Kusa with Béchamel

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Everyone has their own comfort food. For a lot of my friends, it’s mac and cheese. I, on the other hand, did not grow up with mac and cheese. In fact, mac and cheese has never graced this household with its presence. My comfort food is either lasagna or kusa with béchamel. Kusa with béchamel is just a fancy name for zucchini smothered in delicious, thick sauce. It was a classic Egyptian dish that my grandmother always made. I never made it until now because the béchamel always scared me off, but it’s actually quite easy! Now I’ve mastered the scary part, the rest is incredibly easy. I love making this in single serving, terra-cotta dishes. That way, I can keep them in the fridge and pull one out in case of emergency. The fact that kusa with béchamel is just vegetables and healthy (I think) sauce makes it a good option for shoveling into your mouth in times stress.

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Kusa with Béchamel

  • 3 pounds kusa (also called calabacita squash)
  • 2-3 cups béchamel
  • 1/4 cup of grated parmesan
  • a few pats of butter

For the béchamel:

  • 6 tablespoons butter (for a healthier option, use 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons canola oil)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2- 2 1/2 cups milk (whole or 2%)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/4- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Notes: Kusa can be substituted with zucchini. This dish can be made ahead and refrigerated, just heat in the oven according to the recipe. For a healthier option, use 2% milk, a butter and oil mixture, and white whole wheat flour.

Peel the kusa (this is optional) and remove the ends. Slice the kusa into 1/4 inch, oblong slices rather than regular rounds. Steam the kusa until al dente, making sure it doesn’t get too mushy.

Heat the milk in the microwave, so it’s not cold. Make the béchamel by heating the butter (or butter and oil mix), and then adding the flour. Stir it quickly; it will clump, but that’s ok. Continue to stir for at least 5 minutes to cook the flour. It should be slightly golden at this point. Whisk in a little milk, and mix until it’s smooth. Use 2 cups of milk total for a thick béchamel, but add in the remaining 1/2 cup for a more liquid sauce. Continue to whisk, making sure the béchamel is smooth. Add in the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Take off the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Begin layering in béchamel and kusa- the final layer should be béchamel. Sprinkle with grated parmesan. Place the butter on top and put the casserole in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until it bubbles and the top browns.

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