This is a Lebanese classic, and my mom's ultimate favorite. I literally grew up eating this dish, so much that I ended up on a love-hate-relationship and then divorce with it. In recent days under coronavirus lockdown, I've been doing 3 Live cooking sessions a week on Instagram and asked Chewers to suggest recipes or ingredients they'd like me to cook with. A friend of mine had a request for aubergines so, le childhood classic came back in full force.
Traditionally, this dish "Sheikh El Mehchi" (literally translated from Arabic 'the stuffed king'), is prepared with aubergines that are stuffed with minced meat, onions and pine nuts. You could do that, and I will share with you the secret to the best minced meat: pomegranate molasses. a spoonful or two will turn your mince into dreams. Personally, i'm not a big fan of mince so made a ragu instead with beef brisket. Or, i'll say it as it is, made these aubergines with leftover brisket.
Don't be afraid, here is a very long recipe to make this recipe from scratch, but you can always use mince, or leftover braised meat from a roast dinner that you break down with more onions.
Since it is a proper cooking fun day, I would strongly recommend you cook a lot of it, so triple the recipe, to share with friends or even freeze. These are so good they will go FAST.
Happy cooking! Lea
Straightforward but long
Prepare in 1h, cook in 2 (to 5h if you make brisket from scratch)
Prepare the meat
The day before or 2-3 hours before cooking, pat the meat dry with a kitchen paper, salt on all sides and pat with the rosemary or oregano. Loosely wrap in parchment paper, place on a tray or plate and rest refigerated until needed.
Braise the meat
- Preheat your oven to 160ºC.
- Heat a large lidded cast iron pan over medium heat. When it is hot, add the oil, and roast the meat on each side for at least 5 minutes until the fat is rendered, and it turns a deep brown crunchy color. Make sure to roast all sides of the meat evenly.
- Add the garlic and aromatics, and the wine. Allow the wine to come to a rolling boil and turn off the heat.
- Cover the pan and transfer to the oven. Cook for 4h, turning the meat once halftway through cooking.
- When the meat is fork tender, drain the sauce into a saucepan -keep the garlic and reserve the meat.
Prepare the tomato sauce
- Roughly chop the tomatoes, and transfer to a non stick pan with the garlic, bay leaf, salt and sugar.
- Simmer on medium-low for at least one hour, stirring occasionally, until the tomato is completely broken down and moisture evaporated. Consistency should be thick.
- Adjust seasoning to your taste.
Prepare and fry the aubergines
- With a peeler, keep the tip peel the aubergines by leaving strips of skin, to look like prisonners uniforms in the Far-West.
- Place a large pan over medium heat with the oil. When the oil is hot - test it by frying a bit of aubergine- shallow fry the aubergines on all sides until golden.
- Drain on a plate / tray lined with kitchen paper and cool to romm temperature.
Make the meat ragu
- In a large pot, heat some oil over medium and cook the onions until soft.
- Add the meat and break down with your spatula. Cook down with the meat juices for 15 minutes, since the meat is already cooked, you want to break it down and get to a ragu consistency.
Stuff the aubergines!
- In an oven proof dish or skillet, pour half of the tomato sauce at the base.
- One by one, place the aubergines on a chopping board.
- Hold the tip of an aubergine, and with a sharp knife slice it in half lengthwise but not cutting through it completely. Run your finger in the incision to lightly push the flesh inside.
- With a teaspoon, spoon in a little ragu and pack it in the aubergine.
- Place the aubergine in the skillet with the tomato. Repeat until you ar edone with all the aubergines.
- Spoon in the remaining tomato sauce in the gaps between the aubergines, making sure they are all cosy. You can spoon a little tomat osauce over the stuffing so it doesn't dry out.
Garnish and bake
- Preheat your oven at 180ºC.
- Garnish the dish with cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes -optional, and sprinkle the pine nuts evenly.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until the tomato sauce is bubbling.
Enjoy with a side of white rice, or traditionally, vermicelli rice!
For the aubergines
- 20 mini Indian/round aubergines (10 cm long each)
- 1 cup frying oil (canola or grape seed oil)
For the tomato sauce
- 3 Large beef tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp sugar -optional
- 1 Bay leaf
For the meat ragu (traditional recipe modified for this recipe)
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 sprigs roseary or oregano
- 500g beef untrimmed brisket or lamb shoulder (see tips below)
- 2 tbsp canola or grapeseed oil
- A garlic bulb, sliced in half widthwise
- 2-4 Bay leaves
- 1 bottle of red wine
- 2 onions or 1/2 a leek, minced into a brunoise
- 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted or lightly fried