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In Summer, This Meaty, Vibrant Stuffed Zucchini is the Dish I Crave

Kousa mihshi (or mahshi)—zucchini stuffed with lamb and rice and braised in cinnamon-accented tomato sauce—is a year-round favorite across the Levant. But summer is when the dish is at its very best.

In late summer, when zucchini and tomatoes are bursting from their vines, I crave kousa mihshi, one of the great Middle Eastern stuffed vegetable traditions that’s long been treasured across the Levant, and one that I grew up preparing with my mother in our Lebanese American home. We’d hollow out the mildly bitter zucchini (“kousa mihshi” means “stuffed squash” in Arabic), fill it with a mixture of spiced rice and lamb, and slowly braise it in tomato sauce until the meat was succulent and the rice tender. A drizzle of olive oil and a spoonful of cooling yogurt completed the ensemble: a vibrant mix of flavors, textures, and temperatures that to me epitomizes all that is special about Lebanese cooking. 

[The dish] is a vibrant mix of flavors, textures, and temperatures.

In many households, these “delectable pockets of nourishment and care,” as my Aunty Karen calls them, are reserved for special occasions. My mother also made kousa mihshi for Sunday brunch, presenting it to family at our backyard picnic table in a gleaming copper pot.

All the women on my mother’s side prepare the squash using a recipe that dates to my Lebanese-born great-great-grandmother. I’ve tweaked that basic approach, incorporating tips from my family as well as innovations of my own, careful to keep it tasting as it has for generations. The sauce must be layered with the flavors of fruity fresh tomatoes, warm cinnamon, and peppery olive oil. The squash should be tender and intact and the filling rich but light in texture and flecked with fluffy grains of rice. Not least of all, every bite must taste balanced and cohesive. 

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How to Make the Hashweh

To make the stuffing, called “hashweh” in Arabic, most recipes start by rinsing the rice. I prefer to rinse it and then soak it in water for 10 minutes before combining it with the lamb, which helps the grains plump evenly and shaves minutes off the cooking time—all the better for ensuring that the zucchini doesn’t overcook. The hashweh is usually left raw, but I brown mine, breaking it up as it cooks to create small, distinct pieces that pack more lightly into the squash.

A Stuffing That Doubles as a Meal

The hashweh (filling) for kousa mihshi is the same stuffing of warm‑spiced rice and minced lamb (or beef) that’s rolled into grape leaves and spooned into numerous fruits, vegetables, and proteins in Lebanese and other Middle Eastern cuisines. But many cooks make it for its own sake, too, often bejeweling it with dried fruit and toasted nuts. My mother is one of these cooks: She serves hashweh warmed in a bowl with yogurt, mint, and toasted almonds or folds it into creamy scrambled eggs with herbs.

How to Make the Sauce

Lebanese cooks often lay the stuffed squash atop lamb bones and simmer it in tomato broth. My family makes a thicker, brighter-tasting sauce, but to get that same meaty underpinning that’s critical for uniting all the flavors, I sauté onion and garlic (seasoned with more spices) in the fatty juices drained from cooking the lamb. Then I puree those lamby-tasting alliums in a blender with a couple pounds of farmers’ market tomatoes, tomato paste to bolster their fresh flavor, and cider vinegar for extra brightness.

As the sauce bubbles in the skillet, I core the squashes, replacing the squatter Lebanese variety that’s sometimes called grey zucchini with the conventional kind sold in the United States. Coring is easily done with an apple corer and a melon baller (though my grandfather once resorted to using his drill to core dozens of zucchini for a big family gathering—a story I love, as it demonstrates the lengths Lebanese cooks will go to feed the people they love). Filling them is a simple matter of dropping spoonfuls of stuffing into their cavities and periodically tapping each zucchini gently on the counter to encourage the hashweh to settle lightly on the bottom.

To cook the kousa mihshi, I arrange them on their sides in the skillet, which allows some of the filling’s meaty juices to trickle into the ruddy sauce, further enriching and unifying its flavors. After 40 minutes of braising, this beautiful symbol of Lebanese hospitality is ready to serve. 

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.