook and beyond, I find it’s easy to feel like you keep making the same things, or are ordering the same foods (raise your hands if you’ve eaten hummus, shrimp and pasta more than three times this week!).

In my Russian food magazine, Hleb i Sol (Bread and Salt), I found a nice alternative to the lenten staple of stuffed bell pepper – Stuffed Zucchini. I liked the recipe because it seemed like a hearty dish of just veggies with no rice (which also gets tiresome) in the filling.

In a very simple translation, you take two zucchinis (for two people as a main, or 4 if you are serving with a bunch of other stuff), cut off the ends and then cut them in half lengthwise. Using a spoon or melon baller, carefully scoop out the inside of the zucchinis creating a sort of boat and set aside. Drizzle the zucchini “boats” with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast them in the oven at about 390F for 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile chop the zucchini ‘meat’, fennel, garlic, and capers. Cube eggplant, peppers, and onion. Cut some green and black olives in half. Make a ratatouille with all the vegetables, some canned tomatoes with their juice (breaking them up with a spatula while they are in the frying pan). Add a bit of tomato paste, let it all cook, then stuff the zucchini boats and sprinkle with some bread crumbs. Put the stuffed zucchini back in the oven and roast for another 15 minutes. Top with fresh basil.

While I was prepping the dish, our neighbors from across the hall came by to ask if we could look after their suitcases. They were checking out of their temporary apartment but still had some time before their train. Although they were much more pleasant than the very very scary old lady in the other apartment across the hall that I swear was cooking little children in her apartment, they definitely didn’t make us doing them a favor easy! When they came back for their stuff they parked themselves in our kitchen (after 12am) and almost demanded tea. It was all easy to laugh off of course (since growing up we had all sorts of people in and out of our house all the time), except that when they were dropping their stuff off, I was cooking the ratatouille and distractedly added too much of the canned tomatoes. The result was very watery so I had to add some couscous to absorb the extra liquid. Although they didn’t come out like the picture, they were delicious nonetheless. It’s always good to be able to improvise.

…just like I had to improvise with this apple tart when I realized I had no foil. But that was easy – I guess I can’t really call greasing and flouring the sheet pan improvising :). I found a recipe that had a great tip – make a syrup by reducing water, sugar, and vanilla with the apple peels and brush the dough with it before baking. Makes for a delicious crust. I used lenten dough for this and thinly sliced apples. (before baking, top the apples with melted margarine, the syrup and sugar)


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