My dear friend Nora emailed me, wondering if I had a recipe for a Lebanese dish called Kousa Mahshi that her husband John remembers from years back while working in Lebanon. I had never heard of Kousa Mahshi and, of course, had no recipe, but replied that I would do a little digging and see if I could come up with a recipe that might jog John’s recollections about the flavors and taste of the Kousa Mahshi in Lebanon. I sent along a general recipe of what might be a beginning for compiling a recipe after which both Nora and I would experiment, adjusting the recipe as we cooked in our own kitchens, a world apart, in NY and Thailand.
A little history about Kousa Mahshi sets the mood for delving into the local flavors of its origins; cooked in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, Cyprus, and Egypt with various adjustments for local tastes and ingredients. Originally, as the name evidently implies, marrow, a type of yellow squash found in the Middle East, stuffed with filling and steeped in a seasoned broth, evolved into stuffing courgettes (or zucchinis ) with lamb or beef; an inventive cooking technique that, jumping to the present, can be easily applied to stuffing peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, or squash that are so plentiful in the late summer, adding fresh herbs, cheeses, and seasonings that reflect your own regional tastes as well.
Easily reinterpreted into a vegetarian dish too!
Kousa Mahshi: serves 4
- 10 medium size courgettes of any variety or mixed (approx. 6 to 12 inches in length)
For the broth:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- stock or water to fill the pan for steeping
- 3 bay leaves
- 3/4 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- a few twists of fresh ground pepper
- Greek yogurt and parsley sprigs for finishing
Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan that is large enough to hold the stuffed courgettes along with the broth. When the oil is hot add the onions and saute for several minutes. Add the garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and saute to caramelize. Add enough stock or water to fill the pan once the courgettes are added. There is a little guess work here, but adjustments can be made once the courgettes are added to the pan. Add the bay leaves, honey, sea salt, and pepper and stir to combine.
For the filling:
- 1 cup long grain rice, rinsed
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1/2 pound ground lamb (or beef)
- 1 tomato, cored, seeds removed, and diced
- 1/3 cup minced flat leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup minced coriander leaves
- 1/3 cup minced mint leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon Baharat spice mix (recipe below) or 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground toasted cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon soft butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
To prepare the courgettes:
If you are using the larger courgettes cut them in half and trim off the stem and nub. If you are using the smaller bulbous courgettes cut off the thinnest part of neck. Hollow out the courgettes using a melon baller, or if you happen to have a lobster/crab spoon with pick end this works perfectly. Holding the courgette in the palm of your hand and working your tool in a circular motion with the other, remove as much of the interior flesh as you can without piercing the sides or the bottom. Discard the removed flesh or use for another purpose. Place the prepared courgettes in salted water and set aside while you prepare the stuffing.
Rinse the rice well and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a saute pan and when hot add the onion and saute until the onions are soft. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool down for a few minutes and then add the ground lamb (or beef), tomatoes, rice (uncooked), parsley, coriander, mint, chili powder, Baharat spice mix (or allspice), ground cumin seeds, fresh ground pepper, and sea salt. Mix the ingredients together and fold in the butter and olive oil until mix in.
Drain the courgettes and shake out any excess water. Fill each courgette with the filling. Doing this by hand is the easiest method, tapping the bottom of the courgette on your work surface to settle the filling into the cavity as you stuff. Continue filling all the courgettes , leaving a quarter inch at the top as the rice will expand while cooking. If you have leftover filling, form it into small meatballs and set aside.
If you intend to stand the courgettes upright for cooking this can be done by using two small racks as dividers or by using a circular metal leafed steaming tray. Otherwise don’t bother. It makes no difference really!
Place the courgettes in the pan and fill the pan and adjust the broth to cover the courgettes or, if standing, until the broth nearly reaches the top of the courgettes. Add or remove additional broth as needed. Bring the broth to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer and cook for 1 hour. You can add the meatballs to the pan as well and cook them along with the courgettes.
Remove the courgettes and set aside covered with a kitchen towel to keep them warm while you reduce the broth until the sauce thickens to the consistency of light cream. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Strain the sauce and set aside. A delicious alternative option for the sauce is to stir in several tablespoons of Greek yogurt once the sauce is strained.
Arrange several courgettes on individual serving plates or on a platter. Spoon sauce over the courgettes and nap a dollop of Greek yogurt over the top of individual servings. If you are serving the courgettes on a platter, serve the yogurt separately. Garnish with fresh parsley sprigs.
Baharat spice mix: makes 1/4 cup
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground toasted cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight container.