Punjene tikvice is a regional dish consisting of stuffed squash that is enjoyed in Serbia, and many parts of the Balkan region of southeastern Europe. This dish utilizes the vegetable as a kind of edible container, stuffing it full of other ingredients. The entire dish is often baked or cooked with tomato-based sauce.
Many different fillings can be used to create the punjene tikvice dish. Many cooks use a combination of ground beef with rice and vegetables. Other meat fillings can include chicken, pork, or anything else common in the region where the dish is popular. Some cooks also use vegetarian ingredients to make this sort of food, where “fake meat” or simply rice and beans can be used instead of meat.
In addition to the above, various types of cheese can be added to the filling for punjene tikvice. This is not necessarily the traditional way to make the dish, but it’s easy to add cheese or other dairy products to the filling for these items. Other elements, like garlic, are part of regional cooking and often make their way into the dish.
The first thing that cooks who are making punjene tikvice do to make this dish is to core or “gut” the squash. They take out the seeds and other parts of the interior that are less edible, or less appealing, to a culinary audience. This internal space is filled up using the ingredients described earlier.
Punjene tikvice and similar dishes are often prepared by simmering the entire stuffed vegetable in the tomato broth or sauce. This mix can include meat stock as well. All of these elements cooked together give the dish its unique texture and flavor.
In the Balkans, punjene tikvice may be served along with a similar food called punjene paprike, or stuffed peppers. Other societies have their own versions of stuffed vegetables. The stuffed pepper is a common dish worldwide, but other food cultures also stuff tomatoes, potatoes, and cabbage, for example. Though it is less unique to the Balkans than some other foods, punjene tikvice is still a commonly recognized part of regional cuisine and might show up in a basic survey of food from this area.