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Middle Eastern Style Stuffed Butternut Squash

posted on: Feb 13, 2019

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

Middle eastern people love stuffing vegetables with a tantalizing combination of rice and meat with herbs like parsley and mint. They stuff everything from zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, and even carrots. However, one vegetable “vessel” underutilized in the Arab world is the butternut squash because it is not indigenous to the Middle East. Rather this vegetable originated in Central and South America, then moved up to the United States.

Butternut squash has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of pumpkin, with tan-yellow skin and a deep orange fleshy pulp. The sweet and rich tasting vegetable is also a great source of fiber, magnesium, and potassium along with a good dose of vitamins C and A. As an Arab American myself, I saw an east-meets-west opportunity to combine one of my favorite American vegetables with a Middle Eastern filling using maftoul, or Palestinian couscous. However, unlike the typical meat-laden dishes, this one has a vegan twist.

Couscous makes a great vegan or vegetarian filling as it cooks quickly, absorbs additional dressings or sauces, and tastes great with any addition of herbs, vegetables, fruits nuts, or legumes. While I use the traditional Palestinian hand rolled maftoul, you can substitute any grain for this dish, like bulgur wheat or even quinoa for a gluten-free option. Maftoul is similar to couscous but made with a combination of whole wheat and even bulgur, which yields a nutty flavor and rustic texture.

Couscous moghrabia is the largest variety originating from Morocco, which has a chewier mouthfeel. Whatever variety you decide to use, couscous provides an exotic change from everyday rice and pasta, with a mild flavor that pleases even picky palates. 

Below is the video outlying the technique and directions for this vegan recipe:

Recipe for Middle Eastern Style Stuffed Butternut Squash

2 butternut squash

Olive oil for brushing on squash

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup couscous or maftoul)

1 cup vegetable broth

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

Large bunch swiss chard, chopped

Dash Cumin

Onion salt

1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped

⅓ cup chickpeas

¼ cup cranberries

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp fruit juice

Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, core out the seeds and pulp and place on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 424 degrees for 50 minutes. The interior should be soft enough to scoop and lightly browned on the top.  Put the maftoul into a saucepan, and pour the vegetable broth on top. Season with a dash of onion salt and cumin. Let boil, then cover and simmer for about 7 minutes (cooking time might vary depending on the grade of couscous) In a skillet, heat the 1 tbsp of olive oil, then the minced garlic. Sautee for one minute, then add the swiss chard and continue sauteeing until wilted. Add the chickpeas, mint, and cranberries and stir until everything is warmed through. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of orange juice. Pour over the couscous mixture. Scoop the couscous mixture into the hollowed out part of the butternut squash and serve.


Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond  You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American at    Her recipes can also be found at: