What country, at a guess, would you say has the highest percentage of vegans? I'll tell you. The answer is Israel, with a 5% vegan population. Most people I asked, including myself, were surprised by this answer.
I stumbled upon this fact in a rather roundabout fashion. My favourite Youtube channel, So You're Dating A Vegan, had influential Israeli food writer and critic Ori Shavit on their show, making an intriguing vegan version of Middle-Eastern favourite shakshuka. The video led me to Shavit's TED talk in which she outlines why she recently went from being an avid carnivore to a vegan, aged 39. Her influence led to the explosion of veganism in Israel in only the past few years, although she did have a little online help: Gary Yourofsky's famous speech about the industrial treatment of animals and its effect on the world, our health and the animals themselves. The recording of his talk at Georgia Institute of Technology went viral in Israel, achieving more than a million views. For context, the population of Israel is 8 million. This means that 1 in 8 Israelis have seen the speech, and that's not taking into account those who watched in groups.
As a tribute to Israel's booming vegan scene, I decided to veganise a traditional Israeli dish. However, finding a traditional recipe wasn't exactly straightforward, given that the State of Israel was only officially founded in 1948. For guidance, I referred to Claudia Roden's renowned Book of Jewish Food, and found a whole section on stuffed vegetables. I was tempted to veganise Roden’s stuffed artichoke bottoms recipe but wanted something less obscure – the artichoke bottoms will have to wait.
Instead, I chose to stuff some more readily available vegetables: courgettes (aka zucchini) and tomatoes. Roden conjures up a lovely image on the task of coring courgettes:
“When women had only the kitchen to busy themselves with, it was a pleasure to sit down with company in front of a mountain of courgettes.”
The courgette filling is a traditional combination of rice, mince (I use vegan mince) and warming spices while the tomatoes have a sweet-and-sour thing going on with raisins, walnuts and tamarind paste.
Pleasingly, I managed to incorporate the courgette insides into the sauce rather than discard them, as Roden suggests. I didn't manage to incorporate the tomato pulp, though; perhaps you could whizz it up for my Salmorejo soup?
Israeli Stuffed Tomatoes & Courgettes
1 hr 20
(see optional substitutions below, too)
|for the courgettes:|
|6 large||courgettes (zucchini)|
|125g/4.5oz||vegan mince (ground "beef") (e.g. this one US/UK)|
|75g/2.5oz||short grain/arborio (risotto) rice|
|¼ tsp||fine salt|
|½ tsp||ground cinnamon|
|¼ tsp||ground allspice|
|1 tsp||tamarind paste|
|for the sauce:|
|4 tbsp||extra-virgin olive oil|
|1||onion, finely chopped|
|2||cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed|
|1 x 400ml/14oz can||chopped tomatoes|
|for the tomatoes:|
|3 tbsp||extra-virgin olive oil|
|1||onion, finely chopped|
|2||garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed|
|125g/4.5oz||arborio (risotto) rice|
|1 tsp||fine salt|
|500ml/2 cups||vegetable stock|
|40g/⅓ cup||chopped walnuts|
|3-4 tbsp||finely chopped parsley|
|3-4 tbsp||finely chopped mint|
- If the courgettes you have are quite large (i.e. longer than roughly 15cm/6 inches), chop them in half. Use an apple corer or small paring knife to hollow them out, making sure to keep the ends intact and unpierced. For thick courgettes, scoop out a wider hollow than will initially come out with an apple corer because you want lots of room for the filling. Reserve the courgette insides for later.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the mince, rice, salt, sugar, spices and tamarind paste. Fill all the courgettes with this mixture.
- For the sauce, heat the 4 tbsp of olive oil over a medium heat in a saucepan wide enough to accommodate all the courgettes in one layer. Add the onion and fry gently for 5 minutes. While it's frying, finely chop the courgette insides.
- Add the garlic and the courgette insides to the pan and saute for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the chopped tomatoes, sugar and salt. Half fill the empty tomato can with water and add that, too. Lay all the courgettes side by side in the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cover and leave to simmer for 1hr 20 minutes or until very tender, carefully turning the courgettes over halfway through. Remove the lid for the final 20 minutes so the sauce reduces.
- For the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 175C/350F. Slice the tops off the tomatoes but don't discard them. Hollow out the tomatoes (I used a paring knife and spoon to do this). Reserve the tomato pulp if desired, but it is not needed for this recipe.
- For the tomato filling, heat the olive oil in a medium pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and saute for 5 more minutes.
- Stir the rice into the onion and garlic. Add the salt and half of the vegetable stock. Simmer gently for 7 minutes until the rice has absorbed most of the stock.
- Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a small pan over a med-high heat for 5-10 minutes, shaking frequently, until toasted and fragrant. Keep a close eye on them as they burn quickly.
- Add the rest of the stock to the rice and simmer gently for another 7 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.
- Mix the lemon juice, herbs, raisins and walnuts into the rice.
- Arrange the tomato shells tightly on a baking tray. Stuff the tomatoes with the rice mixture. Put the tomato lids back on and bake for 35 minutes.
- Leave the vegetables to cool down slightly before serving. The flavour will improve the longer you wait. They are especially good cold or at room temperature the next day.
|listed ingredient||can be swapped for|
|extra-virgin olive oil||virgin/refined olive oil, rapeseed (canola) oil, vegetable oil|
|tamarind paste||1 tsp lime/lemon juice + ½ tsp brown sugar|