This traditional Lebanese dish, kousa or kousa mahshi, is stuffed squash filled with ground beef, rice and Middle Eastern spices. The stuffed yellow squash is then cooked in tomato sauce until tender, and served with yogurt or labneh.
When I think of Lebanese comfort food, I think of this Lebanese stuffed squash or Lebanese kousa (also spelled, cousa, koosa) recipe. Growing up, we always had a large garden in the summer and in late summer we would have loads of yellow summer squash, either straight neck or crook neck summer squash and we would eat Lebanese squash for dinner.
If you are wondering what to do with yellow squash or how to cook squash, this recipe is for you. It is full of flavor and healthy as well! These ground beef and squash boats are the perfect dinner!
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Every Lebanese family makes Lebanese food and recipes slightly different, it is the same with this kousa squash recipe. There are many different versions out there, but I love this Lebanese kousa recipe the best!
One of the wonderful things about Middle Eastern food is their tendency to make vegetables the star of the meal. It is so healthy! There are so many options for delicious stuffed vegetables in Lebanese cooking, just like Stuffed Cabbage Rolls or these healthy Lebanese Stuffed Bell Peppers.
Do you want to know more about Lebanese food?
——>>>>Check out my article on The Ultimate Guide to Lebanese food!
Ingredients for stuffed summer squash
The ingredients are very simple for this cousa squash recipe. Squash or zucchini, lean ground beef (or ground lamb), long grain white rice, salt, ground cinnamon, ground peppers and tomato sauce.
In addition to this stuffed squash being delicious, it is also very healthy, gluten free, and dairy free!
What kind of squash to use for Lebanese squash (kousa mashi)
Kousa is the Arabic word for zucchini or squash. There is a particular kind that is slightly green in color, more of a light green and short in shape, that comes from the Middle East. When my family immigrated from Lebanon, this type of kousa or cousa squash was difficult to find in the markets. Since it was so difficult to find, my family switched to using yellow summer squash (bumpy yellow squash, smooth, crook neck, or straight neck) for stuffed yellow squash.
Really, this dish can be made with several different varieties of squash or zucchini. Some people like to make this Lebanese stuffed zucchini with green zucchini, however it may fall apart easily and get mushy. I grew up making this kousa recipe with yellow summer squash.
How to core and cut yellow squash
The most labor intensive part about this dish, is coring the squash. We actually have a tool passed down through my family, specifically for coring squash for mahshi kousa. I really have no idea how old our squash corer is, but here is one from Amazon! I highly recommend investing into this, if you core any sort of vegetable!
I do recommend the one on the left, the top of it does not come to a sharp point and you will not puncture the squash as easily. That particular squash corer is very similar to mine. The one on the right will work great as well, however with the sharp tip, you may have more of an issue with puncturing holes in the squash.
How to prepare the squash for stuffing summer squash
I recommend using a medium sized yellow summer squash. If you have a very big yellow squash, they can be tough and chewy, and that is the LAST thing you want happening to your precious kousa mahshi. It doesn’t matter if it is bumpy yellow squash or smooth.
Take your summer squash, or kousa, and wash it well. With a paring knife or my favorite Santoku knife Cut the tip off of the neck and then cut it where the neck widens. See example below. You will be using the neck and the body of the squash.
For more on my favorite knives, check out my review article on My Favorite Knives.
With your squash corer, scoop out the inside of the body of the squash pulp, seeds and all. You really want to make it very hollow! I try to get it as thin as possible without breaking through the skin or making holes in the squash itself.
As you can see, I poke holes in the squash shell sometimes as well, and I’ve been doing this since I was 4. It will still taste great! I promise!.
Core the neck of the squash as much as possible as well and discard the seeds and pulp of the yellow squash.
How to make the stuffing for Lebanese kousa squash
The stuffing for this stuffed summer squash recipe is a very easy meat mixture! Take 1 pound of lean ground beef (or ground lamb), long grain white uncooked rice and the seasonings of ground cinnamon, salt and ground black pepper, along with 4 tablespoons of tomato sauce and cut it all together in a large mixing bowl.
