Mahshi betenjan | محشي بتنجان | stuffed aubergines in tomato sauce
If you’re familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine, you’ll quickly realize that there’s a tendency to stuff anything and everything – aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes, marrow squash, turnips, artichokes, onions, chard leaves, grape leaves, cabbage leaves, etc. You get the idea. The common term used in the Levant for stuffed vegetables is “mahshi” or “mahashi,” which literally means “stuffed.” There are other varieties of this in Turkish, Iranian and Mediterranean cuisines, because it’s just too good. Mahshi is a labor of love, but it is definitely worth the effort. It is often a meal that calls for a gathering and is cooked during festive seasons and when guests come over.
The recipe below is a vegan version of how my mom makes it, with some minor adjustments. It is cinnamon-y and allspice-y and an amazing treat for yourself and loved ones.
For the aubergines
- 7 medium-large purple aubergines, or 14 baby-ish aubergines*
- 2 cups Egyptian or short-grain rice, rinsed and soaked for half an hour*
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped finely
- 1.25 cup chopped parsley
- 1.5 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp dried mint
- 1 tsp fresh mint, chopped finely (optional)
- 1 tsp allspice
- 0.5 tsp cinnamon
- 0.5 tsp turmeric
- Salt and black pepper to taste (I normally use 0.5 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper)*
For the sauce
- Approximately 1,000g tomato passata, or two large jars (use less if you like less sauce)
- 250ml non-dairy single cream (I used Oatly’s Creamy Oat)
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Vegan yoghurt (optional)
- Fresh parsley (optional)
For the aubergines
- Trim the stems off the aubergines. Don’t throw away the stems. We’ll need them later to cover the aubergines so that the stuffing doesn’t leak.
- To remove the flesh, you can use a corer, but I prefer to use a small utility kitchen knife. First, I cut a triangle or square in the top center, remove it then work in a circular motion while rotating the aubergine with my other hand.
- You can leave as much skin as you’d like, but make sure it isn’t too thin so it doesn’t break apart. I personally like it on the thinner side, but not too thin that you longer get any aubergine taste. Don’t throw away the core/flesh either. There is a lot of flavor in there and it will all be put to good use.
For the stuffing
- In a mixing bowl, add all the stuffing ingredients in addition to approximately one quarter or a handful of the aubergine flesh. Don’t add the whole thing because it will also go into the sauce. Stir until everything is well combined.
- Heat up a large pan or wok and add a little bit of olive oil. Add the stuffing mixture and cook on medium-low heat for no more than a few minutes. Make sure you don’t overcook the rice. This helps make sure that the rice will fully cook at the end, and it will also give the stuffing a toasted flavor. This step is optional, but it definitely helps.
- Stuff approximately 2/3 of the insides of the aubergines with the rice mix. You don’t want to over-stuff them because that will slow the cooking process and you might end up with some uncooked rice. Don’t press the stuffing with your fingers inside the aubergines, instead give them a light shake so that the stuffing reaches the bottom and you can see how much is inside.
- Seal the aubergines with the stems. Make sure you do that very gently so that they don’t break. You want them to be secure but still have some room to breathe so that some of the sauce can get inside. If the stems are too large, you can trim them a bit. Refer to the images below.
- Add some of the aubergine flesh to the bottom of a large cooking pot, then line the aubergines on top, and sprinkle the remaining aubergine flesh on top and in the empty gaps. I find that this step makes all the difference and adds depth of flavor to the sauce.
- Whisk the sauce ingredients together and pour over the aubergines.
- Turn on the heat until the sauce comes to a boil. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, then cover, lower the heat and simmer for 1.5-2 hours, or until they cook through, turning the aubergines half way through. If you’re using baby aubergines, you might need to cut the cooking time in half.
- I also like to make very small cuts to the aubergine skin towards the end to make sure the sauce gets inside. You know they’re cooked when the skin shrinks and looks a bit wrinkly. I personally like mine very tender and soft, but you can turn off the heat earlier if you want them to be more solid.
- Serve with yoghurt and fresh chopped parsley, and perhaps a side of green salad.
I prefer this recipe with the oval-shaped baby (Indian) aubergines since they impart a stronger flavor and are easier to core, but I find them difficult to source in London, so I usually make do with medium or large purple or Italian aubergines. Keep in mind that baby aubergines don’t take as long to cook, so you might need to cut the cooking time in half if you use them.
Use short grain rice rather than basmati rice here. Short grain rice sticks together when cooked in liquid and gives that melt-in-your-mouth feel, whereas basmati rice tends to be on the drier side.
It’s better to under-salt the stuffing than over-salt it. If it doesn’t have enough salt, you can always adjust the seasoning of the sauce instead.