Eggplants and the Sheikh
Eggplants stuffed with a delicious mixture is commonly called Sheikh El-Mehchi in Lebanon. I always wondered why this funny name that is meant to be fancy. One thing is sure: Not once have I had a different reaction than a smile whenever I said “I am cooking Sheikh El-Mehchi” or “I had Sheikh El-Mehchi for lunch.” And a “yummy” always follows!
So what is all this fuss about that dish?
Eggplants for a smile
So, what could possible incites the smile in this dish? Sheikh El-Mehchi literally means The Stuffed Sheikh. Now that you know, are you smiling? I am, again 🙂
Most westerners link the term Sheikh to an archaic mind image of a jolly man with a fat belly. Right, we do the same for Santa Claus.
Truth be said, I have never met a Sheikh fitting that description; not among my friends and family members, and not in the Arab countries I visited. We Lebanese know that this is a totally wrong image to connect to that respectable noble title. However, since Sheikh El-Mehchi is an Arabic term literally meaning The Stuffed Sheikh, I had to go on a quest for its origin. This is what I gathered:
The Legend of Sheikh El-Mehchi
The Sheikh El-Mehchi dish is as ancient in our country as the time of the ruling sheikhs. Their head attires had a particular shape that resembled the top part of an eggplant. When the cooks of the nobility of that time filled these eggplants with a rich stuffing of meat, kernels and tomato, they couldn’t but compare them teasingly to their masters.
If the legend is true, I doubt they shared that nickname with their “employers”, known to have ruled with iron hands.
Whether the legend is true or not, one fact remains: The funny nickname passed on through the times, replacing the initial name of Batenjen mehchi. The recipe does require to keep the tops of the eggplants that are not to be eaten. Is it in memory of the masters or just a coincidence?
Sheikh El-Mehchi is simply a most succulent dish!
The stuffing is composed of finely grounded Beef meat which is flavored with cinnamon and white pepper during cooking.
The flavor is sparkled with dry Mint of refreshing and digestive benefits. While the deliciously textured kernels increase the dish nutritious value, the spiced up tomato sauce aromatises it all to succulence!
Remember: Smile and say “Yummy!” 🙂
Stuffed Eggplants: Sheikh El-Mehchi
- 1 Kg Eggplant (medium)
- 2 tbsps Vegetable Oil
For the Stuffing
- 150 gr Ground Beef Fine grounded
- 400 gr Tomato dices in cans
- 3 tbsps Pine Kernels toasted
- 1/4+ tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 1/4+ tsp White Pepper
- 1/4 tsp Dry Mint
- 2 cups Water
Preparing the Meat
On a non-stick pan, over medium heat, cook the meat while mixing and pounding it into very small pieces. If you don't have a non-stick pan available, start by adding a little vegetable oil (before the meat).
When the meat starts browning, sprinkle the salt and spices (cinnamon and white pepper). Mix well. Allow the meat to cook (without burning to dryness).
Add the toasted Pine Kernels and 1/4 of the tomato cubes. Stir gently then put aside.
Preparing the Eggplants
Heat the vegetable oil, and fry the eggplants at high heat by turning them constantly.
Remove them onto a double-layer of paper Kitchen towel. Cover with another layer of paper-towel, and pat them softly to soak the excess of oil.
Open a long, deep cut in each eggplant. Be careful not to cut to the extremities.
Fill each with the mixture and lay them nicely in an oven pan.
In a separate recipient, mix gently the remaining tomato dices with water and dry mint.
Pour that sauce over the the eggplants.
Cooking Option 1 : Bake In the Oven
Preheat the oven at 185° Celsius (365° Fahrenheit).
Place your prepared Eggplant pan in the oven and leave it to cook for about 15 minutes or till the tomato sauce gets a light creamy texture.
Cooking Option 2: On the Stove
Place your prepared Eggplant pan on low heat on the stove for 30 minutes, or until the tomato sauce gets its creamy texture.
#1: This dish could be served alone as part of a reception menu or as a main dish with Lebanese vermicelli rice on the side.
#2: For a reception menu, place the eggplants nicely on a new serving plate and pour the remaining sauce around them. Have Lebanese Vermicelli Rice on the side.