Life can get hectic. Trying to keep up with the many things pulling us in different directions – family, work, commitments, community . . . Sometimes it feels like the world around us is moving at an unnerving pace. After awhile it takes its toll and I have to find my center.
We all have a few methods that work. For me, yoga or an escape into nature away from cell phones, computers and crowds zens me out. And, of course, cooking is also on this list.
A few days ago I got into my “me time” while cooking these kousa mihshi, Lebanese stuffed zucchini (also called/spelled kousa mihshi, and kussa mihshi).
For the hour that it took to prep ingredients I was “present” – mind and body, enjoying the sensory experience: coring several zucchini and hearing the corking sound it made with each first cut and tug of the pulp; chopping fragrant fresh herbs: inhaling the warmth from cinnamon and allspice as I measured them out; mashing raw meat with bare hands; and stuffing narrow tubes of zucchini with messy fingers.
This is not a difficult recipe just one that takes a little more time. I could have rushed through the process but why? It was an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the beauty of something I created – from garden to table.
Stuffed vegetables like these kousa mahshi are frequently a Sunday staple but are also served at weddings, parties, and other special gatherings. On such occassions, they are usually prepared communally.
That day, in my kitchen, somehow I felt connected to the generations of Lebanese women who’d made stuffed zucchini for their families and extended families. This is a meal that is as much about process as the final plate.
Sahtayn! – the Arabic version of “bon appétit,” which means “two healths to you.”
Tidbits on Stuffed Vegetables:
- The origin of stuffed vegetables is uncertain, although the Turks and Greeks claim ownership. Originally, they were served in palace kitchens to the wealthy and ruling class.
- Traditionally, lamb is used rather than beef to make the meat and rice filling and very traditional recipes for stuffed vegetables like kousa mahshi called for frying them first before stewing.
Lebanese Stuffed Zucchini – Kousa Mahshi
Serves 6 to 8
Coring zucchini: This is the most difficult part of the recipe and it’s actually more time consuming then difficult. Lebanese cooks have a special zucchini corer that does the job more efficiently but my slender apple corer also worked well.
Cooking vessel: before stuffing zucchini, place them in a large, deep skillet or pot to make sure they will fit. Note: you’ll be adding liquid to cover zucchini and need to cover the pot with a lid.
8 fresh zucchini – about 7 inches long (Italian or Mexican Grey)
Meat & Rice Stuffing
1/2 pound ground beef*
1/3 cup short grain rice
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)**
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)***
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 ounce can diced tomatoes or 3 large fresh tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 to 4 cups water
Chopped fresh parsley and/or mint, garnish (optional)
- Wash zucchini and slice off the stem end. Use a long narrow apple or vegetable corer to core zucchini – leaving 1/2 inch walls, careful not to pierce the shell or the end. (Making a hole at the end of each zucchini with the corer, repeatedly digging in gently, twisting and pulling out the pulp. Do not core all the way through the opposite end. It’ll get easier with practice.) Set aside zucchini. Use the pulp for soup.
- In a medium size bowl, add all the ingredients for the stuffing. Mix well with hands. Stuff the zucchini with the meat mixture leaving about 1 inch of the end open – so the mixture has room to expand.
- Heat a large, deep covered skillet or pot on medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they become translucent. Add minced garlic and saute about 1 minute, careful not to burn. Add the diced tomato with juices and tomato paste. Stir to incorporate tomato paste. Add salt and black pepper. Arrange stuffed zucchini in the pot so that all are on their sides (this allows cooking liquid to seep in). Add water to cover, so that zucchini are submerged (if not totally submerged – turn zucchini half way through cooking). Cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium simmer. Cook for about 40 minutes until the zucchini are tender when pierced with a fork.
- Gently remove and serve hot with the tomato broth and chunks atop. Garnish with fresh parsley or mint. And, also serve with plain yogurt and rice.
*Meat: use ground beef, lamb, turkey or pork
**Pine nuts: for additional flavor – toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat before adding to the meat and rice stuffing (this is not a necessary step). Make sure to watch them carefully – you want lightly browned pine nuts not burnt.
***Use additional oil if using extra lean ground meat.