Squash Blossom Dolmas
What is a “dolma” you might be asking? A dolma is any number of stuffed vegetables – squash, onions, peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens or even eggplants. It’s a tradition of the Ottoman Empire found throughout Greece, Turkey, the rest of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Think grape leaves, which are one of the more recognizable forms, found at the late-night gyro spot (is that just me??). The stuffing is usually rice and/or lamb with nuts, dried fruits, spices and herbs. When in a small form like a grape leaf or like these, they are pretty snackable.
I picked up some beautiful, delicate squash blossoms from the farmer’s market and was debating what to do with them. They have a bit of that elusive, squash-like flavor and are visually captivating. I’ve seen squash blossoms everywhere fried – tempura-fried, stuffed and fried, lightly batter fried. And, yes, they do taste delicious fried. That said, I wanted a bit of crunch but without the headache (and fattiness) of frying. Making a squash blossom dolma, stuffed with a subtle, flavorful rice mixture and baked to lightly-crisped perfection, was the answer.
I must say the spices are pretty light here, which adds to the delicate nature of this dish. For that reason, I like to be generous with the herbs because they lend such brightness to the dolmas. These make a lovely (and conversation-provoking I can assure you) party appetizer, served alongside a dill-yogurt-dipping sauce. They taste best warm though – once they cool, they lose a bit of their edge. Also, this stuffing is pretty universal – if no squash blossoms are on hand, you could easily stuff peppers or blanched, swiss chard leaves with this. Enjoy!
Yields 4 servings as a side or an appetizer
16 Squash blossoms, stems trimmed and stamens removed
2 tbsps butter
1 shallot, minced
¼ fennel bulb, minced
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup white rice (jasmine or basmati are both fantastic)
¾ cup water or vegetable stock
1 ½ tbsps chopped, toasted pine nuts
½ tsp lemon zest
a generous handful of mint & dill, finely chopped
salt & freshly ground pepper
melted butter for greasing
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
Rinse the squash blossoms gently and leave to dry fully in a colander or over paper towels while preparing the stuffing.
In a small saucepan, heat butter. When foam subsides, add shallot, fennel, coriander, cinnamon and clove. Sauté for a few minutes until shallots are translucent (will happen quickly because of how finely chopped they are). Add garlic and sauté another 30 seconds or so until the garlic becomes fragrant.
Add rice and let toast with the butter and vegetables, stirring frequently. Add water or vegetable stock and increase temperature. Bring up to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook covered for 20-25 minutes. When rice is cooked, fluff with a fork, add pine nuts, lemon zest, chopped herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.
Carefully, stuff the squash blossoms with the rice mixture using a small spoon or even a melon baller. Don’t overfill – allow the ends of the flowers to close. Transfer to a greased baking sheet and drizzle with a little melted butter. Season with a few pinches of salt, and bake for 15 minutes. The outside should brown and be a bit crispy. Serve warm!