Although autumn officially begins this week, I’m still knee-deep in my new found love of zucchini. Hopefully Whole Foods continues to keep the vegetable well-stocked into the colder months as I have been eating 1 or 2 a week all summer. This recipe will show you how to make zucchini cups that could be served as appetizers or entrees; you could also turn the zucchini into boats (slice end to end and hollow out the flesh the same way as demonstrated here) and stuff them that way instead, if preferred. These are simple to make, low calorie and surprisingly filling – a winning trifecta for any recipe I try.
I pulled all the ingredients out of the fridge and pre-heated the oven to 350°F. Please note, I forgot to include the jar of salsa in the above photo and realized too late (ie vegetables already chopped and meat already cooked) – don’t forget it! I have nearly a pound of ground beef in the package and I cooked all of it but only used half of the meat mixture when stuffing the cups. You could buy 1/2 of a pound and use it all, instead. I plan on using the leftovers as a base for sauce to make zoodles later this week.
A note about grass-fed ground beef: Although I am not a big red meat eater, grass-fed beef has become the only kind of beef I will buy at the grocery store. Animals are either grain-fed or grass-fed and their diets greatly affect our meat (and dairy) products. Typically grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-fed; I try to buy 85% lean, 15% fat for keto purposes but Whole Foods did not have any when I was at the store. In addition to that, grass-fed is higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (benefits of those explained in this post), has up to 4x the amount of Vitamin E as grain-fed beef and has higher amounts of B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium and beta carotene. The benefits of buying and eating grass-fed animal products are extremely important to overall health; I urge readers to consider making the change if possible.
As I let the beef cook in a pan over medium high heat, I chopped the onion and diced the yellow bell pepper. You can use any color pepper you like; I prefer the sweet peppers (yellow, orange, red) over green peppers, but any of them will do.
When the meat was nearly fully cooked, I drained the excess grease, added the onion and pepper to the pan and cooked until tender and slightly browned. I also added fresh cracked black pepper and some garlic powder, though this is not mandatory.
As the meat and veggies finished, I prepped the zucchini by cutting off each end and slicing each zucchini into three similar-sized chunks about 2-3 inches thick. These don’t have to be perfect but the more uniform in size the better they’ll cook.
Next I took a spoon and began to hollow out the zucchini pieces to form cups. This is the part of the prepping that takes the most time (only about 10 minutes). The most important tip for this is to keep a small amount of flesh in tact at the bottom of the zucchini cup. This stops juices from running out as they cook. I left close to 1/2 inch. Use the edge of your spoon to gently scrape the flesh and seeds out of the zucchini; be careful to not break the outside shell.
Once they were all hallowed out I assembled my zucchini cups. I filled each cup to the top with the meat mixture, topped with about 1 teaspoon of salsa and then a pinch of cheese. I repeated until all the cups were filled. If you make this as an appetizer for a party, 1 pound of ground beef would probably fill 18 cups (6 zucchini) roughly.
I sprayed a square glass baking dish with non-stick spray and put them in the oven for 20 minutes, just until the zucchini was tender and the cheese melted. Simple! These are really tasty right out of the oven and will probably re-heat fairly well. I plan on bringing leftovers for lunch to work for a few days. They are a little higher in carbs than most meals I like to eat, but remember you are scooping a decent portion of zucchini meat out of each cup, so the carb count (and calories for that matter) is probably a bit lower than shown below; those numbers do not take this into consideration. As I said in the beginning, you could slice the zucchini into boats and stuff them that way – I have an example of this on my Instagram page. Like mushrooms and peppers, zucchini can be stuffed with a wide variety of fillings – what is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!