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Kousa Mahshi

Translating as "stuffed squash" in multiple languages, kousa mahshi is a kind of dolma from the region the Ottoman Empire once covered. It is traditionally stuffed with rice and meat and stewed in onion and tomato with a rich array of spices, so for my vegan version, I followed as true as I could to tradition. It is a wonderfully flavoursome, hearty dish that I served with a squeeze of lemon and some peppery lambs lettuce to offset the sweet tomato.

Serves two

Takes 50 minutes (40 cook, 15 prep)

1 large summer squash

1/2 a red onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 handful of cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp of olive oil

1/2 a tsp of cinnamon

1/2 tsp of grated nutmeg

2 cardamon pods

1 cumin

1 coriander

6 cloves

1 tsp of tomato puree

1 cup (130ml) of boiling water

To serve:

1 small handful of lambs lettuce

1/2 a lemon

Cut the summer squash in half and, using either an apple corer, a Lancashire peeler or just a butter knife (which is what I use) carefully hollow out the squash until it’s shell is about 0.5cm thick.

Do this slowly so as to not go through the skin, and with the deepest point of the marrow, wrap your hand around it and carefully hollow away; you should be able to feel how close your utensil is to the skin. Do this with great care so as not to cut yourself.

Finely chop the cherry tomatoes, the red onion and garlic.

Add all the spices to a pestle and mortar and grind them down.

In a small cast iron pan with a lid (check first to see if both halves of the squash fit in with the lid on) add the flesh from the squash, the chopped tomatoes, onion and garlic, the the olive oil and the ground spices with salt and pepper and stew for 15 minutes on a medium to low heat, stirring regularly.

Turn the heat down and, using a teaspoon, stuff the hollow squash with the stewed vegetables until they are totally full. Be careful not to burn yourself. Set the stuffed squash aside, leaning up at an angle so they do not spill their contents.

Add the boiling water and tomato puree to the remaining stewed vegetables in the pan, turn the heat down to low and let the pot simmer for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Carefully add the stuffed squash to the sauce and cook with the lid on for 10 minutes.

Turn the heat down slightly and rotate the stuffed squash so their previously submerged halves are now on top. Allow to stew for a further 10 minutes with the lid off.

Serve with some sprigs of peppery lambs lettuce and a squeeze of lemon to complement.

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