A Middle Eastern classic- stuffed zucchini (and usually eggplant and bell peppers, sometimes tomatoes and even potatoes) in a fragrant tomato broth. This simmers away slowly producing tender vegetables that are stuffed with tangy herb rice filling in a flavorful tomato sauce. A staple of any Middle Eastern household!
I’m not going to sugarcoat it-this isn’t the fastest dinner you’ll ever make. However, it is much easier than I thought it would be going into it for the first time. Most of the grunt work takes place in the coring and hollowing of the vegetables. Just grab a comfortable seat, put something to listen to and get to work. You’ll reap the benefits when the time comes!
Coring the vegetables:
Koosa is the main star of this show. It’s also my favorite stuffed vegetable. I love how tender and flavorful it gets through poaching. Middle Eastern koosa is like a cross between Western zucchini and squash. This is what it looks like for anyone not familiar. Eggplant is widely stuffed alongside zucchini, but I don’t like it in this application so I usually leave it out. I love eggplant in everything else, but for some reason just not this dish! I also stuffed tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes. So good!
You wash the vegetables, then remove the lid of each. Using a vegetable corer, start making dents in the vegetables till you get a good sized dip to work the corer into properly. Keep scooping the inside out until you have a nice hollow shell inside each vegetable, keeping the bottom 1/4 of the vegetable intact to support the rice filling. Once you have your vegetables hollowed out, you can get started on the rice stuffing. By the way, don’t throw away the inside of your zucchini! I have an amazing recipe coming up next that uses that up.
The rice stuffing:
To make the rice stuffing, we sauté the onion, garlic and green chili, then add tomato paste, tomato sauce, water, spices and let it simmer away. You then add Egyptian rice (that has been soaked for 15-20 minutes and = rinsed until the water runs clear) as well as a lot of herbs. The herbs make the dish! You can add parsley, coriander or dill. I added one bunch of each, and I recommend this.
Let the rice simmer in the tomato sauce until it is half cooked, or you can kind of smush the grains between your finger tips then remove the rice mixture from the stove top and let it cool before stuffing the vegetables.
Stuffing the vegetables:
Use your hands! It’s the only way to do it. Once the rice mix has cooled, gently stuff the vegetables with the rice, leaving about 1/4 of each vegetable empty. This is to allow space for the rice to expand as it fully cooks. Arrange the cooked vegetables in a pan, by sort of propping the zucchini up in a circle at the edges of the pan, and placing any other vegetables in the center. See this photo for reference (This was the extra vegetables I had that wouldn’t fit in my large saucepan pictured in the title image)
Making your tomato broth:
I found the simplest way to do this is to mix together tomato paste, 2 cups of tomato puree or passata (I took 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes and processed them in a food processor and used those), 2 chicken stock cubes that have been dissolved in 4 cups of hot water, and dried mint. Add salt to taste, mix until the consistency is even, then pour this up and around your arranged raw vegetables in the pot. The broth should cover the vegetables about 3/4 of the way up. Bring the pot of vegetables and broth to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half until vegetables are cooked and tender.
Serving your masterpiece:
Serve vegetables of choice onto plates. The best way to eat this is to cut each vegetable in half and ladle extra tomato broth on top. Some people like to add a few spoonfuls of yogurt on this. HIGHLY recommend this! It’s the perfect combination.
Preparing in advance and storing:
I stuffed the vegetables and kept them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days before cooking, and they cooked up great (because these are vegetarian they are more forgiving than meat containing dishes). After cooking, store leftovers in the fridge for 2-3 days and reheat on the stovetop. This dish tastes even better the next day!
Let me know if you have any question or feedback in the comment section below and happy stuffing!
Vegetarian Middle Eastern Stuffed Zucchini (Koosa Mahshi)
For the vegetables- zucchini plus your choice of eggplant, bell peppers, potatoes and/ or tomatoes. I used:
- 12-14 small zucchini (koosa)
- 3 assorted bell peppers
- 3 whole tomatoes
- 4 potatoes
For the rice stuffing:
- 1 onion diced
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 green chili pepper , seeds removed and finely diced
- 2 heaped tbsp tomato paste
- 1 can tomato sauce *see note
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 cups Egyptian rice, soaked for 20 minutes and then well strained.
- 1 bunch each parsley, dill, and coriander, finely chopped.
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp black pepper
For the tomato broth:
- 3 heaped tbsp tomato paste
- 2 chicken stock cubes dissolved in 4 cups hot water (or vegetable stock cubes)
- 2 cups strained tomatoes (tomato passata OR 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes that you puree)
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- salt to taste
For the vegetables:
- Wash all the vegetables, then cut off the top of each and use a corer to remove the insides and hollow them out. Do it gently so as not to split the zucchini. Scrape the insides of the zucchini carefully, making room for the stuffing. Reserve the inside of the zucchini, you can store these in the fridge or freezer and use them for a lot of good recipes
To make the stuffing:
- Heat some oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and stir for a few minutes or until onions start to turn a light golden brown. Add the garlic and the chili pepper, cook for one minute or until fragrant, then add the tomato paste and stir.
- Add the tomato sauce and hot water, cumin, black pepper and salt, and allow mixture simmer for 10 minutes.
- After the mixture has simmered. add the strained Egyptian rice and the chopped herbs and allow rice to cook around 10 minutes or until halfway cooked. Remove mixture from stove and allow to cool.
Stuffing the vegetables:
- Stuff each cored vegetable with the cooled rice mixture, leaving about 1/4 of empty space since rice will expand further with cooking.
- Line a large saucepan with slices of tomatoes and potatoes to cover the bottom. Arrange stuffed vegetables on top of this layer, trying to keep the zucchini and other vegetables upright. Stuff them in close to each other. Keep this pot aside while you prepare the broth.
For the tomato broth:
- In a large bowl, mix together the tomato paste, the 2 cubes of chicken stock dissolved in 4 cups of hot water, 2 cups of the pureed tomatoes or tomato passata, and dried mint. Taste to see if you need to add salt.
- Place the saucepan with the stuffed vegetables on the stove over medium high heat, and pour the tomato broth mixture all around the vegetables, until they are nearly submerged (3/4 of the way covered with tomato broth). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low to allow vegetables to simmer for 1-1.5 hours until vegetables are tender and cooked through.
- Portion stuffed vegetables into serving plates and lade extra tomato sauce from the saucepan. Some people like to eat this with yogurt. Enjoy!
If you want some more Middle Eastern inspired dinner ideas:
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