Vegetarian Stuffed Kousa

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Vegetarian stuffed koosa is based on the classic Lebanese dish of hollowed-out, stuffed summer squash poached in tomato. Kousa is a lighter green version of zucchini.

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I’ve never been much of a fan of trying to disguise one food to taste like another.

I mean, if you’re eating frog legs, you’re eating frog legs. Not chicken.

Same goes for the vegetarian and vegan attempts to feign meat. I do understand it, in that when I ate vegetarian for a time, I craved meat and so meat-like foods were of interest. But as a meat-eater, the meat-like seems so . . . not meat-like.

Therefore, I come from a place of not trying to make my vegetarian stuffed kousa into a wanna-be traditional meat/rice-stuffed kousa.

And yet, you wouldn’t miss the meat. Because this version tastes so very similar to the meat version!

Does the vegetarian filling look like meat? No. So that’s promising, in the way of not trying to be meat-like.

But you get all of these savory, deeply flavorful filling ingredients together, using both green and sweet onion, tomato, parsley, mint, rice, salt, pepper, cinnamon . . . then stuff the hollowed out koosa squash . . . then poach in tomato sauce seasoned with garlic cloves and onion and salt and pepper . . .

Vegetarian Koosa rice and other ingredients in a bowl

Shazam! We’re eating vegetarian stuffed kousa and we changed the filling and it still tastes so VERY MUCH LIKE, you guessed it: our traditional Lebanese Stuffed kousa squash with meat and rice! And by that I mean that the flavor is mouthwateringly delectable. There is good reason why koosa is the darling of the Lebanese table in summer, and why everyone goes a little kooky when they hear koosa is a-coming. The long-simmered garlicky tomato broth gets richer by the minute, and the koosa itself becomes infused, and meltingly soft.

You may find it to be true, just as we do around here, that gathered around the table at any given time is an array of eaters. We have our vegetarians, our vegans, our gluten-free folk, and our boring/not borning I’ll-eat-anything-you-put-in-front-of-me eaters. Oh, and the I’m-not-hungry eaters (they tend to be itty bitty peoples).

Vegetarian stuffed koosa in a pot

But make a meal that centers on koosa with vegetarian filling, that plate full of goodness, and the meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free folk, the not-hungry, all of them: we’re eating well with this koosa, very well my friends. To the meat-eaters, they won’t miss that there’s no meat for them on the plate. To the rest of the crew, they will thank you that they get to eat koosa without a thought to whether it’s right for them.

Peg looked sideways at me the first time I told her we were having vegetarian koosa. What’s it taste like? she asked before agreeing to eat it. I told her she could be the judge of that. She took just one on her plate, and it was a single bite that sealed the deal.

Oh! She said. It tastes like koosa!

More Kousa Recipes to Try

Here’s step-by-step instructions on How to core kousa.

Lebanese Stuffed Kousa Squash is the traditional beef or lamb and rice filled dish.

Make it a Lebanese Koosa Soup with Meatballs and skip the coring and stuffing altogether!

Save those cores and make a quick Koosa Core Saute

Read a story! Are you a koosa?

Stuffed squash with tomato sauce in a blue bowl
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5 from 4 votes

Vegetarian Stuffed Koosa

Learn more about how to make this dish in my video, here! Lebanese koosa is a light green version of zucchini, or summer squash. Hollow the koosa out using a koosa corer (or, if you don’t have the Lebanese tool, a zucchini corer will work). The recipe is very easily halved or doubled. This recipe is vegetarian, vegan (leave off the labneh), gluten-free, and tastes just as wonderful as a meat-lover’s koosa!
Servings: 6


For the koosa:

  • 12 Lebanese koosa, about 5-8 inches in length
  • 3/4 cup medium grain rice (substitute long grain)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • 1 medium vidalia or other sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Several grinds Black pepper
  • 1 teaspon kosher salt

For the tomato broth:

