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I learned to make this dish while visiting my mother-in-law in Syria.  She is a truly amazing woman; she excels at whatever she puts her hands to, and of course she is a fantastic cook!  Since I’m a beginner at speaking Arabic and she’s a beginner at speaking English, our time together in the kitchen involved a lot of pointing, gesturing, nodding, and excitement when the other person finally understood what was being communicated.  But that just made it all the more memorable. 


In Syria, the zucchini is a lot smaller than the zucchini typically found here (a 6” zucchini there is pretty big!), so at first I wasn’t sure how to make this dish with our jumbo-sized zucchini.  (Actually, the vegetable they use isn’t zucchini — it’s another type of summer squash, called kousa.  It’s lighter in color than zucchini, and smaller and slightly more bulbous in size.  The problem is, it can be very hard to find here.) Then a solution struck me, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner:  just cut the zucchini into smaller pieces before hollowing it out!  It worked brilliantly. 


Also, just in case you have a bounty of other vegetables from your garden you need to use up, you can use this recipe to make stuffed eggplant, tomato, and peppers.


Arabic Stuffed Zucchini (Kousa Mahshi)


(Yield:  8-10 servings, allow the equivalent of 1 zucchini per serving)


8-10 zucchini (the zucchini should each be 8-12” long and ~1 ½” in diameter)

1 ½ c medium-grain rice

2 TB olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

~3 cloves garlic, minced

2 c peeled and diced tomatoes, with their juices (you can use fresh or canned)

3 oz tomato paste

1 tsp ground allspice

2 tsp salt, divided

¾ tsp ground black pepper, divided

2 beef bouillon cube

2 bay leaves

¼ c chopped fresh parsley

1 lb ground beef or lamb (meat that is between 80-90% lean works well)

3 TB butter, melted

Fresh lemons, cut into wedges (for garnish)


Sharp-tipped vegetable peeler (see picture below)

Heavy-bottomed 5-quart pot with a cover


Clean the zucchini and trim off the ends.  Cut each zucchini into 2 or 3 equal pieces; the number of pieces you cut the zucchini into will be determined by the zucchini’s size – each piece should be 4-5” long.  Use a sharp-tipped vegetable peeler to hollow out each piece, being careful to leave one end of the zucchini intact.  The zucchini shells should be ~.5 cm thick when you’re done hollowing them out.


In a 5-quart pot with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat; add the onion and sauté for 6-8 minutes, or until softened; add the garlic and sauté another minute.  Remove ¾ of the onion/garlic mixture and reserve in a separate bowl.  For the tomato broth, to the pot, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, bouillon, bay leaves, fresh parsley, and enough water to fill the pot so that it is somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full.  Heat the tomato broth over low heat until it comes to a simmer.


For the zucchini filling, mix together the reserved onion and garlic, raw ground meat, uncooked rice, melted butter, 1 ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, and allspice.  Stuff each zucchini shell with the meat and rice mixture; pack the mixture down so that when turned upside-down the mixture doesn’t fall out of the zucchini; leave a gap of ~¾” at the top of each zucchini because the rice will expand when cooking.


Add the stuffed zucchini to the simmering tomato broth and cook with the lid on for 60-75 minutes.  If the zucchini doesn’t all fit in the pot because there’s too much liquid, you can just ladle some out.  To check if the zucchini is done, remove a piece and cut it in half.  Serve the zucchini garnished with fresh lemon, alongside the tomato broth if you like (you can eat the tomato broth like soup).


To Reheat the Zucchini:  Bring the tomato broth to a simmer and add the zucchini; heat until warm (~15 minutes).


What to do With the Zucchini Pulp:  Use it in zucchini bread, zucchini latkes, zucchini casseroles, or any number of dishes.  Later this week I think I’m going to make a zucchini curry with it.

Sharp-Tipped Vegetable Peeler
Sharp-Tipped Vegetable Peeler


Zucchini Pulp
Zucchini Pulp






Faith, author of An Edible Mosaic.
About Faith

I’m the writer, recipe developer, photographer, and food stylist behind this blog. I love finding the human connection through something we all do every day: eat! Food is a common ground that we can all relate to, and our tables tell a story. It’s my goal to inspire you to get in the kitchen, try something new, and find a favorite you didn’t know you had.

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  1. elizabeth says:

    Hello Faith,
    Oh how I remember my mother’s best middle-eastern cooking from the old days.
    She never used a recipe in her life.
    She made the stuffed Koosa with lamb/rice a little Syrian pepper & cinnamon light on the salt, adding tomato & garlic.
    My father used to use the koosa pulp & cooked it in a pan with meat, onions oh so good.

