Growing up in a Lebanese household meant that eggplant was no stranger to the dinner table. One of my favorite eggplant dishes was (and still is) Sheikh-al Mahshi; a Lebanese casserole made of golden fried eggplants topped with spiced beef or lamb and cooked in a light tomato sauce. My father, who loved to cook for us, would make this dish using large purple eggplant slices for the base, tender filet mignon chunks and Lebanese pine nuts for the topping, and fresh homemade tomato sauce. Delicious is an understatement.
A few months ago, I was at a local market when I came across these large 11-pound boxes of assorted baby eggplant for only $3. It was a total steal and I ended up taking a box home with me to experiment with the other colorful eggplant varieties. Although I ended up blanching and freezing many of them for a rainy day, I decided to recreate my father’s recipe using baby eggplants for dinner one night. I have always found the Lebanese dishes I grew up with simple to make but with graduate school and a household to tend to, any shortcut that doesn’t jeopardize taste is definitely welcome. While I prefer the taste of homemade tomato sauce, having a quality canned sauce on hand can really speed things up. Cooking with ground beef also saves you the hassle of having to prepare and cut your meat. Some of my modifications, however, are not just to save time but to make the recipe a teeny bit healthier. Instead of deep-frying the eggplants to soften them, I blanched them and then browned the skins in a bit of olive oil. The only issue was that I found the skins of the yellow eggplant variety too thick to eat. I personally would not use them again in a recipe like this even though the flesh had a very nice flavor. With that being said, this version was a huge hit with the family and we hope you’ll consider adding this simple, healthy dish to your recipe box.
10-12 baby eggplant
1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce (we use Simple Truth)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground all-spice
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper (to taste)
- Preheat oven to 350F. Rinse the eggplants and trim the stems, leaving the hulls.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanche the eggplants whole for 8-10 minutes until tender. In the meantime, toast the pine nuts until golden and set aside.
- Once the eggplants have cooled, gently make an incision from the hull to the bottom of the eggplant.
- OPTIONAL: Drizzle a bit of oil in a deep pan and brown the blanched eggplants in batches for 2-5 minutes then set aside (see step 7).
- Drizzle a bit of oil in a deep pan and sauté the diced onions until translucent.
- Add in the ground beef, cinnamon, all-spice, salt, and pepper and cook until meat is well done.
- Ladle a few spoons of tomato sauce into the bottom of a glass baking dish and lay the eggplants slit side up.
- Spoon the spiced meat mixture into each eggplant and cover with the remaining tomato sauce. Top with half of the toasted pine nuts and half of the chopped parsley.
- Cover your baking dish and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the sauce is simmering.
- To serve, garnish with remaining pine nuts and parsley next to a bed of steaming vermicelli rice.
Note: If you end up with extra meat, just spoon the remainder evenly on the top of the sauce before baking.
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