Volume 2: Middle eastern stuffed squash & peppers
Alec Enkiri | 3/11/20
In Volume 1 of the Swole Chef we covered how to make my famous Muscle Building Oatmeal. The oatmeal is quick, delicious, easy, healthy, and it supports massive muscle growth from your hard training sessions. But in spite of all that, it's still child's play. So today we're going to get a little bit more involved and make one of my favorite dinners of all time: Middle Eastern Stuffed Squash, Peppers, and Zucchini!
One of the hallmarks of Middle Eastern cuisine is stuffing a whole bunch of different kinds of vegetables with a mixture of rice, meat, and spices and then cooking those veggies in a variety of different sauces. When everything melds together properly, this combination not only creates a freaking delicious flavor profile, but it also makes it very easy to get in a healthy dose of protein and clean carbs, along with a big heaping portion of a variety of different vegetables.
Many fitness enthusiasts are guilty of focusing solely on macronutrients while ignoring basic aspects of overall health and nutrition like "eat your damn vegetables!" Which is basically the first rule of healthy eating that we all learn when we're children, and then seem to promptly ignore down the road when we learn more about macronutrient ratios, and gluten free eating, and the keto diet, and low carb, and the Zone Diet, and intermittent fasting, and blah blah blah. Sometimes we know so much about dieting that we forget about nutrition.
In this case, however, you're getting not just the benefits of all the stuffed veggies incorporated into the actual meal itself, including yellow squash, bell peppers, and zucchini (you can also stuff eggplant, tomatoes, grape leaves, or pretty much any other vegetable you can core the center out of), but the sauce that it's all melded into and cooked in is a tomato based sauce. Tomatoes contain a whole host of vitamins, phytonutrients, and antioxidants that are important for promoting overall health, but perhaps most importantly of all for men, they also contain a formidable amount of lycopene (1). According to cancer.org, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men next to skin cancer and "is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer." 1 out of every 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetimes (2). Thankfully for us, this large scale study of nearly 50,000 men published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute concluded that "intake of lycopene or other compounds in tomatoes may reduce prostate cancer risk" (3). So make a big pot of this dish, make it often, and eat it all up, sauce and all!
1.5 Cups Uncooked Rice (Jasmine or Basmati is the way to go here)
1lbs Raw Ground Beef (I like 80/20 Chuck, but you can also go up to 85/15 if you're scared of a little fat)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
16 oz. Tomato Sauce
16 oz. Beef Broth
1-2 Big Yellow Squash
1-2 Big Zucchinis
1-2 Bell Peppers (Orange is the best here, red is second)
1 Large Onion
Minced Garlic (just use the water packed stuff in the jar, nobody has time to prep fresh garlic)
3 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
2 tsp Salt
Pepper to Taste
A big bowl for mixing
A big Dutch Oven to cook everything in
Chop up the onion and throw it into the Dutch oven along with a few spoonfuls of that delicious garlic. I'm pretty liberal with my garlic usage and you should be too because it's good for you. Now toss in just enough of the EVOO to get a good saute going here without burning anything up and cook it on medium-high heat for a few minutes until it starts to smell delectable and the onion starts turning yellowy and translucent. Be sure to keep a close eye on it and stir it up frequently. Once these are cooked down a bit remove them from the Dutch oven and set them aside for now.
Prep the veggies! This is really the only part of the entire process that's at all cumbersome, so I like to just get it out of the way early on. Wash and prep your squash, peppers, and zucchini; cut off the tops of the peppers and the edges of the squash; and then cut each piece of squash and zucchini in half (as a side note, when you're shopping try to find big pieces of squash and zucchini as the bigger pieces will be easier to gut/stuff).
Now the peppers take care of themselves and are already pretty much empty on the inside so they're eazy peezy. The zucchini and the squash now need to be gutted though. You can use a dedicated vegetable corer for this step, but to be honest I don't even own one and I just use a metal teaspoon, which works just as well.
Prepped veggies. Squash and zucchini are cleaned out and ready to be stuffed.
This step does take a little bit of practice, so don't get frustrated if you destroy a few squash before you figure out how to get all the guts out nice and cleanly without breaking the shell. I like to poke the inside contents with a knife a few times to loosen everything up and then it all spoons out pretty easily without much trouble. Just be gentle here and you'll be fine. Finesse is important in life too.
