Kousa mahshi, Lebanese stuffed zucchini, is spiced minced meat and rice stuffed into small zucchini squash, then simmered in a fragrant tomato sauce. I consider this Lebanese kousa recipe comfort food because it has always given me a sense of home. This popular Middle Eastern dish uses simple ingredients and brings incredible flavor.
Check out this mahshi sliced kousa squash casserole recipe if you would like kousa mahshi flavor without the zucchini coring or this Italian meatball stuffed zucchini for an Italian-inspired stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce.
There are different kinds of stuffed vegetables (especially zucchinis) or mahshi known across the Arab world. In Lebanon, our version consists of cored squash stuffed with a mix of short-grain rice, ghee/butter, spices, and minced meat.
What I Love About This Recipe
The best thing about this recipe is that it requires simple ingredients that come together so quickly. Despite the fact that a lot of people think the process of making mahshi is long and tedious when you break it down as we've done in this recipe, it becomes so much easier, and the result is delicious stuffed zucchinis.
- Lebanese zucchini (calabaza squash): Lebanese zucchini is the main ingredient for kousa mahshi, and in the U.S. it's also known as calabaza squash, or Mexican squash. Mexican squash is light green and different from yellow squash are dark green zucchini. Small to medium-sized zucchini is better than the larger ones. Coring is quite a difficult task and it requires a zucchini corer. I recommend watching how to core zucchini. That's how I learned 🙂 And remember, practice makes perfect.
- Short grain rice: This is also known as Egyptian rice or Calrose rice. Make sure you use this kind and not long grain because short grain rice binds together better.
- Minced meat: Ground beef, ground lamb, or a mix of both works great. I prefer minced meat with about 80-90% lean.
- Butter: Use butter in the minced meat and rice stuffing. Ghee is an appropriate substitute. Another option is olive oil.
- Spices: Seven spices, a dash of ground cinnamon, some white pepper and black pepper.
- Tomatoes: Fresh tomatoes chopped into chunks.
- Tomato paste: This is used to add flavor to the water that we cook the stuffed zucchinis in.
- Bay leaves and salt
How To Make Mahshi Kousa
Wash the zucchinis and core them to remove the zucchini flesh. Rinse the rice and drain. Then, place it in a large mixing bowl.
Add the minced meat to the rice. Top the rice and minced meat with spices and salt.
Melt the butter and add it to the rice and meat mixture. Use your hands or a spoon to mix the stuffing ingredients really well.
Start stuffing each cored zucchini (until you reach ¾ to its opening). Close each piece with a tomato chunk and place it in a large pot.
Once all the stuffed zucchinis are in the pot, add enough water to cover them. Bring the stuffed zucchinis to a boil for around 10-15 minutes on medium-high heat.
Mix the tomato paste with a little bit of water. Add the tomato paste to the pot with two bay leaves. Season with salt to taste.
Simmer the stuffed zucchini on low to medium heat for about 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat and serve hot.
Tips and Tricks
Don't overstuff the cored zucchini: This is very important! Too much stuffing means the zucchinis could come apart during the cooking process. Stuff the zucchini about ¾ of the way full.
Close each stuffed zucchini with a chunk of tomato: Learned this from teta and it's a lifesaver. The tomato blocks the stuffing from coming out or spilling over while cooking.
To get the perfect Lebanese style koussa mahshi, cook the stuffed zucchinis in water first, then add the tomato paste mixed with a bit more water. This ensures that the stuffing is fully cooked without being over-flavored.
Variations and Substitutions
Chicken stuffed koussa mahshi: In this variation, minced chicken is used in place of minced meat. I tried it once, and it tastes good, but I prefer the meat version.
Vegetable stuffed kousa mahshi: Here we completely eliminate the meat and use a blend of veggies and rice to stuff the zucchini.
Kousa bil laban: This variation is one of my favorites. The stuffed zucchinis are cooked in a yogurt/dried mint mixture rather than in tomato paste and water.
Batenjen/ batata mahshi: If you can't find zucchini you can create this exact same recipe using cored eggplants or even cored potatoes.
What To Do With Zucchini Cores
This Lebanese kousa mahshi recipe calls for coring around 4 pounds of zucchini, so you will have a lot of zucchini cores.
To avoid food waste, you can use the zucchini cores to make a Lebanese frittata: Simply mix the cores with eggs, some parsley, and a few spices. Then, fry the egg frittata in oil.
You can also use the cores to create a dip or add it to a soup. I know friends who use it to thicken up baba ghanoush.
- A cup of cold laban (yogurt) combined with minced garlic and a touch of dried mint.
- In several Lebanese households, this dish is never served without pita bread. How does that work you may ask? Well basically, this is because many people like to eat stuffed zucchini in a wrap, so they take a piece of pita, wrap it around a mahshi piece and enjoy.
- I know people who always serve kousa mahshi alongside a variety of Lebanese pickled vegetables including cucumbers, radishes, and carrots.
- Where I come from in North Lebanon, we always have 3-4 green olives served alongside koussa mahshi. It's a tradition to end this meal with pita bread and olives.
- Zucchini corer to core the zucchini flesh
- Large pot to boil the stuffed squash
- Large mixing bowl to prepare the rice mixture
- Chef's knife and cutting board
Store this dish in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days. Reheats on the stove or in the microwave. I do not recommend freezing this recipe.
It's important that the zucchinis you use for this recipe aren't too big or too small. Medium works best because it usually holds enough stuffing and doesn't come apart during the cooking process.
I don't recommend that. I've seen people serve this recipe with a side of yogurt and I think that works well. But to actually mix the yogurt in the tomato sauce would ruin the consistency of the sauce. As an alternative, you can opt to make the exact same stuffed zucchini recipe and cook it in a yogurt-based sauce without tomatoes.
Kousa is the Arabic word for Lebanese squash. Mahshi means stuffed in Arabic.