The Lebanese squash: kusa
In church last Sunday, someone gave me a strange-looking squash. At first, I thought it was a zucchini, but it was the fattest, roundest zucchini I’d ever seen.
It turned out to be a kusa (also spelled kousa). Like all squash, it originated in the Western Hemisphere. Like tomatoes in Italy or potatoes in Ireland, the kusa became popular in Lebanon, and is often known as Lebanese squash.
Kusa stuffed with rice and meat seasoned with garlic, mint, salt and pepper, then boiled in a tomato broth, is known as kusa mihshi (sometimes spelled kusa mahshi). It’s traditional Lebanese comfort food.
Kusa is an Arabic word for zucchini. This summer squash is a close relative of zucchini, but shorter and rounder in shape. Like zucchini, it can be sliced and grilled with olive oil and lemon or added to stir-fries, casseroles and soups.
The outside of a kusa is striped like a zucchini. The inside flesh is creamy yellow and tender enough to eat raw in all types of salads. It has a mild sweetness, but is not as sweet as an acorn or butternut squash.
Like zucchini, the kusa is a low-calorie nutritious treat. Tender and delicate, it is good as a first solid food for babies — as are all squashes.
Because it is 90% water, a cup has just 20 calories, 2 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of protein and no fat. It is high in fiber and contains vitamins C, A, folate, and small amounts of the minerals calcium and iron.
Kusa can be cooked, stir-fried, roasted or eaten raw in salads. Here are a couple recipes to get you started.
Baked Stuffed Kusa
2 medium kusa squash
1/2 lb. ground beef or lamb
4 ounces portobello mushrooms
1 small green pepper
1 large clove garlic
1 cup cooked barley, rice, or millet
1 Tablespoon tamari sauce
Cut off the bottom end of the kusa. With a corer or a spoon, remove the inside. Discard any seeds; the rest of the squash can be saved for using raw in a salad, if you wish.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and oil a baking dish large enough to hold the squash while you make the filling.
In a skillet, brown the meat on low to render the fat. Peel and dice the onion; add. Slice the mushrooms and add. Core the pepper, chop and add. Peel and mince the garlic; add.
Stir in cooked grain and tamari. Taste to adjust seasonings. Stuff mixture into squash.
Bake 45 minutes to one hour, until squash is tender when pierced with a fork.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Slice.
Serve slices of stuffed squash as is or topped with a tomato sauce or a cheese or bechamel sauce, accompanied by a salad of fresh greens.
Serves 2 to 4.
Options: For a vegan version, replace the meat with cooked quinoa and lentils or beans.
Kusa, Kale and Tomato Salad
For the dressing:
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 clove garlic, grated or crushed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
For the salad:
About 2 cups diced or shredded raw kusa
1 or 2 cups baby kale
1 sweet onion or 1 bunch scallions
1 sweet bell pepper, yellow or red
1 tomato, yellow or red
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
To make the dressing, add olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, mustard and lemon juice to the bottom of your salad bowl. Mix with a fork or whisk to combine.
Chop the kusa and add to the dressing in the bowl. Remove the kale from its tough stems and chop. Stir into the dressing to coat.
Remove any wilted ends from scallions and chop off the ends. Slice and stir in.
Remove seeds from the pepper; chop and stir in. Dice tomato and crumble feta, and stir in.
Serves 2 to 3 (about 3 1-cup servings)
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at email@example.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.