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Stuffed with Abundance and Gratitude

What better way to celebrate the abundance of the harvest than by stuffing vegetables with an abundance of meat, rice, vegetables and fruits! No wonder stuffed foods are a traditional favorite for Sukkot, the festive fall holiday, for Jews from around the world. 

Among Ashkenazim, Jews of Eastern European heritage, Sukkot is a time for simmering pots of stuffed cabbage, often in a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce. Menus might also include stuffed peppers, knishes with a variety of fillings matzah ball soup, kugel and gefilte fish– which was originally fish that was filleted, ground and stuffed back into the fish skin.

Being Sephardic, with grandparents from the Ottoman Empire, I am drawn to the customs and traditions of my heritage and other non-Ashkenazic Jews including those from Persia, Iraq, Yemen, North Africa and the Middle East. These communities have a long history of stuffing all kinds of vegetables and grape leaves for Sukkot, as well as Shabbat and other special occasions.  

“Dolma” is the most common name for Sephardic stuffed veggies, coming from the Turkish word “dolmak” meaning “to be filled.” But they are also known by many other names given the many languages involved. In Ladino, they are often, though not always, called “reyenadas.” Syrians refer to the general category of stuffed vegetables as “mehshi.” 

Usually, when we say stuffed vegetables, we think of cutting the vegetables in half to create “boats” to fill or cutting the tops off bell peppers to fill them easily. This year, I became fascinated by stuffing whole zucchini and Romano peppers the long way. Some people baked sourdough. I stuffed vegetables. 

To me, any stuffed vegetable looks good, but the impressive presentation of long pieces of hallowed out zucchini and Romano peppers overflowing with stuffing reminds me of the very American Thanksgiving symbol of the cornucopia, the horn of plenty. 

To my surprise, hallowing the zucchini is easier to make than it looks; I’ve provided detailed step-by-step instructions. In the wonderful tradition of no-waste cooking, the zucchini cores are chopped to help provide a “bed” for the stuffed vegetables. And, given my love of the sweet tang pomegranate molasses, I added some to the traditional tomato sauce for extra tastiness. 

Since I was so into stuffing, I decided to try stuffing a fall fruit, specifically pears, and love the results. The recipe below works for apples as well, with a little extra baking time to soften the apples.

Stuffed vegetables are nearly a one-dish meal, which makes them appealing when feeding larger groups visiting our sukkahs. Once ready, to easily carry out to our families and guests. Add a few salads and some challah or fresh flatbread and you have a feast.

Except this year, like so much else, Sukkot is different. Not only are we not entertaining large numbers of people in our sukkahs (anyone else giving up on even building a sukkah?), but it can be hard to feel that sense of abundance. I actually realized this last week while presenting the Lilith class on stuffing vegetables and fruits (via Zoom, of course). But then I realized something else. 

As always, I was happy to be teaching about food and traditions, but I also suddenly felt abundantly grateful. I needed to feel this gratitude and to recognize how much I do have…all the physical comforts, family and friends, my health, people who are taking care of others who aren’t healthy at this time…I am even grateful for my less-than-spotless house that needs cleaning because it means I have a home to shelter and keep me during this difficult time.

Maybe this year especially, part of Sukkot means feeling an abundance of gratitude for all we do have and for being filled also with the hope that next year we will sit in sukkahs under the stars together.


The list of ingredients and instructions look long, but don’t be intimidated! In less than an hour you can follow the step-by-step instructions and have impressive, delicious stuffed veggies in the oven. This recipe makes a plentiful amount, which keeps for several days in the fridge or freezes well for enjoying later. There is a more traditional way of stuffing onions by cooking them to soften the layers and then wrapping each single whole layer around stuffing before baking. I opted for an easier, quicker method here that can be baked together with the zucchini. This recipe words for stuffing tomatoes as well, substituting them for the same number of pieces of other vegetables. To stuff, core the medium tomatoes first, using the chopped cored in place of chopping the whole tomatoes. 

Makes 6-8 servings

Par-cook the rice

Boil about 4 cups of water in a 4- or 5-quart pot. While the water is coming to a boil, put the rice in a fine mesh strainer and wash very well under cool water until the water draining off the rice runs clear. That means you’ve washed the starch off, which helps keep the cooked grains of rice from sticking together. 

When the water comes to a rolling boil, put in the rice and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let it boil for 10 minutes for white or 35 for brown. The rice is ready when it is cooked to al dente. It will finish cooking when stuffed in the vegetables. Pour the rice into a mesh strainer and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside over the empty pot to drain.

Prepare the vegetables

Wash zucchini, trim just the minimum off both ends. Cut each crosswise around the circumference, creating two pieces. Using a vegetable corer or peeler with a point, carefully scoop out the center of each zucchini, creating a sturdy shell 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick and leaving one end closed on each piece with no more than 1 inch of the core left at the closed end. Chop all of the zucchini cores and set aside in a medium bowl.

