Kusa Mahshi. Or in other words, Stuffed Zucchini

I’ve once again endeavored to try and replicate one of the recipes of my childhood: My mom’s famous Mahshi. What is seemingly a simple recipe – only a few ingredients – is actually quite time consuming and difficult to make. Though some might call it a labor of love! My dad sent me this description: In the Arab world, the stuffing of vegetables has its roots in the cookery of the early Islamic empire of the Abbasids in Baghdad, possibly learned from the Persians. Ottoman chefs perfected the stuffing of vegetables, and today nearly everything that can be stuffed is stuffed from artichokes to zucchini.

Making stuffed zucchini is a multi-step process, one I began this morning with my first cup of coffee, around 7:30am.

1. Remove the insides of the zucchini. Here was my starting point… one dozen perfect, locally grown zucchini:

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Removing the insides of the zucchini: The tool below is a zucchini corer. It will be your friend and enemy during the coring process.

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The trick is to slowly rotate the corer, slowly digging deeper into the zucchini until you pull out the insides of the zucchini in one big soggy log. Sounds easy, but rest assured, it’s not. It’s easier than you think to poke a hole in those little suckers… holes that will later ooze your stuffing. It’s also very important to remove as much of the insides of the zucchini as possible. In the last picture above, I’m thinking I did a damn good job of emptying that zucchini. But alas, once cooked, most of my zucchini still had too much inside left – which contributes to a rather watery/soggy result. Better luck next time!

2. Yes, after all that, we’re only on step 2. Make the stuffing. Depending on how many zucchini you are stuffing, the amounts below will vary. I used a pound of ground beef (90/10)  and 1 1/2 cups of rice. Leftovers are great cooked up, just like regular rice. Saute the beef over moderately high heat, add salt, garlic powder, pepper and allspice. Generously. When the beef is cooked (no pink left over) and all broken up, add about a 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom and the rice. Mix all together… it will look something like this:

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3. Next you need to stuff your (cooled) stuffing into the zucchini. I like it… stuffing the stuffing. This, too, is a process that requires a delicate hand! My mom said the trick is to only put in enough stuffing so that you can stick your pinky in and reach the stuffing. Remember…. the rice will expand! You may need to shake the zucchini to get the stuffing to settle to the bottom.

4. Now it’s time to cook these little stuffers. Lay the zucchini in the bottom of a pot big enough to hold them in a single-ish layer.

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Then blend a can (15 oz) of whole tomatoes and pour over your zucchini. Add about a cup of water to that, juice of half a lemon, and salt to taste. I had to use a little extra pureed tomato because I made such a large batch! Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes or so. You want the zucchini to be soft to the touch, but not falling apart. When the zucchini are done cooking, add one crushed (through a garlic press) clove of garlic.

5. Serve and enjoy!

DSC07775DSC07779  DSC07778So, all told, it took the whole day to make my mahshi! I removed the insides of the zucchini at 7:30 in the morning. I made the stuffing after I picked up Erin from school 12:30. I stuffed and cooked them when we got home from picking up Josh at 3:00. Dinner was on the table by 5pm! What did I learn from this experience?

1)It will take a Herculean effort on my part to really remove enough of the stuffing so that my filling isn’t watery but without breaking through the skin of the zucchini. It’s damn hard!

2)My sauce could have used more salt.

3)I LOVE the way the house smells when the mahshi are cooking!

4) Nothing will ever taste exactly the same as when  your mother makes it!

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Cleaning out the Fridge

I’ve been working hard trying to make room for this week’s box of fresh produce! Here’s what I’ll be getting this Tuesday:

  • 1- 1 lb. Sweet Potato/Pecan Loaf
  • 5 lbs- Kennebec potatoes (Fresh dug)
  • 2 lbs- German Johnson tomatoes
  • 2 lbs- Carolina Gold tomatoes
  • 2 lbs- Zucchini
  • 1 lb-  Red Bell pepper
  • 1 lb-  Eggplant
  • 1 doz- Bi-color corn
  • 1- 3 Oz. Basil ( Varied types)

Does that sound good or what? I think I’m going to make some eggplant parmesan later this week with the eggplant. And I’m going to dip back into my Middle Eastern repertoire and stuff the big bunch of zucchini I picked up last week. I’m really looking forward to that challenge!

