Eggplants Stuffed with Minced Meat and Pine Nuts (Sheikh el-Mehshi)
Once again we are reminded of the interconnected history of the Mediterranean, you can find multiple variations of this eggplant and minced meat dish throughout; same ingredients, different presentation, and varying spices. Food is an expression of the people, people make and maintain culture and are influenced greatly by what they live; food is a capsule that moves through generations and speaks indirectly of times gone by.
12 small, thin eggplants, each about 4 inches long with stalks on (about 1-1/2 lb), or 3 large ones (about 1/2 lb each)
1 lb minced meat
2 handfuls pine nuts
1-3/4 lb ripe tomatoes or same amount of peeled whole canned Italian tomatoes
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp finely ground black pepper
vegetable oil for frying stuffing
salt to taste
- Peel and coarsely chop the tomatoes whether fresh or canned
- Cut the stalks of the eggplants to an approximate length of 1/2 inch and trim away the husks that cap the skin. Peel off a strip of skin, 1/2 inch wide, the full length of the eggplant, leave 1/2 inch of skin unpeeled, and peel another as above; continue until you end up with a striped eggplant. Repeat the process with the rest of the eggplants.
1. Fill a large frying pan with enough oil to shallow fry the eggplants and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot (test with the tip of one eggplant; if the oil bubbles around it, it is ready), fry the eggplants until golden all over.
2. Remove with a slotted spoon (do not lift by the stalk as it might come off) and put to drain on several sheets of paper towels. You can also steam, bake or microwave the eggplants, but their taste and color will be quite different.
3. While the eggplants are left to cool, prepare the meat and pine nut stuffing.
4. Heat a thin layer of oil in a pan, once hot enough add the meat, saute until the moisture evaporates, and the meat beign to brown. Add the pine nuts. Take out when the pine ntus have acquired a golden colour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
5. Take the eggplant and, with a small knife, slit it down the middle (the peeled section will cut more easily), lengthways, and no more than half way into the flesh. Prise the eggplant open and press the flesh inside to form pocket in which you will put a tablespoon of meat stuffing. Place in a deep bake-and-serve dish and repeat the process until you have filled all the eggplants.
Place any leftover filling on the bottom of the dish between the eggplants.
6. Season the chopped tomatoes with cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste and spread evenly over the eggplants.
7. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes or until the tomatoes have cooked and most of their juice evaporated.
8. Serve hot with plain rice.
*If you have not baked the eggplants in a bake-and-serve dish, be careful when you transfer them onto a serving dish, as their lovely presentation will easily spoil with casual handling.
*You can also cook this dish in a covered braising pan over a medium heat for 30 minutes or until the tomato sauce has reduced.
*If you are using large eggplants:
Do not worry so much about the presentation of the eggplants as they are not used whole.
1. Peel the eggplants and slice them lengthways or across to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Arrange the slices in salted layers in a colander and leave to sweat for about 30 minutes.
2. Then use the same procedure as with the small ones.