Vegetarian Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (Zeytinyağlı Kabak Çiçeği Dolması)
In his novel Karıncanın Su İçtiği (Ant Drinking Water), the second volume of a series titled Bir Ada Hikayesi (An Island Story), one of my favorite Turkish writers, Yaşar Kemal, writes about stuffed zucchini flowers in a way that resembles his famous descriptions of cotton fields, horses, snakes, the Taurus mountains, rain, the sea, i.e. nature in general. He writes in meticulous detail about this delicate Aegean dish so that while reading the novel you feel like you almost can taste it. After finishing Karıncanın Su İçtiği, I really wanted to have stuffed zucchini flowers, a delicious dolma dish that I first tasted when I was visiting Bodrum peninsula. Bodrum offers a great variety of Aegean dishes once you can pass its ranked #2 after Istanbul wild nightlife.
Although dealing with delicate flowers might seem difficult, to make stuffed zucchini flower is not harder than any other dolma dish. The demanding part is to find zucchini flowers. If you are already growing zucchini plants, pick flowers early in the morning when they are open and free of bugs. On the other hand, if you don't have a garden you might find zucchini flowers at farmer's markets (possibility:low), flea markets with produce sections (possibility: medium), or at Mexican grocery stores/markets (possibility: high).
20 zucchini flowers
1 1/2 cup rice
2 medium onions, very finely chopped or grated
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp currants
2 tbsp pine nuts
1/2 tsp allspice or cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
1 or more tsp salt
juice of 1/2 lemon or 2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1-2 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup finely chopped dill
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley (save the stems)
-Trim the stems and remove the stamens from the flower. It might be tricky to remove the stamen; I used a little knife to cut the stamen. Wash the zucchini flowers, check inside for any unwanted guests, and then place them in a bowl of hot (not boiling hot, though) water to soften. Set aside.
-Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a pot. Add onions and cook for 3-4 minutes.
-Add rice and stir for 5 minutes.
-Add currants, pine nuts, sugar, allspice or cinnamon, black pepper and salt.
-Add 1 cup water and cook on low until water is absorbed. Turn it off.
-Add greens: dill, mint, parsley, and lemon juice or pomegranate molasses. Mix well and set aside to cool down.
-Place the parsley stems that you saved at the bottom of a pot. If you do not have parsley stems you can cover the bottom of the pot with vine leaves or apple skin. Flowers are very delicate so you don't want to put them directly on the pot.
-Drain zucchini flowers. With a small spoon or your fingers stuff each flower with the rice stuffing: gently open up the petals, put the stuffing, and seal the flower by folding the petals one by one around the filling.
-Place stuffed flowers tight on parsley stems (or whatever you have). Sprinkle 2 tbsp olive oil and pour 1 cup of water.
-Find a flat-ish plate that would fir in your pot. Place the plate on stuffed flowers. The weight of the plate will hold the dolmas down and intact.
-Cook covered on low heat until water is absorbed, approximately half an hour.
-Wait at least 20 minutes before taking stuffed zucchini flowers out of the pot.
-Serve warm or cold. Goes well with yogurt.