My latest Heirloom Kitchen landed me in Lebanon with an Iraqi woman, from England. Yes, you read that correctly, Scheherazade ‘Cherie’ Jafar was born in London, England and then moved with her family to Baghdad, Iraq until she was ten years old. At that point, she returned to Bath, to study. At nineteen, she married and headed to America as a young bride.
After taking up residence in Chicago, her American journey eventually landed her in Greenwich, Connecticut where she currently resides. She raised three daughters there and now spends her time enjoying her beautiful grandchildren.
Because of her diverse background, Cherie is versed in a number of different cuisines. She cooks dishes from her native England and Iraq but also makes a number of Lebanese dishes taught to her by her mother in law. It was fascinating to go through her little recipe book with her. A link to her well traveled past, her hand written recipes come from her homeland, her in laws and also her place of birth. She can throw together an authentic tabboleh, Middle Eastern stew and finish the meal with an English bread pudding.
Cooking with a nonna, English ‘granny’, as she is lovingly called was so inspiring. To see one person with so many ethnic ties made me feel like I was experiencing three cultures at once. Her delicate English accent coupled with her use of a Middle Eastern zucchini corer was just amazing.
While we were cooking, Cherie explained how she loves gathering her family for Thanksgiving. She told me Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. “Every immigrant can enjoy this holiday. It’s a celebration, without religious ties or presents, the goal is simply to enjoy food and family. Everyone celebrates it, no one is excluded.” I realized how true this was.
Through our conversation, we got to cooking the most delicious zucchini dish from the middle east, Kousa Mahshi. Savory ground beef with rice all stuffed into a zucchini via an incredible little tool. Yes, I now am a proud owner of a zucchini corer, thanks to Amazon. It was delicious, simple, and healthy. Try this Lebanese stuffed zucchini made by an amazing English woman from Iraq and you will not be sorry. Try saying THAT three times fast!
Kousa Mahshi (Stuffed Zucchini)
6 medium zucchinis, washed and cored
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup basmati rice, rinsed
½ lb ground beef (85/15 blend)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 ¼ teaspoon dried mint flakes, crushed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼ cup tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups warm water
Core zucchini and set aside. (Save middle for another recipe)
In a medium to large pot heat olive oil with onion and cook until brown. In a large bowl, combine cooked onion, beef and rice. Rice should be rinsed three times until water runs clear.
Roll small amounts of mixture in between your fingers to fit into the zucchini core. To ensure you have filled the middle, gently tap on the counter to allow mixture to fall to the other end, allowing you to add more.
Once they are all filled, set aside and make the sauce.
In the same pot, sauté onion with olive oil on low heat, careful not to brown. Add garlic and cook until just softened. Layer tomatoes on top, enough to cover the bottom.
Combine 4 cups warm water with ¼ cup tomato paste. Whisk until tomato paste has melted. Add dried mint and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Pour over the zucchini. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower and cook on medium low heat for 45 minutes on simmer.
Remove zucchini to a serving plate. Place an immersion blender into the pot and blend up cooked tomato mixture. Season to taste and pour over the zucchini.
A variation of this made by Cherie for her family is Kousa Bil-Laban. Instead of tomatoes, the zucchini is cooked and then covered in plain yogurt, crushed garlic and salt.
If you have a Nonna who would be interested in cooking with Anna, please reach out via email: email@example.com