As I write this, I’m sitting in O’Hare International Airport, debating whether or not I should give up my seat on my flight to Seattle for a free round-trip domestic ticket (not valid to Hawaii or Alaska, non-transferable & non-refundable). The representative from United said I would be able to sit in first class on the next available flight, which is not scheduled to depart, however, for another 12 hours. Yes, 12 hours! Since I’ve never been to Seattle, and plan on visiting Pike Place Market as soon as I arrive, literally, I kindly declined.
Although Pike Place Market is supposed to be a lot of fun, the main reason I’m going to Seattle is for the annual Web Design World conference. This is my first time going, but from what I’ve heard from friends, it’s an awesome place to go if you’re into all the web 2.0 technologies. If any food bloggers are attending the conference, or are in the area, shoot me an e-mail!
Before the flight starts boarding and I get left behind, I should tell you about these stuffed eggplants. I made these with my mom when she came up to visit me last weekend.
I think the most difficult concept for my mom to get used to was all the photos. “Do you really have to photograph every step,” she asked.
The broth that these eggplants are cooked in, in my opinion, is what makes the dish really special. It is flavored with lemon juice, dried mint, some tomato paste and, one of my favorite ingredients, pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses, or دبس رمان , is a dark, tangy, slightly acidic molasses made from fresh pomegranates, which are extremely abundant throughout the Middle East, especially Syria. You can probably find it at your local Whole Foods, specialty store, or definitely in any Mediterranean/Middle Eastern market. note: do not try and use the regular molasses for ginger snaps, for instance, it won’t taste the same.
The mise en place for this dish is pretty simple, but note that the eggplants I used here are tiny. The smaller the eggplants are, the less bitter they will be, but also, proportionally speaking, the better they are for stuffing with rice and meat.
If you’ve been following the past couple Middle Eastern recipes I’ve posted, you’ll notice each of them is flavored with a bit of freshly ground allspice. As I mentioned in those posts, allspice among of the most common spices used in Middle Eastern cooking, second probably to salt.
Nothing in this dish, except maybe the stem of the eggplants, goes to waste. You can use an apple corer to create the cavities in the eggplants and then keep carving out any excess flesh with a small knife. Some people will leave a little more flesh than I did in the photo, but that becomes a matter of personal preference.
When you’re stuffing the eggplants make sure not to pack the rice and meat mixture because once the rice cooks, it will expand. I leave about 1 inch from the opening of the eggplant empty, and then squeeze the eggplant lightly so as to distribute the meat filling equally.
The carrots on the bottom will provide the perfect protection to keep your hard work from turning into charcoal. They’ll also add flavor to the broth, and a beautiful color for presentation.
I should clarify that the term mahshee, in Arabic, literally means “stuffed.” In this case I used eggplants, but that’s only one example. In the Middle East (and throughout other parts of the Mediterranean, like Italy, Greece and Turkey) this preparation is common with other vegetables as well, like peppers, zucchini, grape leaves, swiss chard leaves, and the list goes on from there.
I actually did not beat the clock and had to board the flight before finishing the post. I am now in my hotel room in Seattle, but will make sure to post post the recipe for mahshee once I get back to DC.
yields 4-6 servings
- 6-8 baby eggplants
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1/2 lb rice
- 2 tbsp butter
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 tbsp tomato paste, divided
- 2 tsp allspice
- 1-2 tbsp ice-cold water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 3 tsp dried mint
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- water, to cover eggplants
- carrots, thickly sliced
Putting them all together
- Wash rice in plenty of water and set aside.
- Mix rice, meat, 2 tbsp of tomato paste, butter, allspice and salt together. Sprinkle in some ice-cold water to keep the mix from sticking to your hands. You want it to remain somewhat fluffy.*
- With an apple corer and a paring knife carefully hollow out the eggplants, making sure not to puncture any of the sides or the ends of the eggplants (save the eggplant “meat”).
- Stuff the eggplants with the rice and meat mixture, stopping about 1 inch from the top. Lightly squeeze the eggplant to remove any excess meat mixture that pours out from the hole.
- Scatter the sliced carrots and carved eggplant “meat” across the bottom of a large pot. This prevents the eggplants from sticking to the bottom and burning.
- Neatly position all the stuffed eggplants inside the pot.
- Mix the lemon juice, dried mint, pomegranate molasses, minced garlic, the two remaining tbsp of tomato paste and an extra sprinkling of salt (to taste) to make the broth. Pour over the eggplants and cover what’s left of the eggplants with water.
- Set a heavy (heat-resistant) plate over the eggplants to weigh them down.
- If you have any left over filling, set it on aluminum foil and crimp the edges lightly to form a small pouch. Set the pouch over the place and make sure that the pouch is at least half-way covered in the broth (if not, add more water).
- Place the lid over the pot leaving a little hole for steam through vent through. Cook over medium, medium-high heat for 45-60 minutes and enjoy.
notes: Mix the meat and rice mixture with the tip of your fingers to avoid compacting the mixture – you want to mix, not knead.