Stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce

March 1, 2009  •  Category: ,

stuffed zucchini

If there is one dish that sums up Lebanese homestyle cooking, this is it! Humble yet delicious. It can be stuffed with meat and rice or meat only and served with a rice pilaf. I like to stuff it with the rice and meat combo, this way I can just serve it with pita bread to scoop up the sauce and save myself the trouble of making rice. Your call. The dish can also be frozen and reheated so the convenience is there. I remember meeting an elderly  gentleman who had lived a long portion of his life in Egypt and who swooned when I served it at a get-together telling me how he had missed eating this dish all these years!

mashing garlic

stuffed zucchini

Stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce

Joumana Accad Mediterranean, Middle Eastern March 1, 2009 Main Dish, Meats, traditional, stuffed zucchini, stuffed vegetable, tagged,

6 servings

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes


3 tbsp olive oil
1 pound ground meat lamb, beef, or other
1 large onion, chopped
12 small zucchinis or Mexican calabasas small 5"
1/2 cup rice, medium-grain or sushi
2 cans tomatoes (14 oz) or fresh, peeled, diced, seeded
1 tbsp garlic paste 4 to 6 cloves, mashed
1 tbsp dried mint powder for garnish
1 tsp salt more, to taste
1 tsp black pepper to taste
1 tsp cinnamon to taste
1 tsp allspice to taste
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses optional
4 to 6 bones lamb or beef to add flavor to the sauce


1. Prepare the stuffing by mixing the rice, meat and spices. Drain the zucchinis and stuff them gingerly, leaving one inch at the top to allow the rice to expand Fry the bones till browned in a tablespoon of olive oil and discard the excess oil.

2. Place the stuffed zucchini on top of the bones snugly and add water to the top and place a heavy smaller plate on top of the vegetables, bring to a slow boil and cover the pan. After simmering the pot for 30-45 minutes, uncover and remove the zucchinis and place in a bowl on the counter.

3. Reduce the remaining stock to about 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Put aside. Fry the onion in olive oil until golden, add the tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes. Add the meat broth, the zucchinis, garlic and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes. Right before serving, sprinkle with mint. Present hot with some pita bread. You can also present some rice pilaf as an accompaniment to the dish.

Recipe Notes

If possible, look for zucchinis in ethnic or Middle-Eastern stores that have been already cored. Otherwise, figure on another 45 minutes to core them. I have posted a video online (youtube, tasteofbeirut channel) showing how.

Another possibility is to cook them briefly, cut them lengthwise, and with a small spoon, core the inside of the zucchinis. The pulp can be recycled by making fritters or in omelets, a traditional side dish in Lebanon.

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13 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Moudi says:


    Is there a way to make these without meat? Also, are there recipes for kibbe or malfouf without meat? I am trying to cut down on meat, but I do not want to miss out on these foods.

    • Joumana says:

      @Moudi: the Lebanese repertoire is replete with vegetarian dishes kibbeh and mehchi especially. I am posting a recipe for a salad today that was initially used to stuff these without meat, called safsouf: chick peas, coarse bulgur, onion and seasonings. I have posted a pumpkin kibbe recipe, as well as a fish and chicken kibbe.

  2. ashleyz says:

    Hi Joumana,
    I have a quick question, I have made this recipe many times and there is an issue that I have every time. The filling is cooked perfect, meaning that the rice is still firm but not mushy, however the koosa on the other hand is like baby food. If you have any suggestions on how to fix this issue? Please and thank you

    • Joumana says:

      @ashleyz: After a long time in my native country again, cooking with local master cooks, it occurred to me that people here are not afraid of cooking vegetables to death; the idea is for stuffed veggies to be meltingly tender and this is certainly the case for koossa and grape leaves and cabbage rolls. The same method is used when people cook vegetarian dishes as well, like green bean and tomato stew. As far as koossa, the way it is done is to cook the stuffed koossa in water, then add the tomato sauce; this of course lengthens the cooking time. I would just cook the stuffed koossa in one step, adding the tomato sauce at the beginning. This may help keep them firmer.

  3. naz says:

    a little confused here…the rice is not pre-cooked, but cooks inside the zucchini (with the meat) during the 45 minute cooking time? sure wish we had a middle eastern shop to buy the pre-cored zucchini in our little northern california town…san francisco is 31/2 hours too far away! i’m excited to try this, it sounds just like sitti used to make! this stirs up my smell-memory bank…ahh!

    • Joumana says:

      @naz: Sorry for the delay in responding, I was in the midst of traveling. Yes, the rice is not precooked, although a lot of people like to soak it for 30 minutes or so.

  4. Hana says:

    Do you have a photo or YouTube video to show how to put the stuffed zucchini on top of the bones ? Lay them down or sitting up or I between the bones .. I’m a bit confused about putting a small heavy plate on top too, do you mean inside the pot and then also put a lid on the pot ?

  5. George says:

    I have eaten the Greek version of this dish so many times and it’s one of my favorites. The Lebanese version has some more spices than the Greek version, which is to be expected. Thanks for sharing, looks amazing. I’d love to try this version.

  6. irisa says:

    Je ne lis pas l’anglais courant , comment faire pour accéder aux recettes qui sont si attirantes !?

    Pouvez vous installer un traducteur anglais français ? Merci

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