  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
  • 1 large yellow onion, quartered
  • 1 48 oz. container tomato juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Several grinds black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
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  • First, trim the koosa. Cut the stem end of the koosa low enough to remove any bend in the koosa and to create a flat top. Slice the very tip of the round end off as well.
  • Hollow out the koosa using a Lebanese koosa corer or zucchini corer, leaving about 1/4-inch perimeter inside the koosa (it’s quite hollow; be careful not to make the interior too thick). Don’t worry if you poke through a koosa, it can still be used! Discard the cores or save for another use (the Lebanese like to drain the cores and cook them with eggs, ijjeh).
  • In a medium bowl, rinse the rice and pour off the water. Stir in the tomato, scallions, onion, parsley, and mint. Season with cinnamon, salt, and pepper and stir well.
  • Fill the koosa with the rice mixture, spooning it into the hollowed squash and gently pushing the filling into the cavity. Be sure to leave at least 1/4-inch headroom with no filling at the top of the koosa, otherwise once the rice cooks and expands it will fall out of the koosa.
  • Place the stuffed koosa in a large pot, leaning the koosa against one another on an angle. Tuck in the garlic cloves and onion slices. Pour the tomato juice over all, then fill the container with some water and pour that over almost to cover the koosa. Season the broth with salt and pepper.
  • Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to medium low and simmer for about one hour, or until the koosa is tender.
  • Transfer the koosa to a serving dish and reduce the sauce a bit to thicken it. You can add tomato paste as well (loosen it with the sauce before adding to the pot). Increase the heat to bring the sauce to a boil, and boil for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and gains some body. Take care not to scorch the bottom of the pan or to over-reduce the tomato sauce here. Unlike pasta sauce, In the end this sauce is still quite liquid, which is what we want.
  • Ladle the tomato sauce over the koosa. To serve the koosa, cut the top side open lengthwise and spoon the sauce over. A dollop of labneh is delicious served on top!


Serving Suggestion

Serve the kousa by splitting the squash and spooning some of the tomato sauce over it. Labneh or Greek yogurt makes the perfect condiment to kousa!


Calories: 210kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 0.4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Sodium: 496mg | Potassium: 2075mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 2547IU | Vitamin C: 149mg | Calcium: 127mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Maureen Abood
Servings: 6
Calories: 210
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  1. Norma Tomey says:

    Also stuff the kousa with chick peas. Use all the ingredients suggested, I do this for stuffed grapeleaf. Delicious. Haven’t missed the meat yet!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Excellent Norma, thank you!

  2. Carrie says:

    I used to be invited to eat at my Lebanese friends house often and her mom and sisters would be make the most delicious foods. I was reminded of kousa recently but I’m not eating meat right now so I’m so glad to find your recipe. I’ve never made this before but I’m going to try it. Looking forward to a vegetarian version of this delicious dish!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Thank you Carrie! This veg version is SO so good. We love it and with all of the tomato broth flavors it tastes like the meat version. Keep us posted on how it goes!

  3. Joy J. says:

    my whole family was skeptical about vegetarian kousa but I offered the idea because were fasting for lent…. AND OH MY GOSH I PREFER THIS OVER BEEF KOUSA. ITS ABSOLUTELY DELISH AND SO SO FLAVORFUL ZACKKKKY!! i replaced the parsley with cilantro and oh my goodness no regrets 😛

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      It’s crazy to me too how incredibly good this version is, as good or as you say BETTER than meat!! Your cilantro swap sounds wonderful, I will try that. Thank you Joy!

  4. Anita M says:

    If you don’t use the tomato sauce would you cook the koosa in the lebneh? And would you add mint to the lebneh?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      DELICIOUS in labneh, absolutely. Use my kousa in labneh recipe substituting the vegetarian filling here.

  5. Pat says:

    Hi Maureen,
    Will you be carrying the Lebanese koosa
    seeds again or know where I could purchase them?
    Thank you.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      We hope to next spring! We weren’t able to get them this year!

  6. Pat says:

    Hi Maureen,
    Will you be carrying the Lebanese koosea seeds again or know where I could purchase them?
    Thank you.

  7. Danna says:

    Hi. Is it possible to substitute whole grain rice?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      This ought to work fine, though I have not tested brown rice. The koosa will need to cook longer and perhaps with more liquid added. Let us know if you try it!

  8. Marcia O'Dea says:

    Dear Maureen I make vegetarian grapeleaves for my son , never thought of applying it to Koosa. Thank you for the idea and always being creative!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Thank you Marcie! Delicious.

