Zucchini (known as courgette in many parts of the world, especially Europe) is one of my favorite summer squashes. Although it is a fruit, in cooking it is better used as a vegetable. Zucchini--a vitamin C- and manganese-loaded fruit-- is often not liked for its mushy, slimy texture and bland taste. This zucchini-lentil boats with green sauce recipe gives a complete makeover to zucchini. It offers a slightly crunchy zucchini texture accompanied by a complex mix of flavors from fresh herbs, peppers, and cherry tomatoes.
This recipe incorporates a number of steps and a lot of ingredients. Therefore, it may seem intimidating to make these zucchini-lentil boats with green sauce. However, if followed in organized manner, the recipe only takes 35-40 minutes to prepare, given that you have soaked lentils and cashews in advance.
Step 1: prepare the zucchini (20 minutes, 7 active minutes)
Preheat oven to 425°F (~220°C). Zucchini is the main ingredient in the recipe, but you can also use yellow summer squash (I haven't used it yet, but should be ok to replace). When bought in the season, zucchini tends to have tender skin and slightly sweeter flesh. This is why this recipe works great when zucchini is in the season. If not using organic version, I would still recommend preparing zucchini without peeling; just wash it really well under running water (more on naturally reducing pesticide in inorganic produce later). Cut zucchini lengthwise into half and scoop out the flesh by scoring it first lengthwise and then along the breadth (see picture 2). Reserve the flesh for lentil filling. Be sure to leave 1/4" think layer of flesh on zucchini. Sprinkle the hollowed out zucchini halves with a pinch of cayenne pepper, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of ground cumin. Place in a baking dish and partially cover with an oven-proof lid or aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. Once done, you should be able to insert a fork or toothpick in zucchini. Please note, it should still be slighly crunchy.
You can also prep zucchini without oven on an iron griddle, pan, or over barbecue grill. Slice zucchini in half and scoop out the flesh. Add a table spoon of water (more if needed) to the iron pan and arrange zucchini cut side down. Flip once cooked. It will take about 10-15 minutes to grill or cook it over stop top (please note, this method will take longer to prepare the complete recipe).
Step 2: Prepare the lentils (15 minutes, 7 active minutes)
The lentil preparation starts many hours in advance of making this recipe. I usually tend to soak lentils a night before and place in the bowl in refrigerator, especially during the summer months. Soaking lentils in advance reduces the active cooking time (and fuel) and makes them easy on digestion by reducing phytates (more on this later). The whole lentil-soaking business takes less than five minutes, but it needs to be done well in advance ( I know, I can't stop harping on this topic). Once you have put the zucchini in oven, add soaked lentils with homemade vegetable broth and salt (or any other type) to a small pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat (about seven minutes) and then reduce heat to medium-low to let the lentils simmer for another 7-8 minutes. Once lentils are done, most of the liquid will be absorbed and lentils should be able to hold its shape (please avoid overcooking). Once done, drain lentils and set aside.
Step 3: Make the filling (17 active minutes)
While zucchini halves are baking and lentil is cooking, make the filling. Finely chop onion, cilantro, and scooped-out zucchini flesh. Grate ginger and mince garlic. Add oil to a wide-mouth, heavy-bottom pan--cook onions, garlic, and ginger with salt. Once the onion is soft (about 3 minutes), add ground cumin. Add finely chopped jalapeño, cayenne pepper, chopped zucchini flesh, and remaining salt and cook over medium heat, stirring often (7-10 minutes) , until zucchini is soft and cooked through. Then add cooked (drained) lentils to the mixture and stir a few times, making sure not to over mix lentils. In the last 2 minutes of cooking add halved cherry tomatoes and finely chopped cilantro. After taking the pot off the stove, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and mix.
Step 4: Make the green sauce (7 active minutes)
Soak cashews in advance (at least one hour before (making the sauce) in warm water or 2-3 hours before in cold water). Add cashews, well-washed cilantro, salt, raisins, and lemon juice to a blender and blend on high speed till well mixed. You can also use this cilantro-mint chutney instead of this green sauce.
