The word mahshi in Arabic means “stuffed” so kousa mahshi would mean stuffed zucchini. Arabs in general and especially Palestinians love to stuff anything from meats to vegetables. We even stuff our meats with stuffed vegetables ;). Stuffed vegetables are definitely one of my favorites. From zucchini, to eggplants, carrots, onions, cabbage, grape leaves, potatoes, tomatoes and even cucumbers can be stuffed. We use a special tool called “makwara” to hallow the veggies out. But make no mistake we don’t like to waste anything. So the stuff or the pulp of the vegetable that we core out is often used in the dish itself like I did here in this recipe, or cooked separately often sautéed in olive oil with onions and garlic and eaten with bread.
Stuffing vegetables is often seasonal depending on what vegetable is in season. Spring kousa (is often referred to here in the US markets as white zucchini or Mexican squash) is small, more pale in color and so tender. In Palestinian homes the smaller the vegetable for stuffing the better. I have seen people stuff zucchini’s as small as my pinkie, and cooks would take so much pride in that.
The stuffing in Palestinian and most Arab cooking refers to few different kinds:
Spiced Meat and onion stuffing
Rice (can use other grains) and spiced meat stuffing
Or a vegetarian herbal rice stuffing (one of my absolute favorites) The stuffing varies depending on the vegetable or the meat.
I have even seen a large piece of meat like a whole baby lamb stuffed with stuffed vegetables like stuffed squash and stuffed rolled grape leaves. Yep, that’s what I mean by we love stuffing our food with stuff :) okay now say that 10 times.
In this recipe the Kousa is stuffed with a mixture of spiced meat and rice, simmered in a rich tomato broth. It’s a delicious, rustic dish with a sweet scent of cinnamon and spice.
Prep time: 60 min
Cook time: 60 min
Serve: 6 people
Meat and rice filling:
1 pound of grass fed ground lamb or beef, or poultry
2.5 cups short grain white rice rinsed (see note)
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of ground allspice
1/4 tsp of nutmeg
1/4 tsp of ground cardamom
salt and black pepper to taste
4 tbls olive oil (divided)
12-14 (about 4 pounds) small zucchini’s (often in the USA referred to as Mexican or white squash), about 5-6 inches long and 1 to 2 inches in diameter
Note: you can use a variety of vegetables just make sure they are similar in size so they cook evenly.
I love to combine: squash and baby eggplant together.
2 cups chicken broth I just use water it’s totally fine (enough to submerge the vegetables)
28 oz crushed tomatoes
1 tbls tomatoes paste
You can also use pureed fresh tomatoes (my grandmother’s fav way) you would need about 4 pounds of fresh tomatoes.
3 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
First you want to core those zucchinis.
** You can easily find zucchini corers online, and in most Middle Eastern grocery stores.
This is a great technique to learn and practice as it’s used in so many stuffed vegetables. Don’t feel bad if you break few. It takes practice. First Cut off the stems. You would need a Special tool like an apple corer to make the job easier. Just keep coring them out, like carving a pumpkin till you have the walls to about 1/8 inch thick and you reached the bottom. You will do this step few times until you scrape and hallow the zucchini making enough space for the filling. Be careful not to poke a hole in them if possible. If you have an apple corer use that. Don’t discard the pulp. We will also use it in this recipe.
Rinse the rice a few times in cold water until the water runs clear this will get rid of some of the starch in the rice creating a fluffier filling.
Sautéing the meat: (optional) but I like to do it this way. Or you can just add your raw meat to the rinsed rice.
In a heavy bottom skillet, heat the oil, add the meat and spices. Sauté until it’s a bit browned and crumbles. You don’t have to cook the meat all the way as it will finish cooking in the sauce.
Get out a nice deep bowl and mix together all the stuffing ingredients till well blended. (I use my hands for this.)
Gently stuff the zucchini with the mixture using your fingers. Don’t overstuff them! fill only about ¾ of the kousa with the stuffing, and don’t pack it in. Leave room for the rice to expand while cooking.
In a large, heavy bottomed pot, add the additional 2 tbls olive oil and sauté the zucchini pulp (the inside of the zucchini) With the garlic cloves. combine the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil, while stirring. Then lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors marry. Taste for seasoning. Very carefully float the stuffed zucchini in the broth and simmer (make sure the broth is covering the zucchini) for 50-60 Minutes until the rice is cooked and the zucchini is tender. We don’t want the vegetables to fall apart.
Check occasionally during cooking and if the sauce needs more broth or water, add it. Serve in deep bowls, with the tomato sauce on top. Sahtain ! Which is Arabic for “bon appétit,” which literally translates to “Two Healths to you.”