Middle eastern people love stuffing vegetables with a tantalizing combination of rice and meat with herbs like parsley and mint. They stuff everything from zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes and even carrots. However one vegetable “vessel” underutilized in the Arab world is the butternut squash, because it is not indigenous to the Middle East. Rather this vegetable originated in Central and South America, then moved up to the United States. Butternut squash has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of pumpkin, with tan-yellow skin and a deep orange fleshy pulp. The sweet and rich tasting vegetable is also a great source of fiber, magnesium and potassium along with a good dose of vitamins C and A. As an Arab American myself, I saw an opportunity to combine one of my favorite American vegetables with a Middle Eastern filling using maftoul, or Palestinian couscous. However, unlike the typical meat-laden dishes, this one has a vegan twist.
Couscous makes a great vegan or vegetarian filling as it cooks quickly, absorbs additional dressings or sauces, and tastes great with any addition of herbs, vegetables, fruits nuts, or legumes. While I use the traditional Palestinian hand rolled maftoul using wheat, you can substitute any grain for this dish, like bulgur wheat or even quinoa for a gluten free option. You can also use spinach instead of swiss chard, or golden raisins instead of cranberries. If you want to try the authentic hand rolled Palestinian maftoul, you can even buy it online these days. Here is just one example if you click on this LINK.
Below is the video outlying the technique and directions for this vegan recipe, followed by the ingredient measurements.
- Butternut Squash Stuffed with Middle Eastern Couscous
2 butternut squash
- Olive oil for brushing on squash
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup couscous or maftoul)
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Large bunch swiss chard, chopped
- Dash Cumin
- Onion salt
- 1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
- ⅓ cup chickpeas
- ¼ cup cranberries
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp orange juice
Feast in the Middle East in the News!
And I also have exciting news, Feast in the Middle East has been featured in international media twice in one month! First paying a visit to BBC World News, and below I share a video detailing what happened:
Shortly after I got to do a food demonstration with the popular Filipino show called Adobo Nation on the TFC channel! The TFC Channel, or the biggest international Filipino channel asked me to do a food demonstration with them, where we could talk about the similarities between our cultures. I love this concept so much, because I have always felt that food brings people of all backgrounds together.
I was amazed at how much Filipinos and Arabs had in common! For one, they take their rice very seriously. They also value their families and show their hospitality and love through copious amounts of handmade dishes. And as bonus material for you, here is the clip of our cross cultural culinary exchange here: