Koosa Mahshi (Syrian Stuffed Squash)
Syrian koosa, often called gray squash in American markets, are pale green, lightly striped and bulbous at one end. For the most elegant dish, buy the smallest you can find, about 3 inches long. You can also use green zucchini; if they are long, cut them into sections and core each piece. Syrian cooks will often place a variety of stuffed vegetables in a single pot; tomatoes, eggplants and grape leaves are common. If you do this, place the squash on the bottom, as they need the longest cooking time.
- 1 cup medium-grain rice
- 12 gray squash or small zucchini (about 7 pounds)
- 1/2 pound ground lamb
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lemons, cut into rounds
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 teaspoons dried mint
- 1 cup yogurt
- Fresh mint leaves, for garnish (optional)
Adapted from wsj.com
Soak rice in a bowl to extract some starch, at least 30 minutes, then rinse and drain until water runs clear of starch.
Remove squash stems and discard. Use a corer to core inside of squash. Take care not to puncture sides or bottom. For a decorative touch, use a vegetable peeler to remove thin vertical stripes of skin.
In a bowl, gently knead together drained rice, ground meat and allspice, plus generous amounts of salt and pepper.
Gently fill each squash about three-quarters full with meat-rice mixture. Avoid compressing mixture too much, so rice has room to expand as it cooks.
To cook, select a lidded deep pot in which squash will fit snugly, nestled in upright. Line bottom of pot with lemon slices.
Arrange squash in pot, upright with opening on top. Add enough water to cover squash, a generous amount of salt and enough lemon juice so mix is distinctly sour as well as salty. If necessary, place a plate over squash to keep them submerged. Cover pot, bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and let simmer 30 minutes.
Mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Add to pot along with dried mint. Simmer until rice is fully cooked and squash is tender, 30-45 minutes more. Carefully transfer squash to a serving platter, reserving ½ cup cooking liquid.
To serve, stir a few tablespoons cooking liquid into yogurt to thin and warm it. Season with additional salt to taste. Serve yogurt sauce alongside squash. Garnish with mint leaves, if you like.