Let’s talk about quality of ingredients for a moment. Nothing compares to good quality cinnamon! I highly recommend purchasing ground saigon cinnamon from The Spice House. It comes from a real cinnamon tree, as opposed to most cinnamon that can be found on the shelf at a grocery store. You will smell the difference the moment you open up the cinnamon package. Check them out!
Stuffing the Lebanese Squash
Loosely stuff the cored kousa squash with the ground beef and rice mixture. Don’t pack it too tightly! The rice will expand while it cooks, and you don’t want to end up with a dense stuffing. You can fill it to the top with the meat filling, just don’t over pack it down. The stuffing may spill out of the top as it cooks in the tomato sauce, but that is ok!
Check out this video on how to stuff yellow squash
How to cook Lebanese Squash
Gently add the stuffed yellow squash into a Dutch oven or large stainless steel pot. I let them tip over on their side, they do not have to be upright in order to cook well. I usually add the body of the stuffed squash first, then I add the necks of the squash.
Once you place the stuffed kousa squash into the pot, pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the squash evenly. If you want a thicker tomato broth at the end, add another small can of tomato sauce.
Now pour the water into the pot until it barely reaches the top of the squash.
Cover and simmer the Lebanese squash on Medium-high heat for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the squash is tender and the rice is cooked. Serve the finished kousa mashi with yogurt. This is the best way to eat Lebanese stuffed squash, with a dollop of plain yogurt or Lebanese Labneh or this amazing Mint Yogurt Sauce.
FAQ’s for Kousa
How to freeze yellow squash?
I have read that you can freeze Lebanese stuffed squash after it is fully cooked, however I would beg to differ! I tried it once and when I heated it up again, it was very mushy and the texture was ailing, HOWEVER you can freeze yellow squash before it is stuffed and cooked IF you follow my directions!
Freezing yellow squash is pretty straight forward. First wash and cut and core the squash as outlined above. Do no stuff it with any sort of stuffing. Place the cored squash in 1 gallon size freezer bags and place it in the freezer.
In order to use the frozen squash, prepare the mahshi stuffing and stuff the yellow squash while it is still frozen. You do not want to thaw it before stuffing it and you will want to stuff it pretty tight with the stuffing.
Cook the squash on the stovetop per the original directions.
Can I use standard green zucchini in place of yellow squash for stuffing squash?
You CAN use green zucchini and stuff it, however it may turn out a little mushy and the taste will be slightly bitter compared to yellow summer squash. I do recommend using that actual kousa squash, or yellow summer squash in order to get the right consistency and texture.
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Lebanese Squash (Kousa Mahshi)- Stuffed Yellow Squash
- 6 medium summer squash, or kousa squash
- 1 lb lean ground beef or lamb
- 1 ¼ cup long grain white rice
- 1 15 oz canned tomato sauce add another 8 oz can for thicker sauce (optional)
- 2 teas salt
- ¾ teas ground black pepper
- ½ teas ground cinnamon
- 3-4 cups water or just until it covers the squash
- Wash and cut the squash according to the picture. Discard the stem of the squash
- Using a squash corer, or something comparable, core the inside of the squash out, leaving a thin layer. Core the body and the neck of the squash as much as you cans
- Place the ground beef (uncooked), rice, spices and 4 Tbls of the tomato sauce in the large mixing bowl and cut the ingredients together until well combined
- Stuff the squash with the ground beef filling to the top of the squash and make sure not to stuff it to tightly. Packing the filling too tightly will result in dense meat and crunchy rice
- Place the stuffed squash on it's side into a large pot or Dutch oven and pour the remaining tomato sauce over the top of the squash. For a thicker sauce, add another 8 ounce can of tomato sauce (optional)
- Add 3 cups of water to the pan, or enough water until it reaches the top of the squash
- Simmer the squash on medium heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Squash should be tender and rice should be cooked
- Serve the squash with a dollop of plain yogurt or Labneh