Dice the tomatoes into small pieces, discarding as many seeds as possible and reserving the juice. The small pieces will melt into the sauce more. Add the tomatoes and juices to the same bowl as the chopped zucchini cores and set aside.

Carefully trim the two ends of the onion, taking as little as possible, then peel the onion and cut it in half from top to bottom. Use a small spoon or the point of a paring knife to carefully take out the centers of each half, leaving 3 to 4 larger outer layers intact. Carefully separate those larger layers of each half and set aside. Dice small the centers of the onions and set aside separately from the large halves.

If using bell peppers, cut each in half from top to bottom. Carefully remove the stem, seeds and ribs from the inside and set aside. If using long Romano peppers, slice off about 1/2 inch from the top of each, including the stem. Carefully pull out the seed core and white ribs you can reach. Shake out any remaining seeds and set peppers aside.

Clean the mushrooms well with damp paper towel and cut off just the ends of the stems. Separate the stems from the caps and chop the stems into small pieces. Slice each mushroom cap into pieces about 1/8-inch wide, keeping the slices together. Then turn 90 degrees and cut across the slices in cuts also about 1/8 inch apart so you have fairly evenly cut pieces, many of which will be square. Set all the cut mushrooms aside in a bowl. 

Prepare the stuffing 

Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 to 12 minutes until softened and starting to become translucent, but not browning. Add the minced garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more. Remove the mixture to a large mixing bowl. 

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan still over medium heat and sauté the mushroom pieces, stirring occasionally. Cook about 15 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add mushrooms to the large bowl with the onions, leaving any oil in the pan. 

If using chopped meat, add the meat to the pan and break up clumps as it cooks evenly. Turn down the heat a bit if either mushrooms or meat starts to brown as it cooks. Add the cooked meat to the bowl with the onions and mushrooms.

To the large mixing bowl with the onion-mushroom mixture, add the rice, meat or lentils if using, mint, parsley, cinnamon, allspice, currants or chopped raisins and pepper. Mix together gently, but very well. Taste before adding salt to taste.

Stuff and bake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 large baking dishes, 9×13 or 10×14 inch, that will hold all of the vegetables in a single layer. Spread half the zucchini-tomato mixture on the bottom of each greased baking dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Using a small spoon, stuff each squash piece and Roman pepper, if using, through the open end with the rice mixture. Come up to about 1/2 inch from the top to leave room for the rice to expand as it cooks. Fill the onion cups and bell pepper halves, if using, close to the top. Arrange the stuffed vegetables, closely packed, in the baking dishes over the chopped vegetables. Use the chopped vegetables on the bottom to prop up the open ends of the zucchini and long peppers so stuffing doesn’t fall out. 

Prepare the sauce by whisking together the pomegranate molasses, tomato paste and 1 cup very warm water, blending until smooth. Pour the sauce over and around the stuffed vegetables. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, covered, until the vegetables are soft. If your squash are thicker, it could take another 5 or 10 minutes of cooking to soften. Remove the covering and cook another 15 minutes until the vegetables are starting to brown.

Serve the vegetables drizzled with some of the sauce. The cooked vegetables can be refrigerated for 5 to 6 days or frozen for up to 8 weeks. If frozen, defrost and reheat, loosely covered, in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until warmed through.


There’s a tasty play between sweet and a touch of spicey in this dish. Naturally sweet Bosc pears hold their shape well, so are perfect for baking, although any firm pear will be delicious. Delicious on their own, a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of crème fraiche or labne also sing well with the pears. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a small baking dish of any shape that will hold the pears snugly.

Cut a very little bit off the bottom of each pear, just enough so they sit straight in the baking dish. Cut off about 1 inch of the stem ends and reserve. Use a melon baller, grapefruit spoon or vegetable peeler to scoop out the seeds and center of each pear, creating a space for 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling, depending on the size of the pear. Brush the rim and inside of each pear with a little lemon juice to prevent discoloration

In a small bowl, blend well the softened butter, lemon zest, cinnamon, cardamom and cayenne or Aleppo pepper if using. Mix in the walnuts or pecans, dates and ginger until everything is well blended. Spoon the filling into the centers of the pears, heaping it a little at the top. Place the filled pears in the prepared baking dish and cover each with the stemmed “cap” cut off earlier, set at an angle so some of the stuffing is exposed.

In a small bowl whisk together the maple syrup or honey, water, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Pour over and around the pears. Bake, uncovered, until the pears are tender when pierced, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool and serve with the pan juices.

Susan Barocas is a writer, chef, cooking instructor and speaker who served as guest chef for three Obama White House Seders. All recipes are the property of Susan Barocas and may not be reprinted or shared without her permission.

© 2011 Lilith Magazine