One of the classical Lebanese recipes is Kousa Bil Laban, which means “zucchini in yogurt” in English. This delicious Lebanese recipe is considered a variation of the traditional Mahshi or stuffed vegetables. But it’s even better since it is served in a delicious garlicky laban sauce.
Lebanese stuffed zucchini with yogurt sauce is a very healthy dish because it is prepared with laban (cow or goat yogurt), which does not contain many calories. The stuffing inside the zucchini is made with rice, ground beef, and Lebanese seven-spice seasoning. Then the stuffed zucchini are actually slow-cooked in the yogurt sauce, so they’re infused with flavor.
When I was young, I adored cooked yogurt-based dishes. Kousa Bil Laban was one of my favorite recipes. It was a happy comfort food dish, enjoyed with family.
Finding the best zucchini is key in this Middle Eastern recipe. Try to get your hands on small Lebanese zucchini (or grey squash) that are no longer than 5 inches. These zucchini are perfect for making stuffed zucchini in yogurt. They taste fantastic and maintain their shape while cooking.
Another tip to be used in this recipe is to hollow the zucchini. Try to core the center, leaving about ½ inch around the internal wall, and perhaps more if you can do it without poking a hole in the zucchini. This is similar to carving a pumpkin. Despite being simple, it is a skill that requires some effort to master. If you find it hard, you can find cored zucchini wrapped neatly in packages and ready to be stuffed.
Here are some easy variations to make this kousa bil laban recipe work for you:
Some Lebanese families add toasted pine nuts to the recipe. If you’d like to do so, add them to the stuffing or the yogurt sauce, or sprinkle them over the dish at the end.
Use a different short-grain rice if you can’t get your hands on Egyptian rice, like arborio rice.
Substitute the ground beef for a different type of ground meat, like ground lamb or turkey.
Use any type of plain yogurt.
Add ¼ cup of chopped fresh herbs to the zucchini filling, like parsley, coriander, dill weed, or mint.
Do you have to peel zucchini before cooking?
No, there’s no need to peel zucchini before cooking.
What can you use to core the zucchini?
We have a specialized tool we use in Lebanon. But you can use an apple corer or any type of small vegetable corer.
What if my yogurt sauce is too thick/thin?
If it’s too thick, add a tablespoon of water at a time. If it’s too thin, add an extra tablespoon of cornstarch at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency.
What is Lebanese 7-spice seasoning made of?
Lebanese seven-spice seasoning is a combination of ground allspice, black pepper, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground cumin, ground coriander, and white pepper. You can make your own using any of these dried spices.
How do you make vegetarian kousa bil laban?
You can use the plant-based ground meat alternative of your choice. Alternatively, swap the meat for canned jackfruit in brine, which has been drained and chopped. Another option is half a pound of sliced mushrooms.
For vegan stuffed zucchini, you’ll also want to use your preferred dairy-free plain yogurt brand for the yogurt sauce. The remaining ingredients are vegan-friendly (and gluten-free).
Can you make kousa bil laban ahead of time?
If you want to cut down on the prep time, what I’d do is hollow, stuff, and boil the zucchinis up to two days in advance. Store them wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container in the fridge. Then I’d prepare the yogurt sauce just before you’re ready to serve.
What do you do with the leftover zucchini cores?
Here are some zucchini recipes you can make with the leftover zucchini cores:
Pasta (with zucchini, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, and ricotta)
How do you store leftover kousa bil laban?
You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. You can serve them cold or gently reheat them in the microwave or on the stovetop on low heat. If the yogurt sauce is too thick, add a dash of water.
Can I freeze stuffed zucchini?
I don’t recommend freezing the stuffed zucchini in yogurt sauce. Once thawed, I find the zucchini become quite mushy.
Kousa Bil Laban (Lebanese Stuffed Zucchini With Yogurt Sauce)
5poundsZucchini, washed, dried, stemmed, and cored
3clovesGarlic, peeled and crushed
In a bowl, rinse the rice with cold water and mix it with your hands to remove the excess starch as you can. Leave the rice in the water for 10 minutes, then drain it.
To make the filling, in another bowl, mix very well the rice, meat, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt, and seven-spice seasoning.
With your finger, stuff each zucchini with the meat-rice filling, leaving about ½ inch of space at the top. It is important not to overstuff the zucchini because the rice expands as it cooks.
In a large pot, arrange the stuffed zucchini. Add water until it almost covers the zucchini, then bring the water to a boil. Cover the pot and let the zucchini cook over medium heat for about 25 minutes. Drain the zucchini, reserving half of the broth in the pan.
In a large pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and cook the garlic over medium heat until it’s golden. Turn off the heat, and let the garlic cool.
In the same pot, over medium heat add the yogurt, whisking it very well with the garlic. Add the cornstarch and water, and keep whisking the mixture in one direction. This step is critical to prevent the yogurt sauce from curdling and will help the mixture thicken.
Once the mixture starts boiling, gently add the zucchini, one at a time, then the reserved broth, and mint. Gently stir them in, and let the mixture cook for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and leave it for 15 minutes.
Serve the zucchini and sauce warm or at room temperature.
Farah is a Lebanese recipe developer who was born in Kuwait and moved to Lebanon to continue her studies in Beirut when she was 17 years old. She has a background in sales and marketing. Farah discovered cooking when she started taking care of her little brother and sister when her mom was travelling away. She fell in love with Lebanese cuisine and its complexity of culture. Farah cooks with passion and love. All of her friends can’t wait to be invited for lunch or dinner to her house just to taste her meals! She enjoys travelling and trying traditional street food. Having a great time with the people you care about and enjoying a tasty meal is what she calls a good life.