The zucchini enchilada boats you must make this summer

It won't be long before farmer's markets and gardens are overflowing with fresh zucchini. Zucchini is one of those versatile vegetables we know there's a lot to do with, but somehow always just end up grilling it. Maybe you've tried zucchini pizza crust or even zoodles, but after a while, even those dishes get pretty old. The solution? Enchilada zucchini boats!

The beauty of zucchini boats is that you can load them up with any topping you like and feel good about eating a healthy meal. You could try mozzarella and pepperoni for pizza lovers. And for the taco lovers out there, stuffing tender roasted zucchini with enchilada fixings is the perfect way to spend a summer evening. Enjoy them on their own, or serve with a side of rice and beans. Either way, your dinner guests will be impressed!

Gather your ingredients

Start by gathering your meat and vegetables, then preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This recipe calls for red bell pepper, but if you have a different type or color of pepper, feel free to swap it out. I always prefer cooking with ground turkey as opposed to ground beef, because it's leaner, and once it's mixed with seasoning and cheese, I don't think you can taste the difference. I also diced some mushrooms to mix in with the meat, because as they cook, they take on the ground turkey's flavor. It's a great way to make a larger portion without adding more meat.

A full list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions can be found at the end of this article.

Prepare the zucchini

Start by cutting the zucchini. It's important to choose medium zucchini, because if they're too large, they won't fit into the baking dish. They also won't cook evenly. 

After rinsing your zucchini, slice each one vertically. Then, using a spoon or melon baller, scoop out the flesh on the inside. Make sure to leave about a quarter-inch border around it so the enchilada toppings don't spill out. Once you've prepped all eight zucchini halves, set aside the inside flesh, because we'll need it later in the recipe.

Boil the zucchini

Next we'll boil the zucchini. This is an important step, because it won't cook sufficiently in the oven. Heat a large pot of salted water on the stove top and bring to a boil. Add the zucchini halves and cook for one minute. 

Remove the pan from heat and drain the water. The cooked zucchini can sit in the pot while you prepare the rest of the dish. Make sure to drain the water, because the zucchini halves will be overcooked if left in the hot water for too long.

Chop the zucchini

While the zucchini halves are boiling, roughly chop the scooped-out zucchini flesh. Don't worry about cutting it too small — it'll cook up nicely with the meat once you're ready. Once it's chopped, set it aside. 

Prepare the enchilada sauce

Now it's time to move on to the easiest enchilada sauce you've ever made. Start by heating a medium sauce pan over high heat and coating it with olive oil. Pour in the diced green chiles, tomato paste, chicken stock, chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin. Feel free to double the chili powder if you like your sauce spicier. Whisk the ingredients together and bring the sauce to a boil.

Simmer the sauce

Once the enchilada sauce has started boiling, bring the stove's heat down to low and allow the sauce to simmer for about ten minutes. Cover the saucepan and make sure to stir it occasionally. Once the sauce is cooked, remove the pan from heat and set aside until ready to use. Make sure to keep it covered. 

Prep the vegetables

Now we can get rocking and rolling with our enchilada toppings. Chop half of an onion. Core and slice the red bell pepper. Finely chop the mushrooms. They should be cut small so they can meld with the ground meat. Your family will never know they're there, I promise!

Cook the meat

Once the veggies are prepped, heat a large saucepan over medium heat and coat with olive oil. Add the diced onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, ground turkey, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, oregano, and salsa to the pan. Stir to combine and cook until the turkey is white and cooked through, about eight minutes. Again, you could add more chili powder if you want to up the heat. 

Prepare the baking dish

While the turkey is cooking, prepare your baking dish. Spray it with nonstick olive oil spray and then pour in about one-fourth cup enchilada sauce. Using the back of a spoon or spatula, spread the sauce around the entire dish. 

Line the zucchini

Once you've spread the enchilada sauce in the baking dish, add the prepped zucchini halves. All eight halves should be able to fit side by side. They'll fit tightly, which is perfect because they hold each other up. Because you've already partially cooked them in the boiling water, they'll be soft. 

Check the meat

Once the zucchini halves are ready to go, continue to cook and stir the ground turkey mixture until it's done. The red bell pepper should be tender and the onion fragrant and translucent. 

Add the zucchini

You thought I forgot about that zucchini flesh, didn't you? Now it's time to add it. Once the turkey is completely cooked, toss in the chopped zucchini and stir to combine. Cook the mixture for another minute, then remove from heat.

Fill the boats

Using a small spoon, start filling the zucchini boats with the enchilada meat mixture. Firmly press the filling into the zucchinis — the boats should be overflowing. Some filling will fall to the sides of the baking dish, and that's okay. You could also save the extra filling for the next day's lunch — it's perfect over salad or in a whole wheat quesadilla. 

Add the toppings

Once you've filled your zucchini boats, carefully pour your homemade enchilada sauce over them. Make sure to completely cover each boat. Then sprinkle the shredded cheddar cheese evenly over the zucchini. You may want to keep some extra cheese for topping after the boats have cooked. This recipe calls for cheddar cheese, but you could also try a taco blend or Monterrey jack variety. 

Cook and sit

Before placing the zucchini boats in the oven, cover them with aluminum foil. I like to spray one side of the sheet with nonstick cooking spray. This keeps the cheese from sticking to it once it melts. There's nothing worse than making a delicious Mexican casserole, only to watch half the cheese topping come off on the aluminum foil!

Once the zucchini boats come out of the oven, allow them to sit for about five minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Directions

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

(For the enchilada sauce)

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chilies

  • 1 can tomato paste

  • 2 cups chicken stock

  • ½ teaspoon chili powder

  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder

  • ½ teaspoon cumin

(for the zucchini boats)

  • 4 medium zucchinis

  • ½ medium yellow onion

  • 1 red bell pepper

  • ¼ cup button mushrooms

  • 1 pound ground turkey

  • 1 teaspoon cumin

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • ½ teaspoon chili powder

  • ½ teaspoon oregano

  • 2 tablespoons salsa

  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. To prepare the zucchini, cut each in half lengthwise and then scoop out the flesh, leaving about ¼-inch border around the zucchini half. Save the scooped out flesh and set aside.

  3. Heat a large pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Place the zucchini halves into the boiling water and cook for one minute. Drain the water and set aside.

  4. To prepare the enchilada sauce, place a medium sauce pan over high heat and coat with olive oil. To the hot pan, add the diced green chilies, tomato paste, chicken stock, chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin. Whisk together and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

  5. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and coat with olive oil. 

  6. Prep the remaining vegetables by dicing the onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and reserved zucchini flesh. 

  7. Add the diced onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, ground turkey, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, oregano, and salsa to the pan.

  8. Stirring occasionally, heat until the onions are translucent and the turkey is cooked through, about 8 minutes.

  9. Meanwhile, spray a large baking dish with nonstick spray and coat with about ¼ cup of the enchilada sauce. Line the dish with the boiled zucchini halves.

  10. Once the turkey is cooked, add the chopped zucchini to the pan and stir to combine. Cook for one additional minute and remove from heat.

  11. Fill each zucchini half with the turkey mixture until each half is overflowing with deliciousness. Then pour over the enchilada sauce and top with the shredded cheese.

  12. Cover your zucchini enchilada boats with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Enjoy!