  9. Philip Ganem says:

    Maureen, as the son of a Lebanese father and mother migrant allow me to add this.
    My operated “
    The “Sheik Restaurant” in Detroit from 1947 to 19??.I have traveled to Lebanon several times. The reason I tell you this is our food is regional. Kibble in Ajeltoun is different in Bollunie. So for anyone to say a given recipe is
    “Wrong”, is questionable. What I wonder about is why does Zahle get all the good press. continue the good work, at 89 I can now only dream about the greatest food on earth. Several Lebanese restaurants in Naples are too cosmopolitan for me. Also, I do believe recipes evolve over the time my father arrived to thebaU.S. In 1921.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Philip, it’s an honor to have. you here. I wish I could deliver a Lebanese feast to you! Your family restaurant was special to so many, including the Aboods. I appreciate your sense that there is no “wrong” way, and that recipes do evolve over time. Warmest regards to you from here.

  10. Barbara says:

    I seem to recall that my elders put a plate on top of the koosa as it cooked. Maybe I’m thinking of when they made stuffed grape leaves. I believe the purpose was to use the weight of the plate to help keep the koosa in place. Have you seen/used this method?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Barbara, that’s interesting. We use a plate over the grape leaves but not the koosa. My sense for this is that the plate helps hold down the grape leaves to prevent them from opening up.

  11. Mary Shukrallah says:

    I was born and raised in Lebanon and came to the States at 30 years of age, and I have to say that this is not an authentic lebanese vegetarian kousa. We use tomato paste and not juice for the sauce and we use olive oil and lemon juice in the filling. Almost all the lebanese recipes i read online are not authentic. They try to adapt to the western taste and lose the authenticity of the true Lebanese traditional taste.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Mary–nice to hear about your authentic Lebanese experience with vegetarian koosa in Lebanon, thank you! This and many of my recipes are based on my own experiences, tastes, and explorations. I love that there is room for all kinds of variations to cook and share!

  12. Marilyn says:

    This sounds delicious! Where can I find Lebanese koosa?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Lebanese koosa is also known as gray squash, tatume, and Korean squash at various markets. In the Lansing, Michigan area we always have Lebanese koosa available at Horrock’s Farm Market. I know koosa can be hard to find; you can easily sub green and yellow zucchini. Or, grow your own! I have seeds for sale at…

  13. bent el deera says:

    wow that’s look delicious
    I usually add the core to the sauce to thicken the sauce but I love the idea of mixing it with egg

  14. Aunt Anne says:

    I have tried making koosa without meat, and it turns out fine and the tummy feels so much lighter afterwards.
    More and more we are eating meatless, but I know what you mean: you do start to long for a loaded cheeseburger now and then. Recently I made vegetarian chili adding corn and peas and flavoring with the usual chili peppers; a bit of cumin; ground cloves and a touch of cinnamon and even a beer; served with condiments of chopped onion; sour cream mixed with lubani; and chopped cheddar cheese. The sides helped, but not much. To sooth those who were seen hopelessly digging around for the lost meat, I had fresh spinach pies on hand. There are some meals that just don’t seem to satisfy sans meat. Not even if followed by a dessert of Christmas cookies and baklava.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Oh I love this Aunt Anne! I’d love a bowl of your chili, plate of cookies and baklawa…….much love to you all as we enter 2019….

  15. Bean Laura says:

    This looks delicious! Even though I eat meat, I do get tired of it at times and want something lighter. Thanks!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      For sure, me too–hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

  16. lAnton says:

    Yum & agree. Love your take on lots of write ups on our shared heritage of dishes !
    Yep, why do veg dies have to try to fool people they’re meatkess…sough a waist !
    Whatever I ne makes…
    Just make it tasty (naturally pleasant enough to also look a . [the presentation =added ingrediance for food !
    The Maurer Abood ♡~
    ;~ )

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Thank you!

  17. Peter says:

    I certainly agree with you about faux meat dishes. Much better to just eat lovely veggie dishes. Could you just use zucchini, or courgettes as we call them in Europe, as I have never seen the lebanese koosa here, ever!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Absolutely, zucchini works just as well, both dark green and yellow. Delicious!