Stuffed vegetables are a very popular in the Middle East; stuffed zucchini, aubergine, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, vine leaves and more. The most common in my house growing up where aubergine, zucchini, vine leaves and cabbage. My Mama could spend hours making large pots of these stuffed vegetables that could last from hours to days. They are a real family favourite. While these are usually stuffed with meat and rice, I have made mine vegetarian and a lot more nutritious.
For this recipe, I am making Stuffed baby aubergines, cooked in a rice tomato sauce, rather than simple stock. In Palestine, this is called Sheikh Mahshi, which roughly translates as stuffed king. When you try it you will know why. Before you even taste it, a rich aromatic scent fills the kitchen which will make it hard for you to wait for it to cool enough for it to eat. I know this, as I often burn my lip from attempting to consume it while it’s still too hot.
I fell in love with this dish when I returned to Palestine in my early 20s to research my master’s economic dissertation, and in the last few months I believe I have perfected a very healthy, vegetarian version of it which is the best I have ever had. My Mama says the same thing, so I take that as the ultimate seal of approval. I serve mine with a generous dollop of organic natural yoghurt, as it complements the rich tomato sauce and tastes just amazing with the aubergine, nut and rice mix.
I sometimes make this on special occasions to impress, or just when I know I won’t have time to cook through the week as they are easy to re-heat, taste better each day and I know I am getting a healthy, nutritious and organic meal within 10 minutes of coming home.
If you don’t normally buy organic, do try to source these ingredients from an organic market; the aubergines and tomatoes will have a significantly better flavour if you do. It’s also much healthier for your body and for our earth if you buy organic food. It nourishes my soul to know that my plant based food is grown in harmony with nature instead of against it and I am sure you will to.
For the stuffed aubergine
20-30 baby aubergines
1 cup brown rice
1 Large white onion, diced
half cup pine nuts
large handful of parsley, finely chopped
small handful of mint, finely chopped
6 medium Vine ripened tomatoes, small dice
1 tsp Ground mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp Ground cardamom
8 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
2 pinches of Pink Himalayan salt, crushed
1 twist of black pepper, freshly milled
1 pot salty water
For the tomato sauce
1 small white onion, diced
4 large vine ripened tomatoes, diced
1 tube tomato puree
1 tsp cinnamon
1. Put 2 tsp of olive oil in a pan on a medium heat and add the onion. After 5 minutes when the onions become translucent, add the pine nuts. Keep them moving in the pan
2. In a large bowl, add the rice, parsley, mint, tomatoes, mixed spice, cardamom, salt, pepper and 5 tbsp of olive oil
3. Add the onion and pine nut mix to the rice and thoroughly mix all the ingredients together
4. Put rice to one side until you need it.
5. Using a corer, gently remove the inside of the Aubergine, being careful not to pierce through the skin, and not to hollow out too much, to ensure that the walls are not too thin
6. Each time you core an aubergine, place it in the large pan of salty water.
7. Once all the aubergines are hollow, rinse them off and begin to pack with the rice mixture
8. Once you have filled them in with the rice mixture, plug the open ends with the remaining cored-out aubergine pulp,
9. Place the stuffed aubergines in a tight tessellation within an empty pan. Weigh them down with an upturned side plate, fill with water, half way up the vegetables. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to the liquid and salt to taste.
10. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for 45 minutes. Check the pan to ensure it does not dry out.
11. While the aubergines are cooking, make the tomato sauce by adding oil, onions, tomatoes, tomato puree and cinnamon to a pan. Cook for 20 minutes or until a rich red colour.
12. Add to the aubergines once they have been cooking for 45 minutes, then let them all cook together for another hour.
13. Once cooked, serve aubergines in a bowl, scooping over as much sauce as you require and 1 tablespoon of yoghurt.