Take all the guts of the veggies and set them aside for now. Some people cook the internal contents separately and eat them as a side dish with another meal, but personally, I like to just throw them right into the sauce! So put them aside for now and we'll add them to the Dutch oven once the sauce is prepped.
Now it's time to get the sauce going! Take all the veggie guts and throw them into the Dutch oven along with roughly 1/3 of the onion/garlic mixture. Dump the beef broth and the tomato sauce in there as well and be sure to give everything a good stir.
Now add 1/2 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of cinnamon, and however much pepper you like. I also like to sprinkle a bit of allspice into the sauce as well, but I go heavier on the cinnamon than the allspice. This is a personal preference though. Turn the burner up to medium-high heat and let the sauce heat up for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce starts to bubble lower the heat to medium and keep it there.
While the sauce is heating up and melding together you can begin to prep the stuffing (just be sure to keep an eye on the sauce while you do otherwise the bottom will start to burn onto the Dutch oven if you wait too long to lower the heat). Toss the uncooked rice, the raw beef, and the remaining 2/3 of the onion/garlic mixture into a big bowl. Next add 2 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp allspice, 1.5 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Be sure to splash a tbsp or 2 of olive oil in there as well.
Now it's time to get your hands dirty! Dig right in there and mix everything up real nice like. Don't skimp here or the spices won't be evenly dispersed and you'll end up alternating between bites with no flavor and bites with a gigantic glob of cinnamon in them, and that's no good for anybody. So be sure to mix it all up really good!
Stuffing is ready to go!
Stuffed and ready for cooking.
Now it's time to stuff your veggies! Grab a handful of the beef/rice mixture and jam it on in there! You'll hit an air pocket when you try to stuff the squash and the zucchini, but just push through it and the stuffing will move to the bottom without a problem. I like to pack everything to the brim, just be sure not to compact the mixture too tightly otherwise moisture may have trouble making its way to the inside of the stuffing and some of the rice may end up slightly under cooked (the beef will cook regardless because of the heat, but the rice needs moisture to soak up). You want to pack the veggies full, just don't smash the mixture down to try to fit more of it inside each vegetable.
Once your veggies are all stuffed you can move them into the Dutch oven which should still be hanging out at medium heat. The sauce should be stewing together nicely at this point.
Depending on how many veggies you had available for stuffing you may have some of the stuffing mixture leftover. I like to just toss the extra into the sauce in chunks and let it cook up that way. The stuffing mixture that cooks inside the vegetables ends up slightly different from the stuffing mixture that cooks outside the vegetables and directly in the sauce. Both are delicious in their own ways so having a little bit of each is the best of both worlds!
And now we wait. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and let the magic happen! Honestly, the longer you can cook this on the lower heat setting the better it will be and the more the flavors will come together.
That's the stuff right there. Yuppp.
But at a minimum you'll want to leave it stewing on medium for about 30-45 minutes, and then lower the heat to around the 2 or 3 setting on the stove top and give it another 20-30 minutes (so roughly 60-75 minutes total cooking time). If you've got some extra time at this point and you aren't starving yet then you can lower the heat to simmer and leave it indefinitely. I think this makes it taste better when you finally do eat it, but this last step isn't a requirement.
Either way, while it's cooking be sure to stir up the sauce every now and then, and roll the veggies over and spoon some sauce on top of them as well.
Total Calories: ???
As you can see I have no idea what the macronutrient breakdown of this meal is, nor do I care. It's overall healthy, it packs a nutritional wallop, and it contains a good mix of high quality protein, clean carbs, and healthy fats. It makes for a fantastic dinner pretty much any night of the week and it's going to help you recover from your hard training sessions and fuel you up for the next day. If you're trying to pack on some muscle mass, then fill up your plate and eat a second helping. If you're trying to get shredded, then eat a little bit less and with a meal like this you're sure to still feel satiated anyway. It really is that simple.
1. Tomatoes: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts, Jessie Szalay (https://www.livescience.com/54615-tomato-nutrition.html)
2. Key Statistics for Prostate Cancer (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/about/key-statistics.html)
3. Intake of Carotenoids and Retinol in Relation to Risk of Prostate Cancer, Giovannucci E, Ascherio A, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Willett WC (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7473833)