Step 5: Serve
To serve, fill baked zucchini boats with the lentil mixture and top with green sauce. Depending upon how much you fill the zucchini boat, you may have extra lentil mixture. Either enjoy it as a side with some green sauce or use it for another meal on its own with green salad. You can enjoy these lentil-zucchini boats as a main meal (lunch or dinner).
Make once, eat twice
I concede that making these zucchini-lentil boats with green sauce is time consuming and not the easiest recipe to prepare. Therefore, it's best to prepare in once for two meals; that way you save time on making another meal. To freeze, just double the lentil mixture recipe without doubling the zucchini bits. To remake the recipe, just bake the scooped-out finely-chopped zucchini flesh with zucchini shells and add to lentil mixture. Enjoy!
Zucchini-Lentil Boats with Green Sauce
To Make Green Sauce
- 1/8 Cup Cashew (soaked at least for 1 hour in lukewarm water, sub with sunflower seeds for nut-free version)
- 1/2 cup cilantro (well-rinsed under running water)
- 1.5 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tbsp raisins (golden or black)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp water (more if needed)
To make Zucchini-Lentil Boats
- 2 zucchini squash (medium, halved, flesh scooped out)
- 1 cup brown lentils (dry, can sub with french lentils, soaked for at least 3 hours)
- 1 cup Homemade vegetable broth (or any other, can sub with water+1 bayleaf or just water)
- 1 tsp avocado oil (or any other type)
- 1 White onion (or any other type, medium, finely chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (finely minced)
- 1 tsp fresh ginger (grated)
- 1 tsp homemade roasted ground cumin (plus one pinch, or store-bought)
- 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper (plus one pinch, increase to 1/2 tsp if want spicier version, can sub with red chili powder)
- 1/2 tsp jalapeño pepper (or sub with green chillies, increase to 1 tsp for spicier version, finely minced)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved, can sub with roughly chopped regular tomatoes)
- 2 tbsp cilantro (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (can sub with fresh lime juice)
- 2 tsp raisins (golden or black)
- 3/4 tsp salt (plus one pinch)
- 1 tsp water
To make Green Sauce
- Add soaked cashews (or sunflower seeds), well-rinsed cilantro, lemons juice, raisins, salt, and water to a blender. Blend on high speed until well mixed. Transfer to a glass storage container. This recipe yields 4-5 tbsp sauce.
To make Zucchini-Lentil Boats
- Preheat oven to 425°F (~220°C). Add a tsp of water to an oven-proof dish. Slice zucchini lengthwise in half and scoop out the flesh leaving about 1/4 inch on zucchini (see picture 2). Finely chop scooped-out zucchini flesh. Sprinkle hollowed-out zucchini halves with a pinch of salt, pinch of ground cumin, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Arrange zucchini halves on the baking dish and partially cover with an oven-proof lid or with an aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes. You should be able to insert a fork or toothpick easily in the baked zucchini.
- Soak lentils for at least 3 hours or overnight. If in a hurry, soak for 1 hour in boiling-hot water. In a small pan, add soaked lentils with a cup of veggie broth (or water) and 1/4 tsp salt and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low to let it simmer till lentils are soft (and hold shape) but not mushy. If there is any foam, skim it promptly with a spoon. Drain lentils to take out any leftover liquid.
- While lentils cook on stovetop and zucchini roasts in oven, cut onions and prep ginger and garlic, mince jalapeño peppers, cut cherry tomatoes, and finely chop cilantro. (about 10 Minutes)
- Next add one tsp oil to a heavy-bottom, wide-mouth pan. Add onions and 1/4 tsp salt, cook for a minute. Then add garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. If mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a tsp or two of water. Add finely chopped jalapeño, cayenne pepper, chopped zucchini flesh, and remaining 1/4 tsp salt and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 7-10 minutes, until zucchini is soft and cooked through.
- Add cooked (drained) lentils to the mixture and stir a few times, making sure not to over mix lentils. In the last 2 minutes of cooking add halved cherry tomatoes and finely chopped cilantro. After taking the pot off the stove, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and mix. Add the lentil mixture in baked zucchini halves.
- Fill baked zucchini halves with lentil mixture. Top with 1 tbsp of green sauce. Serve on its own or with a simple cherry tomato salad topped with green sauce. Enjoy!