Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: 7 ways with summer squash—kousa
Kousa is a prolific summer plant, just like zucchini, only Lebanese kousa is a light green variety similar to Mexican squash, which is also light in color. Lebanese kousa is favored because of the tender marrow without large seeds that is perfect for stuffing either with our Lenten, vegan stuffing, or with traditional lamb and rice. Some families make a yogurt sauce for kousa mihshi, but my mother and grandmother favored a tomato based sauce, which is a summer specialty and my favorite. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, the seeds for Lebanese kousa were rare, so my mother and sitto settled for using dark green zucchini and yellow crookneck squash which were the only kind available in the grocery store. Occasionally they’d receive cherished seeds from the “old country” and we’d have homegrown kousa.
Because Lebanese kousa is so prolific, as are most summer squashes, we Arabs have been creative in finding ways to enjoy this tender vegetable: stuffed, sautéed, fried, broiled or grilled, combined with onions and tomatoes with rice or burghul….and beyond.
coring Lebanese kousa with a squash corer © linda dalal sawaya 2015
The first step for making kousa mihshi (stuffed squash) is to carefully core the squash to 1/8″ thickness without piercing the shell that will hold the filling. The inner marrow is saved for other dishes such as mfarket kousa, which is typically served over rice. Making the shell as thin as possible is a cherished skill that takes practice to master. My mother would hold up the kousa to the light to see where the squash still was too thick before stuffing. The thinner the shell, of course, the more tender and easy to cut with a fork, once cooked.
cored Lebanese kousa ready to stuff © linda dalal sawaya 2015
After much begging, my mother finally allowed me to try my hand at kousa coring with her specially made manara, squash corer! Oh happy day! Now I can thankfully do it with ease, using her brass manara.
vegan Lebanese kousa stuffing mixture © linda dalal sawaya 2015
stuffing Lebanese kousa (still from a video by Cooking up a Story) © linda dalal sawaya 2015
vegetarian stuffed kousa ready to cook © linda dalal sawaya 2015
serving Lebanese kousa (still from a video by Cooking up a Story) © linda dalal sawaya 2015
In 2007, a sweet how to video of me was made by a local food video team, Cooking Up a Story, on vegetarian stuffed summer squash (kousa), which has astonishingly received almost 90,000 views on YouTube. Enjoy watching it for a detailed explanation of how to make this, or check the written recipe in Alice’s Kitchen for all the details for both the vegan and lamb versions of this classic mihshi.
Lebanese kousa seeds sprouting before planting © linda dalal sawaya 2015
People sometimes ask me why everything is Lebanese: well here’s proof on the seed packet, which I did not photoshop!
riz ou kousa
Riz ou kousa made by my beloved Sitto (grandmother) was one of the easiest dishes to make that I loved, so it is one I made with regularity when I moved away from home after college. This is a recipe that makes use of the kousa marrow, if you have some on hand, or entire squash chopped into pieces.
sautéing green and yellow kousa, celery, and onions for riz ou kousa © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Sauté fresh squash, celery, and onions in extra virgin olive oil until the onions are translucent, and the squash and celery have tenderized; for the best flavor, add homegrown organic chopped tomatoes, and continue to sauté.
tomatoes from the garden added to the sauté © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Stir in rice and vegetable broth, plus salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper; cover bringing the mixture to a boil, and then simmer 45 minutes until the brown rice is done and liquid is absorbed. White rice cooks in about half the time.
basmati rice and water added to the kousa mixture for riz ou kousa © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Serve with carrot sticks, cucumbers, and lettuce for a tasty and nutritious lunch or dinner. Sahtein!
Another simple to make and fabulous dish is khudra makhlouta, which means sautéed vegetables. The vegetables are sautéed in extra virgin olive oil until tender. I love using cauliflower, mushrooms, snow peas, carrots, onions, peppers, green beans, squash, and whatever else is showing up in the garden. Serving them with tahini sauce elevates them to another level of sublime. Served warm or at room temperature—simply delicious!
sauté seasonal vegetables including kousa © linda dalal sawaya 2015
sautéed vegetables including kousa © linda dalal sawaya 2015
khoudra makhlouta with tahini sauce © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Summer would not be summer without home made French fries, and fried kousa and eggplant. I remember hot summer days in the kitchen, when mama was over the hot stove making these so fast because they kept disappearing. The sliced kousa or eggplant is salted after slicing and left to drain in a colander over the sink. Then they’re blotted dry with a towel, and placed into hot olive oil to brown on each side. Placed on paper towels or flattened out grocery bags to absorb the excess oil, they were irresistible to walk by without popping one into your mouth.
sliced kousa salted and draining before frying © linda dalal sawaya 2015
fried kousa miqli—so delicous © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Stews are typical of the one-pot meals essential to our Lebanese cuisine. Quick to prepare, served over rice, and eaten with Arabic bread, this particular one is nutritious, tasty, and satisfying, using the cores or squash marrow from stuffed summer squash (kousa mihshi) or finely chopped fresh squash. The flavors of this are deliciously reminiscent of the stuffed squash with lamb, but without the meat. Serve over rice (riz m’falfal) with Arabic bread and fresh cut vegetables.
mfarket kousa in the making © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Additional ideas for using kousa are in ijjeh (Lebanese omelette), kousa ‘raas, which is a squash fritter, similar to ijjeh shown below.
ijjeh (mini Lebanese omelette patties) © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Recipes for all of these are found in Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking! As we approach the ending of summer, I wish you and yours happy cooking, and sahtein!
—Linda Dalal Sawaya is a Portland artist, cook, Master Gardener, daughter of Lebanese immigrants and author of Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking.
Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”
all photos and story © linda dalal sawaya 2015