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 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoon salt, divided
¾ teaspoon 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 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, bouillon, bay leaves, fresh parsley, and enough water to fill the pot so that it is somewhere between ⅔ to ¾ 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 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon 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.