20 January 2011

Lebanese Style Stuffed Squash (Koosa Mehshi)

My uncle tells this fantastic story of an acquaintance of his, a lady from Louisiana but of Lebanese descent. She was famous for her kibbeh, and was asked one time for her recipe. "Well, first," she explained, "you have to take off all your gold," she said gesturing to her fingers and wrist covered in gold baubles. Maybe you had to be there, but I love that story, how it's so Lebanese and so Southern at the same time.

In the early 1900's there was a wave of Lebanese immigrants who settled in the U.S., mainly in the South. Many were of Christian descent, and I can't help but think they found something of kindred spirits in the South, the traditional seasonal cooking, the emphasis on etiquette, gentility, and appearance. The Southern Foodways Alliance has done a nice job of collecting some of their stories here.


They also brought with them their foods, primarily kibbeh and pita and stuffed vegetables. Stuffed vegetables can be made with both vegetarian and meat stuffings, and is traditionally made with zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers, though technically any vegetable can be stuffed, including tomatoes, potatoes, and even really fat carrots.

For a festive dinner usually several different types of vegetables are stuffed with meat stuffing and cooked in a simple tomato sauce (though they can also be served in a yogurt sauce). Traditionally, a cook would buy a whole piece of bone-in meat, then dice and grind the meat themselves, and reserve the bones for putting in the pot. Many Levantine meat dishes are made using the bones this way, including grape leaves and stews, and I don't know of a home that doesn't own their own meat grinder. However, these days, it's much easier to just buy ground beef or lamb.

I always thought this was a difficult dish to make, but the coring is actually really easy (so long as you have a good corer) and there's really very little active work time. It's a nice one pot dish, with meat, vegetables, and rice. Serve it with extra rice pilaf on the side for soaking up the sauce.


Lebanese Style Stuffed Squash (Koosa Mehshi)

12-14 small thin zucchini (or small thin eggplant or bell peppers)
1 cup medium grain rice
1/2 lb ground beef or lamb, at least 85% lean
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 sprig mint, leaves finely minced
1/2 teaspoon baharat*
salt, pepper
olive oil
4-5 cups diced tomatoes with their juices, fresh or canned
1 small onion, diced
meat bones (optional)
yogurt and rice pilaf for serving (optional)

1. Using a corer, core the zucchini, being careful not to pierce the outer shell. Discard cores.
2. Mix together the rice, ground meat, parsley, mint, baharat, and season with salt and pepper. Smush together to mix well.
3. Stuff the squash 3/4 full with the meat mixture (no more, the rice needs space to expand!).
4. Heat some olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and saute briefly, until translucent. Place the bones in the bottom of the pot, if using, then pour the tomatoes over top. Nestle the stuffed squash in the pan, so that they are about 3/4 covered in the liquid. Try to arrange them so that the open ends stick up and the stuffing won't fall out of them. Bring to a simmer, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 40-45 minutes. Turn the squashes half-way through so that they cook evenly. Test the rice for doneness before serving.
5. Serve warm, with rice pilaf and some thick yogurt on the side.


Jaya said...

I have been following your blog for a very long time, but I fell of the face of the planet for a few months (mostly due to grad school) and now that I'm back and delighting in all of the posts I've missed, I have a really renewed appreciation for the beautiful food and narratives here. Everything looks so delicious, nurtured and memorable. Thank you so much for maintaining this blog!

aimee said...

Hi! Just wanted to let you know that I've been following your blog for years (though I've never commented). Always interesting recipes and an interesting pov. Thanks!

Dad said...

One of my favourite recipes EVER, thanks for posting it Mercedes.

This dish reminds me of visiting Lebanon for the first time to meet my wife's extended family. I sat outside the back doors with her great Aunt, she not speaking English, me not speaking Arabic and after she showed me how to core one courgette, we sat there, almost in silence, coring all the veg' until they were complete.

She said something, everyone laughed out loud and then clapped. Apparently I had done a good job, considering it was "my first time and I am english"!

I remember that trip (and this dish) fondly.

(no relation)