    It’s so wonderful to try new foods from around the world.
    I have made many Syrian foods & love them all.
    We use a lot of lemons, parsley mint & Syrian pepper.

    In the summer my Mother made Fatoosh Syrian Salata. (Salad) Oh, its so tasty.
    Thank you Faith, that I happened to stumble on your web site.

    Love elizabeth ♥

  2. I also prefer emtabbal betenjan because you’re right, it has more kick.

    I have one issue in that my husband is not a big meat eater, so I will leave out the mince and increase the tomato and onion. It’s a shame for me because my absolute favourite of the ma7shi family is kousa bi laban stuffed with only meat! (Never cooked it, only devoured). Maybe one day I’ll cook it for myself.

    Anyway, happy to have found your blog. Will post back results when I get around to making it – thanks :)

  3. Thanks Faith, is this a Palestinian recipe or Syrian? Although admittedly they could be very similar. I’m half syrian half iraqi married to egyptian and am intrigued by the different methods used to cook kousa! Egyptians love to add dill (Not a huge fan) and they crisp it up after cooking in the oven and serve without broth. Anyway, I might give this recipe a bash and tell you how I go and hope the hubby likes it. By the way, my mum would always make “emta2bal” with the left over zucchini, which is basically baba ghanouj, with the eggplant replaced with the zucchini mulch.

    1. May, It’s definitely a Levantine dish, but as far as originating from Syria or Palestine, your guess is as good as mine! I learned this particular recipe from my Syrian mother-in-law, but she learned to cook from both her Syrian mother and her Palestinian mother-in-law, so some of her cooking has influences from both regions. Like you mentioned, I’ve also noticed slight regional variations in ingredients, which I think is pretty interesting (and I agree with you about the dill).

      I’ve had Moutabbal Kousa, which is good, but not my favorite – I much prefer Moutabbal Batinjan for the complexity of flavor. But I do love the fact that it’s another way to use the zucchini pulp instead of just tossing it. (Zucchini pancakes are also a delicious use for it!)

      I hope you like this version if you give it a try! :)

  4. Hi,

    I usually use the whole long zucchinis (Kousa Mahshi) when cooking this dish (I don’t cut them into smaller pieces). After stuffing them, I put them one next to the other in the tomato broth in a pressure cooker which allow the whole courgettes to be fully cooked.

    Thank you.

  5. AMAZING!!! Just made this and everyone loved it :). My husband is from Egypt so he grew up with it……makes me nervous to make any middle eastern dish because I’m Canadian but it think I did pretty good for once!

    1. Jennifer, I’m so happy this was a hit! My hubby is Middle Eastern and I’m American, so I’m in the same boat that you are…I had to learn a whole new cuisine for my hubby! :)

  6. I just made this. My room-mate loved it. I loved it. Thank you so much for the recipe!

    1. Alia, Thanks for letting me know! I’m so glad you and your roommate enjoyed it!! :)

  7. this is really really delicious food… i always request this to my boyfriend coz his mom is really good in doing this stuffing… i can eat 8pcs in one sitting only. yummy!

  8. This is so clever and the combination of rice and spices sounds wonderful.

  9. A wonderful dish! Those stuffed zucchini look so scrumptious!



  10. What a neat way to stuff zucchini.. the filling sounds wonderful!

  11. Hi Faith,
    This looks so unique and wonderful. Wow. I would love to try it!!!

  12. This looks so familiar to me. I am positive that I ate this at someone’s home when I was a kid. We had some Arabic friends. Maybe I tried this at their house. It looks terrific!

  13. Wow! Arabic food! I would love to try it :) It sounds and looks yummy.

  14. I love zucchini!!! This must be my lucky day. I have three favorite food blogs I check every day and all three of them are featuring a zucchini recipe!!! I’ll have to try these, my mother’s Italian recipe is completely different (and vegetarian) and my boyfriend always complains when there’s no meat in his food… so these will be perfect! Thanks for sharing.

  15. Heavenly Housewife says:

    This is beautiful! I love middle eastern food, its my favorite, without a doubt. I grew up with it because my dad is from Iraq (and he likes cooking). His mother used to make this dish. I think its something my hubby would really like. Now i just realized that you have a lot of delicious middle eastern recipes here, fabulous! I love the way your falafel looks (but i am afraid of having a deepfrying accident lol).

  16. Thanks for the recipe. I got that special knife ages ago from a Lebanese friend and never got around using it!

  17. Natasha - 5 Star Foodie says:

    The stuffed zucchinis look totally delicious! What a great recipe, thanks for sharing it!

  18. I have to say, these sound like a bit of work, but it is TOTALLY worth every minute and energy spent! Looks fabulous!

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