Stuffed Eggplants with yogurt sauce (Sheikh al-mehshi be-laban)

In Lebanese cuisine, there is only one sheikh. The  Almighty  Eggplant. After sampling this recipe you will understand why. Truth be told, it deserves  the title.  Whether prepared with tomatoes or yoghurt sauce, it always comes out unbelievably exquisite, melting in your mouth, silken in texture, well, just plain heavenly.

I have to say: Lebanese eggplants are some of the best I have ever tasted. Tiny but extremely flavorful. My brother who lives in Singapore asked about this recipe, as he says they have the small, round eggplants over there. Well, guess what. Here in Dallas, too! I can find these at the Asian markets or at the middle-eastern store, or even at the Hispanic market.

This recipe is done in two different ways: The eggplants are fried in clarified butter or oil, then stuffed with a mixture of ground lamb, onion, pine nuts and spices. Then, they are finished off in a tomato sauce or a cooked yogurt sauce.

I love the version with tomato sauce. I love yoghurt, but find that cooked yoghurt is a bit  tricky to reheat (it tends to curdle, even when it is stabilized) . SO, I decided to cook them in the tomato sauce, but add a bit of cooked   yoghurt as a final touch for the added creaminess. I find this to be the perfect compromise. I think it adds a depth of flavor.

One other option is to add plain, fresh yoghurt to the eggplants. The yoghurt is mixed with a little garlic and mint. This would eliminate the problem of the yoghurt curdling when it is reheated. This version is very common in Lebanon and is called a fatteh.

I consulted half a dozen cookbooks for this recipe and this is my own version.

Here is the schedule of events:

  1. Prepare the stuffing
  2. Prepare the rice
  3. Fry and stuff the eggplants
  4. Cook the eggplants in tomato sauce
  5. Fry the garlic and mint sauce
  6. Cook the yoghurt, incorporate the garlic and mint sauce
  7. Assemble the dish: Rice is scooped on the plate, on top sits the eggplants, covered with yoghurt sauce.


INGREDIENTS: This quantity will yield 6 servings

  • 1 pound of cute, little, eggplants
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb (get it a bit fatty)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • Spices: salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, allspice
  • 1 pound of yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, mashed with a dash of salt
  • 1 tablespoon  of dried mint, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil or clarified butter (for the mint-garlic sauce)
  • 1 cup of oil to fry the eggplants

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METHOD:

  1. Peel the eggplants leaving some areas unpeeled (for effect)
  2. Salt the eggplants and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then rub the salt off.
  3. Heat the olive oil or clarified butter in a skillet and gently saute the eggplants on all sides until they become limp. OR, deep-fry them for 5 minutes till limp.
  4. Place on a dish lined with paper towels.

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Make the stuffing: This step can be done a day ahead or way ahead and frozen.

  1. Heat the oil and fry the onions. Add the meat and fry the meat, breaking lumps apart with two wooden spoons and adding all the spices.
  2. Drain the meat and onion mixture on a sieve over a bowl.
  3. Collect a couple tablespoons of oil and brown the pine nuts for a few minutes.
  4. Add the pine nuts to the meat and onion mixture.

Preparing the eggplants:

  1. Stuff the eggplants with the meat mixture. Slit them through the middle lengthtwise to form a pocket, pushing the flesh with a spoon from both sides. Place the eggplants in a skillet. Place any leftover stuffing in the skillet as well.
  2. Measure one cup of water and mix in the tomato paste and pomegranate molasses.
  3. Add the tomato mixture to the skillet and cover the skillet. You can use a plate to press the eggplants down, then cover half way. Simmer very gently the eggplants for 25 minutes or so until the sauce has almost evaporated and the eggplants are meltingly tender.

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Prepare the yoghurt and mint and garlic sauce:

  1. Heat the olive oil or clarified butter in a small skillet. Add the mashed garlic and chopped mint.
  2. Stir a few seconds till the fragrance comes out, but do not let it burn. Set aside.
  3. Place one pound of yoghurt in a bowl, add to it a beaten egg and 1 tablespoon  of cornstarch diluted in 1/4 cup of water.  Mix well.
  4. Pour this mixture through a sieve into a saucepan and heat it.
  5. With a wooden spoon, stir this mixture continuously in the same direction until you see steam coming out of the saucepan. Lower the heat.
  6. Swirl into the yoghurt the mint and garlic sauce.

Serving the eggplants:

Prepare a dish of plain rice and serve the eggplants with rice, covering them with some yoghurt sauce.

RICE WITH VERMICELLI:

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INGREDIENTS:

  1. 1/2 cup of vermicelli noodles (also called fideos in latin markets)
  2. 3 Tablespoons of butter
  3. 1 1/2 cup of long-grain rice such as Basmati
  4. 4 cups of water, dash of salt

METHOD:

  1. Heat the butter till it sizzles. Add the vermicelli and fry them until they brown, 5 minutes.
  2. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter, one minute.
  3. Add the water to the rice and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil and cover the pan.
  4. Lower the heat and simmer the rice 20 minutes or so until the grains are cooked.


