In final week in our Ramadan project, and Dima and I decided to make kousa bil laban, or stuffed squash in yogurt sauce.
It’s a bittersweet end. I love this final dish we’re presenting, yet I’m so sad that this project is coming to a close. We have learned so much about each other our respective eating cultures. We’ve also learned a lot from you, our readers, and how these dishes play a role in your home.
My biggest takeaway is that even though we can dissect and look at our differences, at the end of the day, the countries of the Levant are all the same. While certain dishes might be called Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian or Lebanese, they’re actually shared across country lines. Before borders were put up during colonial rule, this region was known as bilad al-sham, or “countries of the north” (and no, neither John Snow nor Sansa were King/Queen). No large national food differences exist, but there are nuances that have to do with land, climate or certain traditional practices, which may even vary between villages. For example, Syria’s eggplant dishes are known to come from Homs, and Palestine’s eggplant dishes come from Gaza. But guess what? They’re the same dishes. In a similar vain, the people of Aleppo eat spicier food due to their cultivation of their famous pepper. Gazans also eat spicy food compared to the rest of Palestine due to their own variety of hot pepper.
The similarities of a cuisine within one country is reflected upon the shared traditions, colonial rulers and interactions with certain ethnic groups. This is why there are several interpretations and names of the same dish. Nothing shows that better than our 2 renditions of kousa bil laban or stuffed squash in yogurt sauce.
There are 2 variations of stuffed squash in yogurt sauce, and both are cooked exactly the same by Palestinians and Syrians. One is called kousa mehshi . The other dish Syrians call sheikh al mehshi, and Palestinians call kousa mukhshi.
The one I decided to cook (kousa mehshi) involves stuffing baby zucchini with rice, meat, safflower, garlic and dried mint and boiling it in garlic and mint-scented water before finishing it off in a tangy yogurt sauce. The sauce is a combination of Arabic laban, which is fermented sheep’s milk and regular full-fat yogurt, giving it a really unctuous flavor. If you can’t find sheep’s milk yogurt, using 100% regular full-fat yogurt works as well. You can find the recipe below.
Dima tackled sheikh al mehshi or kousa mukhshi, which is stuffed with seasoned ground meat, pine nuts and caramelized onions and deep fried before finishing it in the same yogurt sauce. Dima’s is traditionally served with rice since there is no rice in the stuffing.
Both dishes are different interpretations of the same ingredients, cooked the same across cultures, and of course, equally delicious.
That’s a wrap on our Ramadan Project 2019! Did you guys enjoy it? I had so much fun! And of course, Eid mubarak to all!
I hope you like the recipe below! If you give it a try, put it in the comments! I truly love reading messages from all of you, and I do my best to get back to everyone. And don’t forget to tag @omayahatassi and #omayahcooks on Instagram!
Stuffed Squash with Yogurt Sauce (Kousa Mehshi Bil Laban)
Baby squash or zucchini are stuffed with meat, rice and seasoning before being cooked in a tangy yogurt sauce.
Two rules when making this dish: 1) never leave the stuffed squash in the hot liquid to rest, it will continue cooking 2) never cover hot yogurt sauce, it will separate.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
1 kg or 2 lbs baby zucchini
1 kg or 2 lbs ground meat
2 c medium-grain rise, rinsed until water runs clear
3 Tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp 7 spices
2 Tbsp dried mint, divided
1 Tbsp safflower
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp kosher salt plus more to taste
2 tsp black pepper
2 q yogurt, either combination of sheep's and cow's milk or 100% cow's milk
1/4 c corn starch
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
A couple sprigs of fresh mint for garnish
- Prepare the baby zucchini by coring them with a corer, being careful not to puncture the sides. Reserve cores for later use.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the rinsed rice, meat, cumin, 7 spices, 1 Tbsp dried mint, 1 tsp minced garlic, safflower, salt and pepper. Touch the filling to the tip of your tongue to taste for seasoning. The salt should be obvious. Adjust if needed.
- Place unfilled baby zucchini in a large stockpot and fill with water. This meausures the amount of water you will need to cook the zucchini in. Take the zucchini out.
- Place the filling in a pastry bag and pipe into the baby zucchini until about 3/4 of the way full. Tap the bottom on a surface a few times to get rid of any air bubbles.
- Bring the water to a boil and add 1 Tbsp of garlic and 1 Tbsp dried mint. Add the stuffed zucchini, cover, reduce to simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until your nail punctures the end of a zucchini easily.
- At this point, if making ahead, drain the zucchini, reserving the liquid, and place the zucchini back in the empty pot. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.
- About 20 minutes before serving, combine the corn starch with 2 Tbsp water. Warm the reserved liquid. Make sure a large, stainless steel stockpot is completely clean with no soap or water residue. Add yogurt, cornstarch and water mixture and vegetable oil and cook over high heat, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil. Gradually add a couple ladlefuls of cooking liquid until you achieve desired consistency. Once it comes to a boil again, add the stuffed zucchini, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes.
- Place in a large serving bowl and garnish with fresh mint. If need to reserve for later use, drain the zucchini, reserving the yogurt sauce. Be sure not to cover the yogurt until completely cool. To reheat, place yogurt on the stove over high heat, add zucchini, reduce to a simmer and rewarm for about 15 minutes.