For lack of a better name, I call these “bottle squash”. Their name in Arabic is “kareh-ah”, where the last syllable is pronounced as if you just received a gentle blow to the stomach. They are a summer vegetable that is commonly found in Arab produce markets here. Until I started spending time in the Nazareth kitchen of Balkees, my friend and culinary guide, I was clueless about them.
Kareh-ah’s container-like shape makes them perfect for stuffing, which is how I generally have eaten them at Balkees’ house – filled with a mixture of rice and chopped meat. After they are cooked, you cut them open in your bowl and pour some of the tomato sauce in which they were cooked over the filling.
Yesterday Balkees offered me some of the “baal” bottle squash she’d brought from Um Salekh’s field (see last few blog entries for more about “baal ” vegetables). I declined, explaining that I didn’t want to do the whole stuffing thing. But there is more than one way to cook a bottle squash, and she promised to teach me, sending me home with two big specimens in a bag with a few tomatoes for good measure.
First I was to peel them and cut then lengthwise in quarters. Then I should cut away the seeds before chopping the squash into bite-sized pieces. I was expecting the interior with the seeds to be woody and inedible but when I took a tentative taste, surprise surprise, it was delicate and lemony – like a soft and delicious cucumber.
I had chopped and sautéed some onion in olive oil for a few minutes, then added the squash. According to Balkees’ instructions, it was supposed to cook until all the liquid evaporated, but no liquid was coming out so I hoped I was doing things right. Then I had to peel the tomatoes – yes, no shortcuts – before chopping them into pieces, saving all that flavorful juice. When the squash was soft, I added the tomatoes and juice and cooked it all for another few minutes. A perfect summer dish – soft and soothing, yet intense with summer flavors.
So now, if you run across those lovely, pale bottle squashes, you know an easy way to cook them. And if you can pronounce them in Arabic, more power to you.