Sheihk al mahshi: aubergines filled with ground beef

Sheihk el mahshi is an alluring dish of fried aubergines stuffed with an aromatic filling of beef mince and pine nuts, then baked in a rich tomato sauce.

In the Levant, there’s a diverse array of dishes called mahshi (stuffed vegetables), including kousa bil labn (stuffed courgette cooked with yoghurt), beitenjan mahshi (aubergine simmered in a rich tomato sauce), malfouf (rolled cabbage leaves) that resemble delicate fingers, and waraq einab (grape leaves) that are similar to dolma eaten in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and Iraq.

What all these mahashi (the plural of mahshi) share in common is that they are filled predominantly with rice then layered inside a big pot to be covered in steaming broth or sauce and cooked on the stove until tender.

[jump to recipe]

But there is one mahshi that stands out from all the others: an alluring dish of fried aubergines with beef mince and pine nuts that’s baked in a rich tomato sauce. Its name, sheikh al mahshi (“king of stuffed dishes”), alludes to its specialness, as it was historically served to kings and sultans and is the only mahshi with meat and nuts, ingredients that were a sign of wealth.

Sheikh al mahshi varies throughout the region. In Turkey, it’s called karniyarik and is topped with a green chilli. In other Levantine countries, it’s made with courgettes that are cooked with yoghurt. In Lebanon, there’s also a similar dish called kousa ablama made with beef mince and onion-filled courgettes cooked in a tomato sauce.

Sheikh el mahshi appears regularly on menus in traditional Lebanese restaurants, but while it might be fit for royalty, it’s also easy to cook on a weeknight.

Lebanese food blogger and recipe creator Nell Rahayel prepares sheikh el mahshi because her whole family enjoys it. “Sheikh el mahshi is one of those meals that we would call comfort food, my kids love it,” she said as she started frying beef mince in her kitchen in the mountains outside Beirut.

Besides also creating menus for restaurants and recipes for food brands, Rahayel and her husband Anthony (the award-winning food blogger behind No Garlic No Onions) run a store in Paris called Le Doukane that sells artisanal Lebanese products, as well as a shop in Lebanon called Made By Nature, which brings together 2,500 local products.

Sheikh el mahshi appears regularly on menus in traditional Lebanese restaurants (Credit: Tessa Fox)

Some of those products make their way into Rahayel’s sheikh el mahshi, such as dibs roman (pomegranate molasses), which she adds to the mince meat to deepen its flavour. A whole shelf in Rahayel’s pantry is lined with bottles of it from different villages in Lebanon, which shows her appreciation for the condiment.

“I’m a dibs roman person, I love it,” she said, explaining how it works much like a balsamic glaze, enhancing the smell and colour of the meat. However, if you can’t find pomegranate molasses, she explained that you can still make sheikh el mahshi without it.

She also puts wild zaatar (dried thyme) into the tomato sauce, and then tops the aubergine with a mix of mozzarella and cheddar before putting it into the oven. To make the tomato sauce for sheikh el mahshi, Rahayel suggests using tomato juice instead of cooking down fresh tomatoes, because most of the water has already been evaporated and it saves time in preparing and cooking.

When the sheikh el mahshicomes out of the oven, the tomato sauce bubbles and the cheese has browned and melted into the meat and aubergine. It smells wonderful, like the Italian classic parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmigiana), and has a rich taste, with slight sweet and sour notes.

Sheikh el mahshiis served with rice and shaareyyeh (vermicelli), a Lebanese specialty that’s generally full of butter. “The more shaareyyeh, the better,” Rahayel said.

Lebanese food blogger and recipe creator Nell Rahayel prepares sheikh el mahshi because her whole family enjoys it (Credit: Tessa Fox)

Lebanese food blogger and recipe creator Nell Rahayel prepares sheikh el mahshi because her whole family enjoys it (Credit: Tessa Fox)

Sheikh el Mahshi recipe
By Nell Rahayel

serves 6


For the sheikh el mahshi:
2kg long, slender aubergines
sea salt
vegetable oil for deep frying
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, grated
500g fine beef mince
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses, plus more for splashing
2 tbsp pine nuts (can also use slivered almonds)
fresh ground black pepper
1 litre tomato juice
3 tbsp dried thyme
200g mozzarella, shredded
200g cheddar, shredded

For the Lebanese rice:
2 cups vermicelli
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cups long grain rice, washed in water until the water runs clear
4½ cups of water
1 tsp salt


Step 1
Peel the aubergines so it looks like they’re wearing stripped pyjamas, then place in a bowl and toss them with salt (so they don’t absorb so much oil). Set aside for about 30 minutes, then drain.

Step 2
In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil to 180C/350F. Deep fry the aubergines in batches for about 10 minutes, or until fully cooked. Transfer the aubergines to paper towels to remove the excess oil, turning them as the oil soaks up.

Step 3
In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onion and the beef mince and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is completely cooked, about 10 minutes. Slowly add the pomegranate molasses and pine nuts and cook until the liquid is mostly evaporated. Season with ½ tsp each of salt and pepper.

Step 4
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Place the whole aubergines in a deep baking dish with the stems to the edge. Use a knife to open them up by making a little slit down the middle of each one. Spoon the cooked ground beef into them, using a tablespoon to fill them as much as possible.

Step 5
Pour the tomato sauce into a bowl and stir in ½ tsp salt, a splash of pomegranate molasses, and a pinch of dried thyme. Very slowly pour the tomato sauce over the aubergines so the meat doesn’t come out. Be generous so the aubergines are juicy when cooked.

Step 6
Cover the aubergines with the cheese, starting with the mozzarella and then finishing with the cheddar on top to give a golden-brown colour when melted. Sprinkle with a little thyme.

Step 7
Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the sauce starts boiling and thickens and the cheese is melted. Serve with the Lebanese rice on the side.

Step 8
Make the Lebanese Rice: in a saucepan over low heat, fry the vermicelli in the olive oil, stirring constantly, as the pasta will burn quickly. (You can add butter instead of oil for a more golden crunch.)

Step 9
Once the vermicelli is browned, stir in the rice to fry a little, then add the water. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over low heat for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the rice is al dente (you will know it is perfectly cooked when there are holes between the rice).’s World’s Table “smashes the kitchen ceiling” by changing the way the world thinks about food, through the past, present and future.


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