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15 Comments

  1. Posted November 4, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely gorgeous! That dish looks really good!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Posted November 5, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Cette jolie recette aux aubergines me semble vraiment délicieuse. Mais je la dégusterai sans agneau (Je ne mange jamais de viane)
    Merci de ton passage et pour ton compliment.
    Diane-plop – La Table de Pénélope

  3. Dana
    Posted November 5, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joumana,

    I was having a working lunch and couldn’t resist a peak at your blog. Oh, my! This is scrumptious. I bought the cutest little eggplants at the market this past weekend and was thinking of ways to use them.

    I have already made “Ablama” (similar to Sheik il-Mahshi) with the addition of stuffed potatoes, stuffed squash, stuffed green peppers and stuffed architoke hearts. I add to the tomato sauce a couple of diced roma tomatoes and cover the stuffing with the tiny tomatoes. After frying and stuffing the veggies, I put them all with the sauce in a pyrex dish and roast in then over for ~30 min at 400 degrees.

    I am intrigued by the addition of the cooked yoghurt. I have never tried it that way before. I will be cooking it tomorrow and I am sure it will be yummy.

    Thanks as always,
    Dana

  4. Joumana
    Posted November 5, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Dana
    The cooked yoghurt is the same as for the kibbe labniyeh, laban ummo, etc. Personally, I prefer the yoghurt uncooked. It is a lot easier to manage. Just fix it like the ablama, with less tomatoes, until the sauce its almost totally evaporated. Then add a dollop of yoghurt with the garlic and mint aleyyeh, when you are ready to consume!
    That way, the yoghurt will never curdle!
    Take care,
    I am possibly going to the goat farm this Saturday with my daughter and her Iranian friend who loves goats!

  5. Posted November 5, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    It looks so delicious ! I love this dish !

  6. Dana
    Posted November 6, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Joumana. Please do let us know how that visit goes. My son loves goats :) He loves to pull at the poor goat’s hairs and horns. I took him to a petting zoo a couple of weekends ago and that’s all he wanted to do. He is yet to develop an appreciation for the chevre, but I guess I still have time to work on that. He is only eight months old :)

    I have been meaning to tell you about a new market opening in Garland. It is called four seasons market and it is at the shopping center at the end of George Bush Tollway in Garland. I will try to check it out this Saturday but it might be quite a drive from Plano …

    Cheers and Happy Cooking!
    Dana-

  7. Joumana
    Posted November 6, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Oh goodie! I will definitely check it out and keep you posted! You are always full of interesting suggestions! My son too loves animals. I used to take him to Samuels Farm in Mesquite. His friends would have birthday parties there.

  8. Posted November 7, 2009 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    What a mouth-watering eggplant dish that you have just created!
    I am bookmarking this recipe!

  9. Constance
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I just stumbled upon your blog after searching for a recipe for something I had many times years ago at the Lebanese Taverna, in Washington, DC — Fatteh bel betenjan. This is the closest thing I’ve found, and since your recipe looks and sounds delicious, I’m going to make it as soon as possible.
    Incidentally, the recipe from the restaurant in DC was vegetarian, had pomegranate seeds, green onions, clarified butter, a few chickpeas, and deep fried pita chips on top of the eggplant (slices), toasted pine nuts, and fresh mint leaves.
    Thanks for the recipe and for the wonderful blog!

  10. Joumana
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Constance
    Actually there is a whole series of “fatteh” in Lebanese cuisine; they are what you describe and I have not made one for this blog yet! I am planning on it soon! Fatteh is a lot easier than sheikh al-mehche, because the yoghurt is not cooked, so no risk of it curdling, and the other ingredients are cooked or fried separately and assembled at the last minute.

  11. Yasmine
    Posted April 17, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joumana,
    this recipe looks great. What if I can’t find the smaller eggplant? any ideas on how to adapt this recipe to regular eggplant while keeping it gorgeous like yours.
    thanks, yasmine

  12. Yasmine
    Posted April 26, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joumana,
    I wanted to share the success of this recipe with you. We just had it for dinner and everyone loved it in my house. I used grass-fed ground mutton and it was yummy! I also added golden raisins to the stuffing. Thank you so much. Yasmine

  13. Posted March 1, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    Mama mia !!! Quel plat de rêve en direct du royaume des gourmands, quel visuel…terriblement tentant, à dévorer sans modération.

  14. sanhita
    Posted March 28, 2011 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Absolutely gorgeous. this is my first visit to your awesome site. Came to your site via foodgawker.
    Keep it up girl.

  15. Posted March 28, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    that is all I love !!! Lebanese cuisine is so delicate & perfumed : perfect !!!

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  1. […] curries, particularly in lamb vindaloo and chicken curry – In lamb pilaf – In lamb kebabs – In sheikh al mehshi (stuffed eggplant) – In Moroccan roast chicken, stuffed with couscous mixed with whole almonds, […]

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