Kousa Bi Laban

Zucchini stuffed with ground meat, spices and pine nuts and simmered in a tart yogurt sauce is a popular Lebanese meal.
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  • Level: Advanced
  • Total: 1 hr
  • Active: 40 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
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Stuffed Zucchini:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped 

8 ounces ground top round 

8 ounces ground leg of lamb 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Lebanese seven spices (see Cook's Note)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 

1 cup toasted pine nuts 

1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped 

2 pounds small gray squash (see Cook's Note)

1/4 cup vegetable oil 

Yogurt Sauce:

32 ounces full-fat yogurt

1/2 cup cornstarch 

1/2 cup water 

Pinch ground white pepper 

1 teaspoon sea salt 

1 tablespoon olive oil 

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon dried mint 

Vermicelli Rice, recipe follows

Vermicelli Rice:

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1/2 cup vermicelli noodles, broken into 1/2-to-1-inch pieces

1 cup basmati or long grain rice 

1 teaspoon sea salt 


  1. For the stuffed zucchini: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ground top round and ground lamb and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 10 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, Lebanese seven spices, cinnamon, cardamom, 1/2 cup of the pine nuts and the parsley and stir gently. Set aside to cool.
  2. Cut the stem off the top of the zucchini. Using a vegetable corer or small spoon, core the zucchini by gently removing the center while leaving the sides intact. Fill the center of the zucchini with the filling, packing to make tight and leaving a 1/2-inch space between the filling and the top.
  3. Add the vegetable oil to a large skillet over medium heat and fry the zucchini for a few minutes, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the zucchini to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.  
  4. Arrange the stuffed zucchini side by side in a large pot of simmering water. Sprinkle with salt, reduce the heat and cover. Cook until the zucchini is tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 20 minutes. Remove the zucchini and reserve the cooking liquid.
  5. For the yogurt sauce: Place the yogurt in a medium high-sided skillet over medium heat. Whisk together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Add the cornstarch mixture to the yogurt and cook, stirring, until it begins to steam, about 5 minutes. Add the white pepper and sea salt. Add 3 spoonfuls of the reserved zucchini cooking liquid. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 3 minutes. 
  6. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and dried mint and cook while stirring until browned, about 3 minutes. While stirring, add the garlic mixture to the yogurt and cook for another 2 minutes. 
  7. Carefully drop the partially cooked zucchini in the yogurt sauce and continue cooking until completely done, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup pine nuts on top to garnish. Serve hot with vermicelli rice. 

Vermicelli Rice:

  1. Heat the vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Drop the vermicelli noodles into the pan and stir every few seconds until they are browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a towel-lined plate.
  2. Bring 2 1/4 cups water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the rice, noodles, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the sea salt. Stir together, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. 

Cook’s Note

Lebanese seven spices is a common seasoning found in Lebanese kitchens of black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, fenugreek and nutmeg. Gray squash, also called Mexican, Middle Eastern or Lebanese squash, looks like zucchini but with a paler green skin and a rounder bottom.

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