Lebanese Pine Nut & Lamb Koosa in Tomato Broth
The flavors and smells that came from my grandmother’s kitchen are still so deeply etched in my heart and senses. I especially miss her Koosa or stuffed squash. She would always use the long pale or dark green zucchini squash, stuffed with cinnamon scented, rice and lamb, then slowly simmered in garlic and crushed tomato sauce.
A few days ago I was at the Aspen Farmers Market and found some beautiful round zucchini and just couldn’t resist. I grabbed as many as I could carry and decided to work on a carb-less version of my Sitti’s (grandmother Rose’s) Koosa.
I’ll take you step, by step, but I have to confess my dish contained several tears, that began to flow as the smells flooded my kitchen, my heart, and my memories.
Her version with rice is hard to beat but my lower carb dish was delicious and deeply satisfying. For this recipe, I used both long and round zucchini, and I used the remaining meat to make mini-meatballs that I served along side. For a dinner party, I would use the round zucchini for a nicer presentation.
The zucchini can also be frozen and thawed for future use. The trick is to freeze individually placed squash on a sheet pan before storing them together in a freezer bag or vacuum sealed bag; this will help maintain their shape. When thawed they will be soft and wet, simply drain on a paper towel and carefully fill. Portion them off in anticipated serving size.
Softening the finely diced onion, will allow it to melt into the meat.
Mix the onions and pine nuts with cinnamon, salt, and pepper and then gently work in the ground lamb.
Gently stuff the squash, topping the round squash with the reserved lids. If you have any lamb left, make and tuck small meatballs into the pan. Add the garlic and quartered onion and top with the seasoned crushed tomato sauce and dried mint.
Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is tender, and the meat is cooked through, about 50 minutes. Serve hot with a side of plain Greek yogurt and a simple arugula salad.
I used the extra round zucchini along with some zucchini flowers and filled them with some herb filled ricotta and some torn mint leaves and slivers of garlic.
Pine Nut & Lamb Koosa in Tomato Broth
The flavors and smells that came from my grandmother’s kitchen are still so deeply etched in my heart and senses. I especially miss her Koosa or stuffed squash
- Green Zucchini, 18 small or 12 medium, long or 8-10, round
- ½ lb. ground lamb
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 1Tablespoons of Ghee, separated into 1/2 T (ghee is clarified butter)
- 2 teaspoon salt, plus extra
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra
- 1 Tablespoon dried mind
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 medium onions, 1 finely diced and 1 quartered
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 6 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved (green sprout removed)
- To stuff squash, or koosa it first has to be hollowed out. This can be done using a special tool (typically called a zucchini corer). These long metal corers can be found in Middle Eastern markets very cheaply, or online.
- Cut the top of the squash off (the stem end that was connected to the plant). If your squash is bent at the neck, cut below the bend. You can save any edible portion of the bent pieces; slice them up and sauté them in olive oil on high heat with a little salt and enjoy as a snack.
- Be careful hollowing the squash, not to puncture through it. Leave a ¼ inch rim of squash.
- Insert the corer in, ¾ of the length of the squash and twist. Pull out the core. Do this a few times, scraping against the edge of the squash with gentle pressure until you’ve hollowed it out. If you do puncture a squash, don’t throw it away just save that one for yourself. Once all the squash is cored set aside.
- If using round zucchini instead of long, trim the top of the stem slightly and then neatly cut the top off to create a lid and set aside. Hold the zucchini firmly in one hand, using a teaspoon begin to remove the inner flesh until you have hollowed out the inside completely to create a bowl. The zucchini removed from the inside can also be sauteed and enjoyed as a snack.
- Heat 1/2 T of Ghee in a pan and lightly toast pine nuts, remove and set aside.
- Using the same pan, saute the finely diced onion, in remaining 1/2 T of Ghee until soft.
- Mix the onion, pine nuts, salt, pepper, cinnamon and ground lamb.
- Loosely fill each squash with the stuffing. If you have leftover stuffing form it into meatballs to be cooked with the koosa.
- In a bowl, season the crushed tomato with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon of dried mint. Place the koosa (stuffed end up and tilted in a tall pot with the meatballs, garlic cloves and onion quarters interspersed. Pour the tomatoes over all to just cover some may stick out a bit above the liquid. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is tender and the meat is cooked through, about 50 minutes.
- Serve hot with a side of yogurt and a simple arugula salad.
The flavors are pure heaven. The cinnamon adds a warm, earthy component.