Kousa Mahshi

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA/STYLED BY CATRINE KELTY


SERVES 4

A popular dish throughout the Levant, kousa mahshi is one of the finest preparations of zucchini that I know of, and it’s something I look forward to making every summer. This recipe is based on a version that I had in Beit Sahour, Palestine, though it is not an exact replica—like any traditionally home-cooked dish from this region, there are many possible variations. I prefer to use a meat stuffing, but a vegetarian stuffing is fine (spinach or Swiss chard would work particularly well), as is substituting beef for lamb. Tahini isn’t a common addition, but I love the way it mixes with the tomato sauce. I like to serve this with pearl couscous or rice. 

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 shallot, diced
½ pound ground lamb
¾ teaspoon cinnamon, divided
2¼ teaspoons ground cumin, divided
½ teaspoon sumac
4 tablespoons pine nuts, divided
2 tablespoons currants
4 kousa squashes
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2  teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon white pepper

½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon water
 Juice of ¼ lemon
1 clove garlic, pressed or very finely chopped

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until translucent. Add the lamb, turn heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add ¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon and cumin, sumac, 3 tablespoons pine nuts and the currants, and cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

On a large cutting board, hollow out the squashes. Cut off the top and, using a long, skinny spoon, delicately carve a ring around the middle of the flesh. Carefully scoop out the delicate flesh in the middle using both the spoon’s handle and the spoon itself, taking care not to puncture the sides of the squash. The goal is to get as deep as possible into the squash without poking out the other side.

In a deep, wide skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the tomato, garlic and remaining spices, and cook until it begins to bubble around the sides, 5–10 minutes. Turn heat to low and cover.

On the cutting board, stuff the squashes. First, season each cavity with salt. Then, using the long, skinny spoon, stuff roughly 1 quarter of the ground lamb mixture into each squash. If there is extra, reserve it for later. Once the squashes are stuffed, place them in the tomato sauce, cover and simmer for half an hour. The sauce should come roughly halfway up each squash. After a half hour, flip each squash over, cover again, and simmer for another half hour.

Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce. In a small mixing bowl, combine the tahini, water, lemon juice, garlic and salt, and whisk until completely smooth and creamy. Cover and set aside.

In a small skillet, gently toast the remaining 1 tablespoon of pine nuts over medium-high heat until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

When the squashes are ready, serve over pearl couscous or rice, with a little additional tomato sauce spooned over and tahini sauce drizzled over the top. Finish with a sprinkle of the toasted pine nuts and extra lamb, if there is any. There will be a fair amount of leftover sauce—use it to make shakshuka (eggs cooked in a skillet of tomato sauce) the next morning! 

LUKE PYENSON is a food and travel writer, recipe developer, food stylist and photographer based in New York City. You can see examples of his work at www.lukepyenson.com.