Sheikh El Mahshi translates to "king of stuffed dishes" because its THAT good! Eggplant and onions stuffed in spiced beef and slow cooked in a tomato broth, served with rice. And although this dish may look complicated, its deceptively easy and one that you will proudly serve your guests.
What is Sheikh El Mahshi?
So the thing about Arabs is that we love to stuff vegetables. Name a vegetable, we probably stuff it. There are many variations of stuffed vegetables, some that include rice in the stuffing, which makes them a stand-alone dish, like dolma and these vegetarian stuffed peppers. And some, like Sheikh El Mahshi, that are only stuffed with meat.
Now the reason this dish is called the "king" of stuffed dishes is because it features eggplant and it is stuffed with only meat, making it a more "fancy" meal. Back in the day, being able to serve a lot of meat was a sign of wealth.
Coring the eggplant is the trickiest part, but I'll walk you through it. And if you're looking for a much easier version that features only onions, check out this stuffed onions recipe.
Ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe
A few notes on the ingredients:
- Use lean ground beef for best results, but extra lean works too (just add a bit more oil)
- For the allspice, its not a spice mix but rather the actual ground up allspice berry (you should be able to find it at any grocery store)
- For the eggplants, its best to use Italian eggplant which is slender and slightly shorter than the large eggplant; you would need to only cut it in half. But the large one works too.
- For the onions to stuff, look for narrow and long onions as opposed to fatter round ones. It makes it much easier to peel the layers apart
How to make this recipe
Start by making the meat stuffing. Its really quick, and while it cooks, you can core the vegetables.
Finely chop the onions, then soften them in oil. Add the ground beef, break it up really well and brown it until cooked through. Add all of the spices and mix, then taste and adjust for salt. Set it aside to cool
Next, its time to core the eggplant and onions. For the onions, cut off the edges using a very small and shallow cut - you want to keep the onion intact. Peel the onion, then dig around the end where the root was and carve it out slightly (this helps separate the layers).
Make a long cut lengthwise all the way to the centre - do not cut past the centre. Then microwave the onions for 1 minute to soften the layers slightly. Wait for it to cool, then use your fingers to carefully dislodge the layers and pop them out. Be gentle!
Next, peel the eggplant in a zebra pattern, every other stripe. This is not pictured below (I forgot to do it) but you can see an example in the next photo. Peeling it like this will help make it easy to cut and eat later.
Cut the eggplant into three pieces (or two if using a smaller eggplant) and core it using a sharp pairing knife. Then shallow fry the cored eggplant pieces in a few tablespoons of vegetable for 3-4 minutes on each side, just lightly to add extra flavour. This is also not pictured (yes - I forgot this too!) but I highly recommend you don't skip it - it adds so much flavour and its quick.
Now that you have cored onions and eggplant, you are ready to stuff them. Line your pot with the insides of the eggplant and add a drizzle of olive oil.
Stuff the eggplant first and line up the pieces so they form one full eggplant, which helps to keep the filling inside. Nestle in the stuffed onions and be sure to leave enough space to fold over the edges. Pack everything into the pot tightly, which will help keep the filling inside.
Next, mix together the water, tomato sauce, pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper to make the tomato broth. Place a plate on top of the pot, then slowly pour the water in.
Cover the pot and bring to a boil on high heat. Once boiling, decrease the heat to medium and cook for roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes until onions are really soft. Taste and adjust the broth for salt. Its meant to have a runny sauce / broth to serve over rice.
Other Variations of Sheikh El Mahshi
This method for sheikh el mahshi is the Iraqi method that I was taught by my mom. It uses fully cored and lightly fried eggplant, with onions, and cooks on the stovetop. It is by far the best recipe I've ever had! There are other regional variations of this dish that only use eggplant, and that don't require coring.
I have seen lots of recipes that require using small eggplants, frying or roasting them whole, then once softened, cutting them in half to make a "pocket" where the meat stuffing goes. It is then covered with tomato sauce and baked.
But... the onions are amazing. I am obsessed with stuffed onions, because after cooking, they become so soft and sweet. Nothing like it. So basically I am telling you to make this version.
How to serve Sheikh El Mahshi
When the sheikh el mahshi is ready to be served, gently spoon each of the vegetables onto a platter that has deep sides, and then spoon over the broth. Be careful as they will be fragile, I usually use two spoons to do this. Also, its totally normal to have some of the meat spill out during cooking - don't sweat it! You can scoop it around the dish.
White basmati rice is the best side to this dish. You spoon some rice on your plate, spoon over an eggplant and an onion, break it open to reveal the juicy meat inside, and spoon over that delicious broth that now has such deep flavours.
This dish is considered a fancy meal, so its always on the menu when inviting guests over for dinner. Imagine the moment you place this platter down in front of your guests!
Other recipes you will love
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Sheikh El Mahshi
For the stuffing
- 2 cups onion roughly 3 small onions
- 1 kg ground beef
- 1.5 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
For the vegetables
- 2 eggplants
- 3 onions
For the cooking broth
- 1.5 cups tomato sauce
- 5 cups boiling water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses substitute with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
To make the stuffing
- Finely chop the onions and soften them on medium heat with the vegetable oil
- Add the ground beef and break it up into small pieces, then cook for 5-7 minutes until browned, stirring occasionally
- Add all of the stuffing spices and continue to stir until all the moisture has evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside to cool
Coring and stuffing the vegetables
- For the onions, cut off the edges using a very small and shallow cut - you want to keep the onion intact. Peel the onion, then dig your knife around the end where the root was and carve it out slightly (this helps separate the layers). Refer to photo in post
- Make a long cut lengthwise all the way to the centre - do not cut past the centre. Then microwave the onions for 1 minute to soften the layers slightly. Wait for them to cool, then use your fingers to carefully dislodge the layers and pop them out one by one. Be gentle!
- Next, peel the eggplant in a zebra pattern, every other stripe (see example photo). Peeling it like this will help make it easy to cut and eat later.
- Depending on the size of your eggplant, cut across the width into 2 or 3 even sized pieces (see photo). Core each piece using a sharp pairing knife and save the insides
- Lightly shallow fry each eggplant for 3-4 minutes on each side to get some colour (you should not cook them through) and add flavour. Allow them to cool
- Line a pot with the insides of the eggplant and a drizzle of oil. Stuff the eggplant first and line the pieces up to form a complete eggplant, which will help the filling stay inside
- Stuff the onions and nestle them in tightly with the eggplant. Ensure the pot is packed in tightly
Cooking the Sheikh El Mahshi
- Place a plate on top of the stuffed vegetables to help keep them in place
- Mix together the cooking broth ingredients and pour it over the plate to almost submerge all of the vegetables
- Bring to a boil on high heat, and once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and allow it to boil gently for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. Taste and adjust the broth for salt
- Serve by gently spooning out the stuffed vegetables onto a platter with high sides, and spooning the broth on top
- When choosing the onions for stuffing, go for narrow onions as they are easier to stuff
- For eggplant, the best variety to use is Italian eggplant, but the larger ones will work too
- Lightly frying the eggplant before stuffing will give this dish a lot of flavour. Make sure you don't fry for too long, you want them to stay intact and not soften too much