When I think back to my childhood food is always in the picture. My parents are hands down the BEST cooks out there, I kid you not! But as a kid, you don't realize you're getting a 5-star dining experience every night. Once I grew up, moved out of the house and 3,000 miles away, I realized how good I actually had it. I quickly figured out that if I wanted to eat like a queen (that I once used to) I had to kick things up a notch and learn what my parents know.
My dad being the amazing chef that he is, also doesn't have a recipe or quantities for many things...it's generally a pinch of this, a handful of that, cook until it's browned. I've become that cook a lot of the time but if I want to know EXACTLY how to make a special Lebanese meal, I must get it written down so I can replicate just right.
What is Kousa?
Kousa is the Lebanese version of stuffed zucchini. Filled with tender rice, small pieces of meat, spices in a mild tomato sauce topped with fresh homemade yogurt. Talk about healthy and delicious coming together as one solid force!!!! BUT, I warn you...this is NOT an easy weeknight meal. It is a labor of love, a Sunday meal, a meal you need time, patience and energy to prep. Save it for a Sunday cooking day when time isn't of the essence. The bonus is that it heats up fabulously and you can have a delicious healthy meal during the week once it's made.
These little gems are the quintessential zucchini to use to make kousa. They're often called Mexican or Grey Zucchini, locally in Portland I find them mostly at Barbur World Foods. The reason they work well is their narrow tops and full bottoms, they become the perfect vehicle for stuffing.
Like I said, these are a labor of love and that labor starts with hollowing each one of these guys out. First, you'll want to wash and cut the tops and bottoms off to remove the stems. Be careful cutting the bottom to not puncture through.
Hollowing the zucchini
Next, with a butter knife, score the tops of each zucchini to make a star. This will help to hollow out easier and prevent breaking.
Take your butter knife and your hand close to the top of the neck of the zucchini and begin slowly digging. Continue working down, digging carefully. I take my knife and measure from the outside so I know how far I should dig. Hollowed out and sides are thinned down. After you have dug out the entire inside, slowly and carefully begin to scrape the sides to thin out. You also don't want to go down too far and puncture the bottom. Did you puncture the side or bottom? It's okay, just keep going but be careful and take your time. Remember, this isn't the easy weekday meal!
Time to make the filling and stuff these guys! The filling consists of beef, petite sirloin works well here. If you'd like to use ground beef you can also do that. Add in some pepper, salt, allspice, parsley, mint, rinsed rice and butter if you're using lean meat (omit butter if using ground beef). Each zucchini should be filled about ¾ of the way, do not over fill. The rice will expand and fill the rest of the zucchini while cooking.
Ready to cook
Next, get a large pot ready. Add in your olive oil, onions, garlic and tomatoes, let them saute for a few minutes then gently layer your stuffed zucchini horizontally. Fill the pot with water, enough to cover the zucchini. Some of the zucchini will float up, you can gently push down and keep them horizontal.
Let the zucchini come to a boil, then lower the heat and add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a vegetable bullion cube. They'll cook for about an hour uncovered. After an hour, remove one zucchini and check the to make sure the rice is tender. Season with any additional salt and pepper.
- 12-14 Mexican or Grey Zucchini
- 1 lb lean meat, petite sirloin works well, chopped in small pieces (can use ground beef as well)
- ¾ cup Jasmine rice, rinsed (or any long grain rice)
- Small chopped bunch of Italian Parsley
- 8-10 mint leaves, chopped
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp allspice
- 3-4 tablespoon unsalted butter (omit if using ground beef)
Base in pot
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2-3 small tomatoes (Romas work well), sliced
- 3-4 whole cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube
- Plain yogurt
- Wash zucchinis, trim the top and bottoms off to remove the stems.
- With a butter knife, score the top with a star shape.
- Hold your zucchini with your thumb and pointer finger gripping the top and holding by the neck.
- With your butter knife, slowly begin digging the zucchini into the inside of the zucchini. Continue until you reach the bottom (be sure to measure so you know how far to go).
- After you dug down, take your butter knife and carefully scrape the sides to thin out as much as you can without breaking.
- Continue with the remaining zucchini.
- Combine all your filling ingredients and mix until well combined.
- With a spoon or your hands, fill each zucchini about ¾ of the way. You want to leave space so the rice has room to expand.
- In a large pot on medium-high heat, add your olive oil, onions, sliced tomatoes, garlic and salt. Let them simmer for 3-4 minutes until soft.
- Next, layer your zucchini horizontally on top of the tomato/onion mixture.
- Fill the pot with water, enough to cover your zucchinis.
- Let the pot come to a boil, then reduce your heat to low and add your tomato paste and vegetable bouillon.
- Leave uncovered on low for about an hour. After an hour, remove one zucchini and check for the rice tenderness. You can also check to see if you need to add any additional salt.
- If the rice is cooked through, remove zucchini when ready to eat with some sauce and top with fresh plain yogurt. Enjoy!
- If you have any extra filling, you can fill blanched grape leaves and roll. I usually bundle whatever leaves I've rolled with butcher twine and drop into the pot with the zucchini.
- Serving Size: 6