Egyptians have a fine talent of elevating seemingly ho-hum vegetables by incorporating them into truly decadent (and by extension, not-so-healthy) dishes.
Case in point, the infamous Kousa Bechamel. First of all, if you’re wondering what on earth Kousa is, it is a member of the squash family native to the Middle Eastern region. Many recipes erroneously translate it as “zucchini”, understandably so as it does bear some resemblance in taste and texture – but the accurate term is actually baby marrow.
Yes, it is I, resident vegetable geek at your humble service.
In any case – back to the topic at hand.
Also referred to as Kousa bil bechamel (baby marrow with bechamel) is a traditional Egyptian casserole made up of four main components – the kousa, ground beef, a thick bechamel sauce and often some grated mozzarella cheese. Sounds odd, especially if you’ve never had it – but think of it as pasta-free Mediterranean lasagne of sorts.
Truth be told, kousa bechamel was never one of my favourites, pregan. Partly because I was far more partial to Macaroni Bechamel, but mostly because my penchant for kousa hadn’t quite yet developed. Thankfully, it has since become one of my fave veggies and I figured a vegan version of this Egyptian classic would be pretty fantastic.
Spoiler alert: I was right.
- 5 medium-sized baby marrows, sliced into 1 cm thick slices
- 2 cups vegan mince OR re-hydrated textured vegetable protein OR cooked brown lentils
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 2-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 can of chopped tomatoes
- ½ cup water
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2.5 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk
- 2.5 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp frying oil
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Vegan mozzarella cheese (optional)
- Pre-heat your oven to 180°C/350°F
- Start by preparing the vegan mince filling. In a medium-sized frying pan, add 1 tbsp of the cooking oil on medium heat, then sauté the diced onion for 3 minutes or so until fragrant.
- Crumble in the mince and stir-fry before adding in the garlic, chopped tomatoes tomato paste and water. Stir everything to combine well, season with salt and pepper then leave to simmer on a medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes until the mixture reduces - you don't want it to be too watery.
- In a shallow wok or frying pan, sauté the marrow slices stirring frequently until browned (for about 8 minutes).
- Now for the bechamel - whisk together the flour, soy milk and season with sea salt and black pepper then add to a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir frequently until thickened, scraping down the edges with a rubber spatula as needed.
- In an 8-inch casserole dish, layer the mince mixture, followed by the marrow slices and finally the bechamel on top.
- Bake for 25 minutes along with an extra 3-5 minutes on the broiler to brown as necessary - if you're using cheese add it on top during the last 5 mins of cooking.
If you can tolerate it, I recommend soy milk as it historically has worked the best for me in bechamel dishes
Lightly grilled slices of baby marrow, a rich tomato and “meaty” filling, topped off with a creamy, savoury bechamel sauce. Weird in principle, but really, what’s not to love?
And since this is a vegan version of the dish, it is infinitely healthier than its dairy, butter and meat-laden counterpart. I’m calling it a guilt-free comfort food win.
It must be mentioned that the vegan mince substitute is really a “nice to have” rather than an essential for this recipe. Cooked brown lentils or lightly mashed black beans are apt stand-ins, especially if you prefer to adopt a more whole foods plant-based approach in cooking.
Until next time, dear readers!