Stuffed pumpkin (Ghapama)

October 17, 2020  •  Category: ,

Often prepared around Christmastime, ghapama is a stuffed pumpkin dish from the Armenian community in Lebanon. The guts of the pumpkin are removed, and then it is stuffed with boiled rice and dried fruits like apple, apricot, dates, plums, and raisins together with nuts. The pumpkin is baked until it softens.

This dish would be a welcome change for a Thanksgiving table, accompanied with some hot spiced tea.

The size of the pumpkin (or squash) can vary depending on the number of servings needed.

I added spices that are not traditionally used here, such as turmeric and cardamom; the native recipe only calls for ground cinnamon, cloves and salt.

I have also added roasted pumpkin seeds instead of the traditional walnuts or almonds.

The key element in this dish is the honey or sugar added; if you like it sweet or not, adjust the honey or sugar to taste. I found that the elements of the pilaf were already sweet (raisins, apricot leather, dried cranberries), so I have cautious with the sugar. I would definitely sprinkle some sugar or honey on the empty pumpkin inside (after lathering it with butter), but I would be careful adding too much honey or sugar into the rice itself. Your call.

Stuffed pumpkin (Ghapama)

Joumana Accad Mediterranean, Middle Eastern October 17, 2020 Whole Grain/Bulgur/Rice, Main Dish, Armenian, stuffed veggies, pumpkin, ghapama,

6 servings

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour 40 minutes


1 pumpkin (around 5 lbs)

1 1/2 cups Basmati rice (or long-grain)

1/4 cup raisins (preferably golden)

1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries (or sour cherries)

2 green apples, chopped

1/2 cup diced dried apricots (I used amardeen  aka apricot leather instead)

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (roasted) *these are sold in Latino markets in the US and called pepitas

1/4 cup sugar (brown or raw sugar is best, more or less, to taste)

OR 1/4 cup honey (more or less,  to taste)

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (more, to taste)

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cardamom

1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

1/2 to 3/4 cup water or veggie or chicken broth (depending on how firm the rice is, if it is very firm, add more water or broth)

1/2 cup melted butter



  1. Wash and dry the outside of the pumpkin.
  2. Cut off the top of the pumpkin and set it aside. If you can, carve a star from the top portion, which will make it very pretty.  Remove the seeds and fibrous pulp inside.
  3. Once the inside of the pumpkin is scraped and clean, wash it in running water. Now fill the pumpkin with water to measure the volume and get an idea of how much rice needs to be cooked. If you find that the pumpkin will fit in 3 cups of water, then you get one cup of rice (which will increase to 3 cups once the other ingredients are added).
  4. Cook the rice until almost done (keep it still al dente, undercooked and firm by about 5 minutes). Transfer the rice into a bowl and add the apple, raisins, cranberries, apricot, pumpkin seeds, sugar (or honey), cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and salt.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Slather some butter and honey or sugar inside the empty pumpkin; then fill the pumpkin with the rice pilaf mixture. Sprinkle water and melted butter  over the rice. Top the pumpkin with its cap and wrap it in foil. Bake for about an hour or longer until the pumpkin is cooked and the rice pilaf is nice and steamy hot. Serve by cutting it, like a cake or opening the cap and scooping out the pilaf with a piece of pumpkin.

Recipe Notes

In the classic recipe, dried prunes (and/or dates) are used, and the nuts of choice are walnuts or almonds. I just picked different dried fruits based on what I had in my pantry.

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12 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Judee says:

    Thank you for this step by step recipe. It would be spectacular for thanksgiving- Beautiful thanks.

  2. Doc says:

    While the color of the outside would be green instead of orange, a Japanese pumpkin (Kabocha squash) would provide a somewhat sweeter base for the filling. Most commercially grown halloween pumpkins in the US are not really sweet so if you want an orange shelled pumpkin, you might want to see if someone at your local farmer’s market is selling pie pumpkins.

    Steaming, par-boiling, or pre-roasting the pumkin before filling it with precooked rice would speed up the process as well. If you rub the skin with oil and then dry-roast the pumplin/squash halves (cut edge down on oiled foil), the shell will remain stiff. But the timing will be a little tricky since you want to fill it and re-assemble the squash before it is so soft it falls apart.

    • Joumana Accad says:

      @Doc Thanks so much for your (always) pertinent remarks! Actually I have seen it done with kabocha and I am sure it is delicious. I just wanted to stick to tradition as much as possible. The filling is fairly sweet, so eating the pilaf feels almost like a dessert; in addition, the inside of the pumpkin gets doused with sugar and butter or honey and butter so its not lacking in sweetness. Next time, I will try it with kabocha, I think it will make the execution a lot easier too. Glad your comment went through this time, I did ask the developer and she said she had fixed that glitch.

      • Doc says:

        I noticed that there is a lot of sugar in the mix, which is why I thought about kabocha as an alternative. Now I wonder if it is possible to cut through the side of the squash at an angle so that there is a bevel which would make it go back together and lock the top and the bottom in place. I guess you could be as clever as you want to to get it to interlock. I was wondering how well the halves would mate and decided that the way you heaped up the rice in the bottom would provide a place for the top to just rest on the rice. And if you want the orange flesh of the kabocha to show through you could cut through the skin with a pear corer or a zester and make a decorative pattern of orange on green (though a kabocha has a green layer right under the skin that you would have to cut through if you want it to be high contrast. This is a great recipe and seems like a wonderful Haloween project.

        • Joumana Accad says:

          @Doc Again, thank you for a very pertinent remark. I have actually seen some squash done the way you describe and next time, Inshallah, I will prepare it this way, which should be a lot of fun and much more artistic! As for the sugar, I have edited the recipe a bit, because I did not add as much sugar to the rice, and it would get too sweet since the add-ons are already sweetened.

  3. Karen (Back Road Journal) says:

    I’m happy that I discovered your lovely blog and this post. This sounds like a wonderful recipe and I’m looking forward to trying it.

  4. Sonia Tajirian says:

    Hi Joumana,  

    Even though I am Armenian, my mother never made Ghapama.  The first time I ate it was at my cousin’s house.  His wife is Armenian from Lebanon and she made it. I made it this Thanksgiving from a new cookbook I bought, however, I felt it needed more umph!  My sister Thelma was telling her Armenian friend that we are making Ghapama. She had not heard of it either. So my
    sister forwarded her your recipe.  When my sister tasted my Ghapama she agreed it needed more umph, so we referenced your recipe and added cinnamon and cardamom as per your recipe.  Thank you for preserving these recipes and adding non Lebanese recipes to your website.

    Shokran (thank you)

    • Joumana Accad says:

      @Sonia I am happy to showcase Armenian recipes, as I love Armenian people, Armenian food and Armenian traditions! I would love to visit Armenia as I was told by my aunt who visited that it is a land of wonders…

  5. Michelle Fontenot says:

    I was thinking maybe for smaller portions and a sweeter squash, acorn squash might be a good substitution. My kids used to have me make it with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar or honey and lots of butter lol (and I think my grandmother added allspice). After finding your recipe I felt it was a pretty close match to my acorn squash but with so much more, as Doc said, umph.

    Do you remove the cloves completely from the recipe and use the turmeric and cardamom as a substitution or do you use all three?

    • JOUMANA ACCAD says:

      @Michelle Fontenot Yes, it would be lovely with acorn! As far as the cloves, I usually skip it because I am not crazy about this spice, but it is something that is entirely up to your taste.

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