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Here is another one of my absolute favorite Middle Eastern dishes. “Mahshy” literally means stuffed, and I love all things mashy. Stuffed vegetables, stuffed grape leaves, and stuffed cabbage are all fantastic dishes in the Middle Eastern kitchen. Parsley and mint are prevalent in most Middle Eastern recipes, as is garlic. All three of these flavorings take center stage in this recipe. This satisfying dish can serve as a main entree or a side. The stuffing can be prepared completely vegetarian with only the herbs and rice, or you can add ground beef or lamb as we typically prefer to do. But I have cooked it both ways many times, and it is very delicious and full of flavor either way!
The stuffing consists of medium grain rice (get Egyptian rice if you are shopping at an International market, or sticky sushi rice works well per the recommendation of my girl Dalia), chopped parsley, mint, dill, diced onions, minced garlic, diced tomatoes, and some spices. The spices are a medley of cinnamon, cumin, baharat, salt and pepper. The Arabic spice baharat, is a warm, aromatic all-purpose spice and it is used often in most Middle Eastern recipes. You are not likely to find it in a regular grocery store. If you do not have access to a Middle Eastern store, you could use a combination of ground all spice and cloves as an adequate substitute. You could also make your own baharat spices with the following recipe I found on The Kitchn. If you are using ground meat in the stuffing, you will need to cook this first in a pot with minced onions, salt and pepper, and a dash of all spice.
The eggplants and zucchinis need to get cored with a coring tool, or a butter knife works well if you use careful strokes! Peppers are wonderful because all you need to do is cut the top off. The last time we did this we used the smaller sweet peppers that come in a variety or red, orange, and yellow. I also love to use an onion as is typical in Iraq. You simply simmer a peeled onion in boiling water for a few minutes until the layers become malleable enough to roll. When this dish cooks, the cinnamon, herbs, and vegetables scent the air beautifully; it simply smells amazing!
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Anybody can stuff some veggies with this flavorful filling, and you’d be halfway there at achieving deliciousness. But the secret is in the sauce. I have had this dish prepared before and it tasted either too dry from baking in the oven or too bland. The sauce I use to cook this in perfects the flavor and texture and must not be omitted! It is simply wonderful: very lemony and cooks the veggies and stuffing juicy and zesty and full of flavor. As most of my cooking is a delicate fusion of many Middle Eastern countries, this dish originates from my mother’s Egyptian cooking, but is infused with some delicious Lebanese flavor that I picked up from one of my best friends, Melanie. Melanie’s stepmother, Tunt Soad, who is an excellent chef from Lebanon would often have this dish prepared when we would come over after school and I always looked forward to it! When I wasn’t at her house I would beg her to bring some to school for lunch, and I still craved more. I finally asked Tunt Soad for the recipe and have been cooking my stuffed veggies the same way ever since! The sauce consists of marinara sauce, fresh squeezed lemon juice, minced garlic, dry mint, baharat, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
You can either stack the stuffed veggies in a pot and cook over the stove, or lay them in a baking dish and bake in the oven. As long as you cover the veggies with this sauce it will come out nice and juicy and flavorful. Enjoy! Or as they say in Lebanon “Sahtein” (good health) or “Bil hana wil shifa” (with joy and with health) as they say in Egypyt. After all isn’t that what food should be for: health, nutrition, and well-being?
- about 10 short and wide zucchinis
- about 10 short and wide eggplants
- 1 large onion
- 2 large bell peppers
- 1 c medium grain rice (Egyptian rice or sushi rice)
- 1 tsp baharat or all spice
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- pinch of pepper
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 medium onion, minced
- 1-2 tomatoes diced
- 1/4 c chopped parsley
- 1/4 c chopped dill
- 1 tbsp chopped mint
- Optional: 1 lb ground beef, browned and cooked with 1 onion, salt and pepper, and baharat
- 1/2 c marinara sauce, such as Prego
- 1/2 c water
- 1/2 c lemon juice
- 1 tsp dry mint
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp baharat or all spice
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- pinch of pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Peel and score the large onion to slice it open halfway. This will allow you to peel away the soft layers later. Simmer in boiling water for about 5-10 minutes until the onion layers are malleable enough to stuff with filling and roll. Do not over cook it so that it is too soft as it will cook more later in the pot. Set aside to cool.
- Wash the zucchinis, peppers, and eggplants and cut off the tops. Core out the center of the eggplants and zucchinis and reuse the inner flesh for another recipe such as baba ghanough or zucchini bread.
- Combine all ingredients for the stuffing.
- Fill each vegetable halfway with the stuffing, as it will increase in size as it cooks. For the onions, peel off a layer of the onion, fill with a teaspoon of stuffing, and roll tightly.
- Neatly place each vegetable into a pot, standing upright to prevent the stuffing from spilling out as it cooks. If you will bake in a baking dish, laying the vegetables down will be fine as they will not be disturbed by boiling liquid.
- Combine all the ingredients for the sauce and mix well. Pour over all the vegetables and pour olive oil on the very top of the pot. Simmer on medium high heat, and turn the heat down to low once it boils. Cover halfway with a lid and remove from heat once the rice in the center is tender (about 20-25 minutes). If baking in the oven, bake at 350 degrees, for 35 minutes.
- It is important that the rice in the vegetables is covered with cooking sauce in order for it to cook well. Potatoes, tomatoes, and other vegetables may be used in this recipe as well but using zucchini and eggplant is the traditional way to prepare this dish.
- You may also substitute the rice for quinoa or bulgur to make this dish a little healthier and contain less carbs!