Last week I made stuffed peppers and a gi-normous BLT sandwich! I used some of the fresh basil from my garden to make a basil-mayo and spread that all over the sandwich. It was messy indeed! I used a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for the stuffed peppers.

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Digging up Some Roots

So, I had an eggplant from last week, and another from this week… it was time to use those babies up! I’ve already turned previous eggplants into their ‘parmesan’ counterparts, so I was ready to try something different. Then inspiration struck! It was time to go old school! Being of Middle Eastern decent, I grew up eating some of the most delicious food imaginable. I don’t often try and replicate the dishes mom makes, because, well… you just never can! They never taste quite the same as when mom makes them. But I was craving a piece of home, so I decided to turn my eggplants into one of my favorite childhood dishes… Metlube (pronounced metlubeh).

It tastes better than it sounds! You can think of it as an eggplant and rice casserole! Basically, you get some stew meat (I like to buy the whole chuck roast and cut it up myself)  and brown it with salt, pepper, garlic powder and allspice (be generous with the spices!). Once the meat is nicely browned, add enough very hot water to cover, and bring to a boil. Let the meat simmer until it’s tender, about 30 minutes or so. About two minutes or so before it’s done, add about a teaspoon of ground cardamom. When it’s done, drain and reserve the liquid.

Meanwhile, peel and slice the eggplant (1 large or 2 small) and brush with olive oil and broil on both sides until slightly soft and nicely browned.

Now it’s time to bring it all together! Find a nice pot (about 6 quarts) that will allow you to lay a plate flat against the top… this will be important later! Scatter about 1/2 cup rice on the bottom of the pan. Then arrange the eggplant on top of the rice. Layer the cooked meat on top of that. Scatter another 1 1/2 cups of rice on top of the meat. Add enough water to the reserved cooking liquid to measure a generous 4 cups and pour over the eggplant/meat/rice. Bring to a boil, cover, and then reduce to medium heat for about 15 minutes. Turn the stove to low and simmer until all the water is absorbed… you’ll have to listen to it!

Let sit for about 15 minutes or so to settle. Then take the large plate I mentioned earlier and set atop the pot and flip over! You should have a cake-like concoction with rice cooked around layers of eggplant and beef! Voila!

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Serve the Metlube with tomato/cucumber salad and plain yogurt for an authentic Middle Eastern Meal!

What’s Fresh and Local this Week

Fantastic box of produce this week! I have some big plans for the goodies this week!

  • 3 lbs- Apples
  • 1- 4 oz Kudzu Blossom Jelly
  • 3 lbs- Tomatoes
  • 2 lbs- Zucchini
  • 1 lb-  Green Bell Pepper
  • 1 lb-  Eggplant
  • 1-  8 Oz. Lemon Balm
  • 2 lbs- White O’Henry Sweet Potatoes
  • 2 lbs- Red Cubanelle Peppers
  • 1 lb-  German Johnson Heirloom Tomatoes

There was a recipe included for Lemon Balm Lemonade that I promptly whipped up because it sounded so refreshing!! And we were not disappointed!

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The Mall Birthday Party Feast

September is the month of Birthday in this family… 6 in all! Last night we celebrated all the Mall Birthdays with a feast! Almost everything we ate was a product of local farmers!

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I butterflied (removed the backbone) two whole chickens and brined one in beer and the other just grilled with a Dijon/thyme rub. The birds were pasture raised in Rutherfordton county, and believe me when I say, the birds you get at the Teeter really shouldn’t even qualify as chickens! These are truly delicious!

I used the sweet potatoes and red pepper from my produce box to make a chili-lime sweet potato salad. And the corn… well, we decided to just enjoy it in all of it’s corn glory. A little note on the corn… this is one of the few times you DON’T want to add salt to the water. Add SUGAR instead and you will bring out the natural sweetness of the corn. Salt your corn right before serving!

I also made green beans with carmelized shallots. The beans were the only thing I made that wasn’t sourced locally.

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And finally… the piece de resistance. The birthday cake. Chocolate cake with REAL butter cream frosting. Between the cake and the frosting – I used 8 eggs (and I won’t tell you how much butter). All the eggs came from pasture raised chickens in Rutherfordton county!

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