Mother’s Day: The Outcome

Mama & Me - c. A Long Time Ago

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day (Yes, I know you all knew that. I just like stating the obvious. It’s fun.) and I had a heck of a time trying to come up with a recipe to make to commemorate a day that celebrates the inspiration for this blog – my mama.

I know I was stressing myself out, and subsequently my family, trying to come up with an idea. If I am being really honest with myself here, I guess I was so stressed because I hoped cooking the just-right dish would bring me some sort of clarity.  I hoped that all those things that are supposed to align would and I’d get a chance to feel her presence in my life again. Silly, I know.

Aside from my family, not many people knew my mother. I’m not sure I’d call her shy, but she definitely was wary of strangers, I guess.  She had an enormous smile and a laugh ten times bigger than that smile. You couldn’t ignore her presence and she wasn’t even trying to be noticed. She had an annoying habit of bursting  into song whenever a word or a phrase or a moment reminded her of a tune. I inherited this habit, but I keep the song-bursting on the inside. You’re welcome.

She laughed as much as she yelled. She hugged as much as she pinched. She loved as much as she fought. And, she cooked the kind of food that kept me pudgy, but satisfied throughout most of my childhood.

So, maybe now you can see why it was so imperative to me to cook something that spoke to the soul of who she was as my mama and as the individual who nurtured me through food. Hey, we’re Arabs. Food was at the heart of well, our hearts. When I finally settled on making Kousa Mahshi, I had to mentally prepare myself for how long this dish would take to cook. I failed to take into consideration how hard it would be to find the staple ingredient – yellow squash.

I learned a valuable lesson on Saturday. I spent the morning getting a lovely sunburn at the Art Car Parade, and the afternoon scouring the city for squash. I went from one side of town to another and eight grocery stores later, I arrived home empty-handed. I learned how much I take for granted that things will just be there waiting to be purchased when I want or need something. I never took into account which foods are in season. I didn’t take into consideration the myriad of reasons why squash or tomatoes or meat might be in short supply. The experience was humbling. It made me wish I knew how to garden. It made me ashamed to realize that I don’t pay enough attention to where my food comes from and what I eat.  My mama put a lot of effort into making sure the quality of the food we ate was the best she could find, and doing so takes a great deal of time and patience.

Making mahshi turned out to be  a rather relaxing experience overall. (Yes, Dad. I know you would beg to differ.) Once Once I stopped spazzing, I found the carving of the squash and the tediousness of cutting the lamb into tiny little pieces to be kind of calming. It was the first time in ages that I was able to focus solely on the task at hand and tune out my normal, obtrusive inner dialogue.  Mahshi entails carving and cutting and stuffing and boiling and waiting and it’s all worth it. It took us four hours worth of prep work and cooking to get from Point A to Point B and I loved it.

I felt like I accomplished something real and tangible. I completed a task that resulted in something that could be consumed and enjoyed and discussed. I created something that can be recreated at another time, only better and with less anxiety and more precision.  Let’s hope so, at least!

Mother’s Day: The Recipes

Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all my mamas out there!

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I was really struggling to find a dish to make that really represented my mama – or at least the memories I had of her cooking. After flipping through her cookbook over and over again and talking to anyone I could who might have remembered, I got a phone call from my dad.

Kousa Mahshi.

Now, I’d thought about making this dish. I had planned to tackle it at some point, I was just apprehensive because it is so time consuming. But, mahshi seemed to come up more often than any other meal I considered, so it won!

And, instead of trying to fit a million thoughts and images into one post, I’m going to break things up a bit over the course of this week. There is a lot I want to say and I need time to process it all out into words that aren’t all sappy and sentimental. There is a lesson somewhere in all of this; I just have to find it.

Today’s post will include the recipes for the kousa mahshi (Stuffed Squash) and this dessert I used to love when I was a kid. I didn’t have a recipe for it, so I went off of my hazy memory. If anyone, ANYONE has a recipe for this dish, please share. I think we (family/friends) all kind of deduced that this dessert recipe probably came off the back of a Jello pudding box. Gotta love the 70s!

Kousa Mahshi

4-5 lbs of yellow squash (about 15-20 pieces of about medium size)

1 1/2 -2 lbs. of lamb (preferably leg of lamb, but you can use shoulder)

3 1/2 rice

2 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce

Water

salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg to taste ( I think we did 1 tbsp. salt, tsp. pepper, 3/4 tsp. of allspice, tsp. of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg)

Wash the squash and cut off the tips just enough create a hole large enough to core the squash. Save the tips to cook along with the mahshi. Use a vegetable corer and core out the squash until it is a thin, but sturdy shell. Wash and rinse the cored squash in water and salt.

The meat for this dish can be done one of two ways. If you don’t have the time to cut meat, you can use ground lamb or beef that is more coarse (as if using for a chili). If you do have the time, prepare the meat by cleaning the leg of lamb (removing fat, skin, etc.) and cutting into small, pea-sized pieces. This is really time-consuming, but the difference in taste and texture is worth the effort.

Once meat is cut, add it to the rinsed rice and mix. Add spices and a little butter if the meat is really lean – say 1-2 tbsp.

Fill the squash about 3/4 of the way. Don’t pack the mixture down inside the squash and don’t overfill. Lay side by side inside a large pot in stacks. Add the squash tips and the cans of tomato paste. Fill the rest of the pot with water and let it come to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes before reducing heat and cooking on medium for about an hour.

(Make sure to save the the squash pulp to make Lub Kousa – see recipe below)

Lub Kousa

Squash Pulp (from squash you carved)

Onion

Olive Oil

Salt, pepper, lemon

Saute the onions in a couple of tbsp. of olive oil until. Add the washed squash pulp and cook together for another couple of minutes before adding the spices (we added a serrano pepper, whole just for some additional flavor). Mix everything together and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes or so. The squash needs to be really soft – almost like mush. Serve hot or cold as a side with the Mahshi.

Pudding Dessert (because I have no clue what the actual name of this dessert is!)

1 large box of Cook and Serve Chocolate Pudding (should make 3 cups)

2 small boxes of Instant Pistachio Pudding (should make 4 cups)

Tea Biscuits(about 3 packages)

Make the puddings and while you are waiting for the chocolate pudding to cool, roughly crush the tea biscuits and place the crushed biscuits at the bottom of a glass pan. Just enough to coat the bottom and make a crust of sorts.

Add the chocolate pudding and then another thin layer of the crushed biscuits.

Add the pistachio pudding and sprinkle a little bit of the crushed cookie on top and some crushed pistachios for garnish.

Put in the fridge for a couple of hours to set and then serve like cake.

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