Dolma, moussaka, and koftas: Aleksandar Taralezhkov’s summer courgette recipes | Summer food and drink

You say zucchini; I say courgettes (or tikvichka in Bulgarian). In the Balkans, at the height of summer, we cherish this often-understated vegetable for its lightness. They are the gift that keeps on giving, growing abundantly. I am particularly keen on its ability to both pack serious flavour on its own and to allow other ingredients to shine. As a rule, courgettes are good friends with yoghurt, garlic and dill, which complement them beautifully. These two recipes both bring fond memories of family. Nostalgia aside, they are also extremely quick and easy.

Courgette dolma

A beautiful, light, summery dish that happens to be plant-based. In Bulgarian culture, we call meals that don’t feature meat postno, and typically have a designated day of the week when we don’t eat meat. “I feel like postno today” is a phrase that comes up often when making lunch or dinner plans in Sofia. We see it as a way to achieve a good, balanced diet. Serve at room temperature with tahini sauce mixed with lemon juice and some raw chopped garlic for extra punch.

Prep 30 min
Cook 30 min
Serves 4

150g bulgur wheat
2 onions
, peeled and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium tomato
, grated
2 tsp salt
480ml vegetable stock
½ bunch dill
, picked
4 courgettes
1 small handful currants

Dry roast the bulgur in a pan on a medium-high heat for five to six minutes – this is the key to the flavour of this dish, and it will smell beautiful. Don’t be afraid to let some of the grains catch and char. Tip the bulgur into a bowl, then sweat the onions in two tablespoons of oil until soft and translucent. Reintroduce the bulgur to the pan with the grated tomato, salt and about 60ml of the stock and leave the wheat to absorb the liquid. Stir in the dill and set aside to cool. The bulgur should still have a little bite, because it’s only semi-cooked.

Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9. While it’s heating up, prepare the courgettes for stuffing. If the skin is on the thick side, use a serrated knife to scrape them off gently. Cut the courgettes into roughly 2cm-thick rounds, and use an apple corer or a knife to cut out the centre of each slice.

Stuff each courgette round with the bulgur mixture. Scatter any excess filling over the bottom of an oiled oven tray, arrange the courgette rounds neatly on top, then push a few currants into every dolma.

Gently pour the remaining stock into the pan, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, then cover tightly with foil Bake for 30 minutes, then remove, uncover immediately and set aside to cool. Serve at room temperature with some creamy, lemony tahini sauce in a bowl on the side.

Courgette and parsley koftas

Koftas, or kyofteh in Bulgaria, are any mixture shaped into patties or balls. In summer, a classic vegetable kofta is made with courgettes. I love the combination with parsley, but feel free to experiment with other herbs: I once made a superb version with wild sweet fennel.

Prep 35 min
Cook 15 min
Serves 4

For the kofta
500g courgettes
2 tsp salt
2 eggs
, beaten
2 spring onions
, trimmed and finely chopped
100g feta, crumbled
40g oats
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 bunch parsley
, leaves picked and finely chopped
Olive oil, for frying

For the sauce
300g yoghurt
1 handful dill leaves
, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
6 radishes, finely diced

Grate the courgettes on the coarse setting of a grater. Put in a bowl with the salt, then tip into a colander and leave to drain for 30 minutes, until all the excess water has drained off, then squeeze any remaining liquid out of the grated courgettes; repeat if necessary.

Mix with the courgettes with the eggs, spring onions, feta, oats, black pepper and parsley, then mould and shape into 12 patties: you want them fairly flat, so they’ll cook all the way through when fried.

Put all the yoghurt sauce ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Put a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan set over a medium-highheat, then fry the koftas, in batches if need be, for about six minutes on each side, until they have a beautiful golden finish. Leave to rest for a few minutes, then serve with the yoghurt sauce.

Courgette moussaka

Potatoes are usually used as the base for Bulgarian moussaka, but since it’s summer, and courgettes are currently at their best, this makes for a lighter, summer version. I use summer savory, because it’s the signature flavour of the region, and I’d encourage an adventure to your local eastern European grocers to find some (it often goes under the name chubritza), but if all else fails, use oregano instead.

Prep 35 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 6

For the base
1kg courgettes, diced
4 tsp salt
2 onions
, peeled and diced
2 carrots, trimmed and diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
500g lamb mince
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp summer savo
ry, dried, or oregano
1 tsp nutmeg

For the topping
250g yoghurt
3 eggs
2 tbsp flour
100g kashkaval or cheddar
, grated
1 pinch bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt

Toss the diced courgettes with half the salt, then put in a colander and leave to drain over the sink for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Over a medium-high heat, sweat the onions, carrots and garlic in half the olive oil for a few minutes, until softened. Add the lamb mince and cook until the mince is crumbly and dry (in Bulgaria we use the term “on oil”, which means most of the water has evaporated), then stir in a teaspoon of salt and all the spices. Set aside.

Fry the courgettes in the remaining olive oil, sprinkle in the remaining teaspoon of salt, and cook over a high heat for about five minutes – you want them to take on some colour, but don’t overcook them or they will go mushy.

You can now either mix the lamb mix and courgettes, or layer them up in the base of a 30cm x 23cm baking dish.

Mix all the topping ingredients in a bowl with a pinch of salt, until it’s a thick batter consistency, then pour over the top of the mince and courgettes. Bake for 40 minutes, turning the dish every now and then so it bakes evenly, then remove.Serve warm with a big spoon of cold yoghurt.

Aleksandar Taralezhkov is a Balkan cook and food writer.

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