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A Paleo, Keto-friendly Spin on "Koosa" Stuffed Mahshi That Will Make You Go "و"

posted on: Oct 21, 2020

By: Mariam Kanaan/Arab America Contributing Writer           

With many diets, like paleo and keto, increasing in popularity, many people are looking for ways to adapt recipes they know and love to fit these diets. You may be wondering how Arab food can fit into the paleo or keto diets. Look no further: this article gives you a background on the diets, and tells you how to make a paleo or keto koosa mahshi, a standard Arab recipe.

What Is Paleo?

If the word “dinosaur” is the first one that comes to your mind when you hear “paleo,” you’re not far off from the truth. The paleo diet is also known as “the caveman’s diet.” Unlike the ever-popular keto method and the Whole30 fad, while they are similar, the paleo diet is a lifestyle change that’s as commitment-oriented as veganism, vegetarianism, and pescetarianism.

According to the Mayo Clinic, this dietary change that many Americans have taken on is “based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago.” Typing in the keywords “paleo recipes” into the Google search engine generates over 85,700,000 results. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cooking websites, social media accounts, magazines, and food blogs dedicated to producing and spreading different takes on common American recipe alternatives in addition to original health and wellness-oriented recipes. describes the diet as one comprised of “whole, nutrient-dense foods” that is “at its most basic an elimination diet.” This means at its most strict abidance: avoiding all grains, gluten, legumes, low-fat pasteurized and processed dairy, corn, soy, and sugar and instead focusing on whole foods, grass-fed meats, vegetables, eggs, and emphasizing wild-caught seafood. The concept behind this is to get as close to natural food as possible. The diet is compatible with the “keto” method and the “whole30” fad that came about. Vegan-friendly foods, gluten-free and dairy-free diets often fit under the paleo umbrella.

Arab Food Can’t Be Paleo…Can It?

Food transcends borders and time. The Arab World has a way of sharing its food across borders, bringing the region that much closer together. And sometimes, if we dare to do so, we take our own spins on traditional family recipes.

Whether you call it mahshi in Egypt, koosa in Syria, or koosa mehshi, stuffed zucchini is a staple in Arab cuisine. The most common form of mahshi is stuffed with rice and ground beef with a tomato sauce base. Some add pomegranate molasses, as is often done in most Syrian dishes, while others may prefer a more toned down dish.

How to Make Paleo Mahshi

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup of hot water
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 1 head of cauliflower (or premade cauliflower rice)
  • Tatum squash (as many as you want to stuff)
  • 0.5 lb of ground beef
  • 6 tablespoons of all-spice
  • 0.5 cup of Lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons of a cup of Garlic paste (using a mortar and pestle or just grinding will deliver the same effect)
  • dried mint
  • salt
  • olive oil (of course.)


  • saucepan
  • food processor
  • squash core (or butter-knife for the more experienced)


  1. Dissolve a teaspoon of tomato paste in a cup of hot water. Add more or less depending on how much sauce you want in your dish. Typically, it should fill half of the saucepan you’re using and ought to cover the stuffed squash halfway.
  2. You’ll need to ‘drill’ the squash, taking out the core (like so) and set them aside in a bowl. You can use a tool like this or if you can do it without breaking the squash, one life-hack is to carefully use a butter knife.
  3. Take the head of cauliflower and separate into little florets. Wash well. Drain and pat dry with a clean towel.
  4. Place the florets into the food processor and chop until it resembles couscous grains.
  5. Take the cauliflower ‘rice,’ chopped, and mix with the ground beef.
  6. Add salt and all-spice mix.
  7. Begin stuffing the cauliflower rice/beef mix into the carved squash.
  8. After pouring a bit of olive oil into the bottom of the sauce-pan, line the stuffed squash into the saucepan in a circle with the open side of the squash facing the center of the pot.
  9. Add the salt, lemon juice, and garlic to the tomato sauce mix, stir in the mint and pour over the squash.
  10. Bring to a boil at high-medium heat for about 15 minutes and let simmer for 30-40 minutes over medium heat. Ensure that the saucepan is covered to seal in the steam.
  11. Once the aroma has filled your kitchen, check to see if the squash is softer in texture by probing with a fork. This should be firm enough to still hold the stuffing and soft enough to puncture easily with a fork.

Et voila! Pair it with a bonus side dish of stir-fried zucchini core and now you’ve got two dishes for one.

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