This recipe for kousa mahshi (stuffed zucchini or squash) is a delicious dish popular in the Levant (Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon).
Small zucchini are hollowed out and stuffed with a mixture of spiced meat and rice then cooked in a tomato broth for a hearty, savory meal.
Kousa mahshi is a bit of a labor of love, because it does take time to core the zucchini. But it is totally worth it! The spiced beef and rice mixture combined with the tender zucchini is total comfort food.
Why You'll Love Kousa Mahshi
Everyone I've ever made this stuffed zucchini recipe for has loved it. It's a well spiced recipe, it's got a wonderful balance of flavors, and it's filling.
Stuffed squash recipes are popular throughout the Middle East and the Balkans. If you've ever tried stuffed grape leaves or stuffed cabbage, this will be familiar.
This recipe is perfect for a big weekend meal or whenever you have time to roll up your sleeves and spend 30 minutes coring zucchini!
Ingredients for Stuffed Zucchini
For this recipe you'll need to find small zucchini - if you live in North America these will likely be Mexican zucchini (calabacitas). Find the smallest ones you can - they should be slender and no more than 5 to 6 inches long.
For the stuffing, you'll need ground beef, diced tomatoes, a yellow onion, some fresh herbs (we use parsley and mint), olive oil, cumin, paprika, ground coriander, ground cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
For the cooking broth, you'll need a can of tomato sauce, more salt, and water.
How to Make this Recipe
To make this recipe, you need to core the center of the zucchini. To do this, you can use an apple corer or a zucchini corer.
You need to carefully work to remove the insides of the zucchini, because they are quite easy to break or poke a hole in!
Soak the rice while you are coring the zucchini, then combine it with the ground beef, tomatoes, chopped onion, fresh herbs, and spices. Mix it till the ingredients are fully combined.
Then carefully stuff the squash, leaving a ½ inch gap at the top. Place the zucchini in a large pot. Make meatballs with any leftover stuffing.
Add the tomato sauce and extra salt to the pot then fill it up with water, till the zucchini are covered. Place a small, oven-safe plate on top to keep the zucchini under the water).
Bring the mixture to a low boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the rice is tender and the beef is cooked.
More Middle Eastern Recipes to Try
Love Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors? Try some of our other favorite recipes from the region.
- Muhammara (Syrian Red Pepper Dip) - a lightly spicy roasted red pepper and walnut dip.
- Mujaddara Recipe - a cozy meal of lentil and rice, topped with fried onions.
- Chopped Middle Eastern Salad - a bright and refreshing salad with chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and herbs.
Tips for Making this Recipe
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Specialty Ingredients - for this recipe you'll need to find small marrow or zucchini. In the US, you can use Mexican calabacitas/tatume (choose ones that are small and slender). In the Middle East and Europe, use the Lebanese squash (koosa).
Recommended Tools - I have a tool similar to this zucchini corer that I use for this recipe. They're called "manakra" in Arabic and you can find them online or in Arabic grocery stores.
Storing Tips - Stuffed kousa will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. They reheat easily on the stovetop or in the microwave.
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- 1 cup basmati rice
- 15 small zucchini (Mexican or Lebanese zucchini)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
- ½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- ¼ cup chopped mint
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 teaspoons salt, divided
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can tomato sauce
- Add the rice to a bowl and fill it up with enough water to cover the rice. Let the rice soak while you prepare the zucchini.
- Cut the end off the smaller side of the zucchini. Core the zucchini carefully with an apple corer or a zucchini corer, leaving about ⅛ inch around all sides. Be careful not to cut through the zucchini.
- Drain the rice and combine it in a bowl with the ground beef, diced tomatoes, parsley, mint, olive oil, cumin, black pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt, paprika, coriander, and cinnamon. Using your hands or a spoon, mix to all the ingredients are evenly combined.
- Gently stuff each zucchini with a few tablespoons of the rice meat mixture. Don’t pack the mixture in tightly, but do fill up the zucchini, leaving a ½ inch gap at the top.
- Place the zucchini on top of each other in a large pot. Pour the tomato sauce into the pot, along with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt. Add enough water to cover all the zucchini.
- Put a small plate on top of the zucchini to hold them down.
- Cover the pot with a lid and place it on the stove. Bring the sauce to a low simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the rice is tender and the beef is cooked.
- Serve with a dollop of minted yogurt, if desired.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 485Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 81mgSodium: 1538mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 7gSugar: 19gProtein: 33g