Stuffed Koosa is a traditional dish of light green summer squash stuffed with a meat and rice mixture, cooked in deeply savory tomato broth. Can’t find koosa? That’s just fine; use zucchini or yellow squash for delicious results.
Many of us at some point or another have called a small child “pumpkin.” Sweet little thing you just want to eat up. My father was someone who enjoyed taking liberties with language, and he developed his own kind of Arabic/English comedian-language that needed no translation to make sense to everyone in our family. I honestly don’t know if it’s commonly used or if Dad coined it himself when he started calling his children “coosa.” Sweet summer squash you just want to eat up.
He was a Lebanese father through and through, which meant that his children were his children no matter their age. This fact, along with my petite stature, caused me in my early 20s to work extra hard to be regarded as a Professional Woman rather than the playful girl that resided under my thin veil of suits and heels. But in a moment, in a flash, my father could pull back the curtain and reveal that I was not the Wizard of Oz, but really his little girl.
I was working my first real job out of graduate school for an association in Lansing, Michigan. I sat in a front office with several offices open to one another. We could all hear each other’s conversations. One sunny morning my dad came through the front door for a meeting he had in the building, peeked his head around the corner to find me at my desk, and boomed “HOW’S MY COOSA?!”
I cringed at the thought of my colleagues seeing me as my father’s little girl rather than as ‘The Director of Communications.’
But the look on his face, and that he expressed his love so freely—that’s the kind of memory that you pull out of your back pocket like a well-worn St. Jude prayer card, a solace in desperate times.
Now we always ask the delicious little children in the family: “Are you a coosa?!” And they laugh and smile, and know exactly what we mean.
The meat and rice stuffing mixture for this recipe is a standard stuffing that is also used for cabbage rolls and grape leaf rolls. I like touse ground beef for this dish, but you can also use ground lamb. If you have the patience to let the koosa rest, after its been cooked, for a day in the refrigerator before eating it, you’ll find the flavors develop wonderfully. Serve the koosa topped with labneh (thickened yogurt) and thin pita bread or Lebanese flatbread. See how to core the koosa here.
- 12-18 koosa, small zucchini,and/or yellow squash, washed, trimmed and cored
- 1/2 pound ground chuck or lamb
- 1/2 cup medium-grain rice, rinsed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Few grinds black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 28 oz. can tomato puree, sauce, or juice
- 6-8 cloves garlic, trimmed, peeled and halved
Use your clean hands (come on, it feels nice) to combine the meat, rice, salt, pepper and cinnamon.
Loosely fill each squash with the stuffing. Loosely is the key word here, because the rice does not liketo be crowded. It needs room to expand, so fill only about ¾ of the coosa withstuffing, and don’t pack it in. You may have leftover stuffing that you can form into meatballs to be cooked with the koosa.
In a bowl, season the tomato puree o rsauce with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Place the koosa (stuffed end up but tilted so that you don’t need as much liquid to cover them) in a tall pot with the garlic cloves interspersed and the meatballs on top.
Pour the tomato puree over all. Pour water over that until the koosa and meatballs are just covered (some can stick out a bit above the liquid). Cover the pot and bring the liquid 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.
Remove the koosa to a serving bowl and taste the sauce. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper as needed. Serve the koosa in individual bowls or on plates with the sauce spooned over it. You can also make a cut down one side of the koosa with the side of a spoon and ladle the sauce over that, to whet the whistle of the stuffing.