As summer comes to an end, the nights get more brisk. The gardens and farms begin to wind down. Before all is said and done, we get to enjoy the last of this month’s harvest – summer squash.
Because one plant produces so much, some of us may be tired of summer squash. How about using it in a new and interesting way? Let’s get some inspiration from Lebanon, where squash is the foundation of a classic summertime comfort food.
Lebanese Cuisine: Stuffed Summer Squash
If you google Kousa Mahshi (stuffed squash) you will inevitably find many comments regarding how a recipe compares to a Lebanese grandmother’s, or stories of how someone’s mother always used to make it. I take that as a sign that it’s probably pretty good, at least based on my own family’s recipes.
To make the dish, summer squash – usually zucchini, yellow or the light green varietal known as Lebanese squash – is stuffed with a mixture of lamb, vegetables (often tomatoes and onions), rice, herbs and spices and then baked in a rich tomato or yogurt sauce. A special tool called a manakra, which looks like an elongated apple corer, is used to hollow out the squash and can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores. It might seem odd that a tool exists to hollow-out squash, but Middle Eastern cuisines are actually know for stuffing vegetables with just about everything, so this tool can come in handy pretty often.
Now the squash in this dish is great, but honestly the herbs and spices are really what make it delicious and different. Ground allspice and mint and sometimes cumin, cinnamon, or parsley add layers of flavor and aroma to the filling. Together they provide a distinctive Middle Eastern essence that is achieved in part by using “sweet” spices and herbs that we in the Western world typically don’t use in savory dishes. This is common theme in Middle Eastern cooking and it really works to tame the sometimes strong or “gamey” flavor of lamb.
Other Lebanese Squash Favorites
Some other Lebanese squash favorites include eiieh koussa (squash fritters) and mfaraket koussa (spicy squash). And don’t forget the squash blossoms which can be stuffed with rice, vegetables, dried fruit, herbs and spices (think dill, cinnamon, allspice, and black pepper) and lightly fried or steamed.
If these sound good to you, check out this month’s recipe. The side dish recipe features sweet and mellow roasted yellow squash, fresh mint, spicy black pepper and feta cheese. The unique flavors of the ingredients combine for an interesting sweet and savory end result with a slight nod to the Middle East. Change up the recipe by adding peeled and cubed eggplant or cherry tomatoes. Serve it on the side of grilled pork or chicken or use it to fill a pita along with hummus and greens for a lighter summer meal.
For more on summer squash including recipes, book recommendations, and fun activities for kids, check out the Vermont Harvest of the Month website.
Roasted Summer Squash with Lemon, Mint, and Feta
- 6yellow summer squash or zucchini, about 8 inches long
- 1/4cupolive oil
- 1/4cuplemon juice
- 1/2cupmint, finely chopped (measure after chopping)
- Salt to taste
- 1cupFeta cheese, crumbled (more or less to taste)
- Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 475° F, and put oven rack as high as it will go. Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray.
- Wash squash and cut off stem and flower ends. Cut each squash into quarters length wise, then cut into pieces about 2 inches long.
- Combine olive oil, lemon juice, mint and salt; then put that mixture into a plastic bowl and toss squash with the mixture.
- Arrange squash on roasting pan, in a single layer as much as possible.
- Roast squash turning every 15-20 minutes, until slightly browned and cooked to your liking.
- When the squash is done, put back in the same bowl and toss with the Feta cheese.
- Season with fresh ground black pepper to taste. This can be served hot or at room temperature.
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Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietitian at The University of Vermont Medical Center.