Egyptian massak’aa is easily one the tastiest dishes out there. In this version, sliced eggplants and peppers are lightly fried and then cooked in an irresistible tomato sauce simmering with garlic, onions, cumin, and vinegar. It’s really a simple dish to prepare with complex flavors that will have you mopping your plate spotless with your pita bread. Traditionally, massak’aa is made with ground beef between the layers of eggplant, but the beef can be omitted completely for a vegetarian version. I sub-in parboiled lentils to simmer away with the sauce, so that it is a hearty meal rich in antioxidants and satisfying protein. We love this vegan version and with the pandemic and shortage of beef, I think many of you will enjoy this flavorful option! My version becomes even easier because I make it all in one pan, skipping the deep frying step, but none of the flavor.
During the worldwide pandemic forcing us to stay home and having limited trips to the grocery store, I found myself stocking up on eggplants and peppers as they are among some of the vegetables that hold up quite well first being left outside until it is safe to bring into the home, and then even longer in the refrigerator crisper. Another eggplant favorite recipe that my kids enjoy is the maqlooba, a one pot dish of aromatic spiced rice layered with eggplant, cauliflower, potatoes, and some tomato. So YUM.
I like to use Asian eggplants because the skin is thinner and they have a milder flavor. You need about 3 Asian eggplants for this recipe, or 2 of the globe variety. Traditionally, Egyptians peel strips of the outer skin, which probably helps the eggplant cook down better, but I like to retain the nutrients as much as possible. I only cut off parts that appear like they need to go. I do strip off a few stripes if it is the fatter, globe eggplant, because the skin is thicker on those. The eggplant can carry a lot of water inside that can make them cook tough, and taste bitter. To remedy this, they need to be sprinkled with salt, which draws out all these bitter juices. They can then be blotted up of those juices before sautéing.
For peppers, you can use any combination of green, red, or yellow peppers. I always have all three types, as I love them all. When I cook Middle Eastern dishes I prefer the longer green cubanelle peppers, as they have a milder flavor that goes nicely with the dish. I throw in one jalapeño, sliced open in half so that it can slightly kick up the flavor of the sauce just a little bit, without making it unbearable for the kids in the house. You could definitely add in 2 more if you like more spice, and dicing it will allow the flavor to permeate throughout more of the dish.
Use a red pepper paste by roasting the red bell peppers, peel them, and puree with olive oil and a dash of cayenne. Or simply use a jar like Mina’s Red Pepper Harissa paste. This really adds dimension and flavor to the dish.
This is the perfect recipe to put your soft, overripe tomatoes to work in. I used about 4 really juicy tomatoes, quartered them, and just let them char and get golden before melting into a flavorful chunky tomato sauce. I then supplement 1.5 cups of tomato sauce when I am ready to let it all simmer together.
Cumin, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper are all the essential flavor agents here. The peppers and tomatoes sauté and sizzle in the pan until they char and develop some color, which releases incredible flavor to this dish. It all comes together once I pour on the tomato sauce all over everything and let them simmer away until they are amalgamated into one creamy and flavorful dish ready for the licking–with some pita bread of course!
You can use beef in this recipe, as is the classic Egyptian method. To do so, prepare the beef by cooking it first in a pot with a whole diced onion, some minced garlic, 1 tbsp of all spice, and some finely diced bell pepper. I do not include this step in my recipe because I always make it vegan. Instead, I throw in 1 cup of parboiled green lentils simmered with a teaspoon of cumin. I boil them for about 10 minutes just so they are halfway cooked so they can cook all the way through with the remainder of the massa’kaa pan.
Per Serving: Calories 188 kcal, Carbohydrates 28g, Protein 9.5g, Saturated Fat0.8g, Sodium 423 mg, Fiber 6g, Sugars 4g
- 3 medium eggplants, sliced in circles 1/2 inch thick 2 cups
- 1 green pepper, diced 1/2 cup
- 1 red or yellow onion, diced 1/2 cup
- 1/2 onion, sliced 1/2 cup
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 4 tomatoes, quartered 1-2 cups, based on preference
- 1.5 c crushed or strained tomatoes
- 2 tbsp olive oil or sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp cumin, ground
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup brown or green lentils, washed
- Bring a pot of 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and allow to boil for about 10 minutes, until halfway cooked, but not completely. Drain completely. If you bite one, it should be soft on the outside but firm on the inside. It will continue to cook once added to the massak'a pan.
- Lay the sliced eggplant on a kitchen towel or paper towel and salt it so that the bitter water is drawn out. After about 10 minutes, blot them with a clean towel, brushing off as much salt as possible.
- In a large pan, at least 10" in diameter, add 2 tbsp of oil. Place the onions, peppers, and tomatoes, eggplants throughout and leave them for about 3 minutes to build some color and char. Check them to make sure they do not burn, and slowly turn them over once a golden color is achieved.
- Once all the vegetables have gained some golden color, sprinkle in the cumin, garlic slices, salt and pepper. Allow them to continue to build color. The tomatoes and onions will be all soft and releasing juices by now.
- Add the lentils on top of the sautéed vegetables, and gently fold them in.
- Pour the tomato sauce and vinegar all over the top, gently mix it all in, or simply leave it to cover the top. Cover the pan and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through. If you have an oven-safe pan you may also place this in the oven as the classic method bakes the combined layers in the oven at 350 degrees (f).
- Serve hot, or at room temperature, or even cold with pita bread. This is a dish eaten with pita bread sopping up all of the delicious flavors. Enjoy!