Monday, July 16, 2007

Stuffed Zucchini - Kousa Mahshi

This is a pretty exciting recipe because it uses power tools. I meant for this blog to be more of a collection of our favorite recipes, but it is also fun to add new ones along with photos (such as this one).

This recipe was inspired by the arrival of zucchini season and by the tasty dishes I had in Jordan. I tend to steer clear of labor-intensive recipes that involve stuffing things, but I had to make an exception for the tender zukes clogging up my fridge and the crazy plan I hatched for breaking in my electric drill. I asked Alex to get me the zuke-hollowing tool that's common in the Middle East (where, alternately, you can buy vegetables pre-hollowed), but since he won't be back for ages I had to take matters into my own hands. In the end the recipe wasn't really that bad too make and I had fun doing it. I based it on two recipes I found online, one because it uses a pressure cooker (hooray!) and the other because it sounded tastier and was closer to the amounts I needed.

I'm a reluctant photo-taker, so the entire process isn't documented, but here are the highlights.

1) Get 6-7 small zucchini and if you're cool like me, cut the ends off and hollow them out with a spade drill set. I learned this from Alton Brown, but my version was way more bad-ass because the bits didn't fit in the chuck (grrr...they were even the same brand!), so I risked my fingers each time.

Take that you good-for-nothin' squash!

1.5) (oops numbering) While you're working, place hollowed zukes in a bowl of cold water to which you've added 1 tsp dried mint and 2 tsp salt. I don't know how critical this step is, but I did it anyway and it smelled good. Drain before stuffing.

2) Meanwhile, saute one chopped onion, add a large can of crushed tomatoes, and a few grinds of pepper and some salt. Simmer 10-15 min.

3) In a large bowl, knead together (with your hands) : 1 pound of ground lamb or other meat with 2/3 c. rinsed uncooked white rice, 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, 1 tsp pepper, and 1 tsp salt. There was no ground lamb to be had around here, so infidel that I am, I used 1/2 ground beef and 1/2 ground pork.

4) The recipe say to beat the rice and meat with a wooden spoon until 'fluffy'. What that means I didn't know, but my arm tired quickly, so I just laid into it with the electric mixer for a few minutes. Worked like a charm--I think.

5) Meanwhile, in the bottom of my pressure cooker, brown some beef oxtails or stew bones in a touch of oil.

6) Push the stuffing into the hollowed zukes, working only from one end to limit air bubbles, and make sure it's packed in there well. I had too much filling, probably because I didn't have a way to weigh meat when I combined it, so I put the remainder in blanched kale leaves (I would have used cabbage if I'd had it).

7) Stick the stuffed zucchini into the pot around the stew bones, making sure they lie flat (if you have more than will fit, make another layer). Cover with the tomato mixture, bring to low pressure, and cook for 20 minutes.

8) Release pressure by opening valve or using cold water method. Remove zucchini to a serving dish and reduce the remaining sauce until it is thick and flavorful.

9) Stir into the sauce: 3 minced cloves of garlic combined with 1 tsp dried or fresh mint, 2 tsp salt, and the juice of 1/2-1 lemon and then simmer 3 more minutes. This is critical for yumminess.

10) Serve warm or cold. I slice them into 2-inch segments and set them on end in a serving dish so they make a little skyline of zucchini and then spoon the sauce over.

Okay so this is not the easiest recipe I ever made, but it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be and there were no major mishaps. It really came out well and, in fact, I think it was better than the stuffed zucchini I had in Jordan. The tomato sauce was particularly good with the added garlic/mint mixture. Even the impromptu kale-rolls stayed together! I would definitely make this again and would use a similar approach to stuffed cabbage (but increase the rice). You could probably vary the stuffing a lot, and a quick Google search gives many ideas, but I like the simplicity of this approach.

Alex and I were theorizing about how in many countries were women are badly oppressed often have extremely elaborate food. I looked at a site with Levantine recipes and all of the vegetable recipes were 'mahshi' (stuffed)! I remember this kind of multi-step, many ingredient, fussy cooking in Indian cookbooks as well. The entire preparation took me 3-3.5 hrs (I was doing a couple of other things at the same time), and it is definitely a labor of love, but not intolerably so. However, I can't imagine making these as well as numerous other dishes at the same time, and I think the theory has more than a little truth. I cook because I love it and it's my art, but I'm sure glad I can bust out a box of Velveeta mac'n'cheese from time to time.


Marjorie Magidow Schalles said...

You look a lot like Patty Hearst in that first photo! Sounds so yummy, but a little labor intensive. Could I just whomp all the ingredients into a dang casserole and have the same (less beautiful, but similarly tasty) result?

Lillian said...

Well I am in the Zucchini-guts Liberation Front. I think the casserole is a great idea. I would bake it for at least an hour to make sure all the rice and zukes are cooked.Mmm maybe I'll do that next time. PS the kale rolls turned out great--a lot like dolmas.

Summer said...

Lillian, i could not help but laugh about using the electric drill!! never in a million years i would do that!!
As you may know that in Palestine and Jordan people stuff anything, so when red big carrots are in season, they hollow them to prepare for stuffing, but these days you can buy them already hollowed at stores, i am pretty sure they use electric drill to do that, since carrots have really hard core!! it is a torture to even think of doing such task....i should create a recipe with the flavors of carrots and that special great tasting rice stuffed is so yummy! i gotta ask one of my aunts about this particular recipe, she is the queen of stuffed carrots i think! :)