Lebanese Stuffed Eggplant
Sep 15, 2017, Updated Sep 16, 2023
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Lebanese stuffed eggplant is a deeply savory, saucy dish made with broiled eggplant, a filling of ground beef or lamb with onions, pine nuts and tomato sauce.
One of the great pleasures of this beloved Lebanese recipe, like so many of our favorites, is the memories I associate with it. My mother made this fragrant, long-baking, bubbling beauty of an eggplant dish for us when we would arrive home to visit from anywhere we were over the years (read my story!). In our house, “nothing says I love you like Sheik al Mahshi”! Which translated means a stuffed dish fit for a king! The dish is at home for a hearty weekend meal or a dinner party. This recipe from my cookbook is featured in The New York Times.
What is Sheik al Mahshi?
This Lebanese stuffed eggplants dish (Sheik al Mahshi or Mesheh) is a melt-in-your mouth assembly of eggplant, tomato sauce, ground beef or lamb, studded with toasted pine nuts and baked until bubbly and luscious. There are a couple of ways to make the dish. One is the more traditional version for eggplant boats, where eggplant is cut in half, broiled, stuffed and baked with tomato sauce. The other includes all of the same ingredients but is assembled in a layered casserole-style, with slices of browned eggplant, the browned ground meat and tomato sauce. I grew up loving this dish with melted cheese on top, my Mom’s special edition!
Ingredients to make Lebanese stuffed eggplant
Globe eggplants. Use two medium-sized globe eggplants for the layered recipe and 6 medium or baby eggplants (about 8″x6″) for the boats.
Olive oil. Extra virgin, to coat the eggplant slices before broiling.
Pine nuts. Toasted.
Ground beef or lamb. For a savory, hearty meat filling.
Yellow onion, coarsely chopped.
Cinnamon. Cinnamon seasons meats frequently in Lebanese and other Middle Eastern food.
Salt and black pepper. Some for seasoning the eggplant slices, some for seasoning the meat mixture.
Mozzarella cheese. This is my Mom’s addition, she loved adding a top layer of melty mozzarella and I love it this way too.
How to make stuffed eggplant
Prepare the filling similarly for the boats or layered slices:
Make the stuffing
In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Sauté onion, coarsely chopped, and cook over medium heat until translucent but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add the ground meat, breaking it up into very small pieces with a slotted spoon. Season the ground beef mixture with salt, cinnamon, and pepper, taste and adjust. Cook until the meat is medium-well done.
To make Eggplant Boats
Step 1. Broil the eggplant halves. Using a sharp knife, slice the eggplant in half lengthwise and arrange on a lined large sheet pan, cut side up. Brush the cut sides with a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place the pan under the broiler on an oven rack about 3 inches from the broiler, and cook until the tops are a deep golden brown. Remove and set aside.
Step 2. To the browned meat, add half the tomato sauce and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.
Step 3. Arrange the eggplant halves in a large casserole or lasagna pan. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit lengthwise down the center of each half and push in the eggplant from either end to open the slit a bit. Use a small spoon to stuff the eggplant with a spoonful of the filling mixture. Mound extra meat on top of each eggplant half.
Step 5. In the same pan used to make the meat filling, heat the remaining tomato sauce with half a cup of water and salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then spoon over the eggplant. Sprinkle half of the pine nuts over top.
Step 6. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake at 375°F for about 90 minutes. Toward the end of baking time, remove foil and add fresh mozzarella pieces over each boat. Continue baking until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with more pine nuts and serve warm.
To make Layered Eggplant
Step 1. Slice and broil the eggplant: Trim the eggplant and cut in half crosswise (the short way). Cut each half lengthwise into ½-inch slices. Arrange the eggplant on a large pan lined with foil or parchment. Brush both sides of the slices with olive oil and season with salt. Broil on medium heat until the slices are deep mahogany brown, turning once to brown both sides.
Step 2. Assemble: In a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking or similar sized gratin dish, spread about ½ cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Lay the eggplant slices in a single layer over the sauce. Spoon mixture of meat evenly over the eggplant (some falls around the eggplant) and spoon half of the remaining tomato sauce over the meat. Sprinkle with half of the pine nuts. Layer again with eggplant, meat, tomato sauce, and pine nuts. Finish with a layer of eggplant and more tomato sauce.
Step 3. Pour enough water around the perimeter of the casserole to fill a little more than halfway. This is an important step, or your sauce will be too thick; it may seem watery at first but the sauce thickens beautifully as it bakes.
Step 6. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake at 375°F for about 90 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Serve warm.
Tips for making this dish
Brown the eggplant for layered stuffed eggplant in advance under the broiler. Get it very brown! This can also be done on the grill. Refrigerate for up to 4 days before making the dish.
Don’t cut the eggplant too thick for layered eggplant variation, you want them thin enough, about 1/4- to 1/2- inch thick, so they caramelize while broiling.
If you’re making the boat-style version and want less eggplant in the center, use a melon-ball cutter to scoop more of it out, then add the stuffing mixture. An apple corer also works.
Be sure not to scoop too much of the eggplant out if you’re doing more than just cutting a slit, to prevent the interior walls of the eggplant shells from getting too thin and collapsing.
No need to cut the bottom end of the eggplant after trimming the stem.
While adding water in the baking dish with the tomato sauce is key, take care not to use excess water and submerge the eggplants entirely.
Smaller eggplants work well for this recipe, but if you are making the layered version, you’ll need more than two.
My recipes don’t call for peeling the eggplant! The skin gets very soft and is very good in the dish.
Variations for stuffed eggplant
This dish easily welcomes other vegetables like bell pepper or potatoes layered in.
Try ground turkey or ground chicken instead of beef or lamb, adding a little more olive oil when cooking the filling to keep the meat from drying out. The color of the final results is lighter than with ground meat, but just as delicious.
Add other Middle Eastern spices to this popular dish for a kick; 7 spice, sumac, or cayenne are delicious additions to the beef mince and make a delicious tomato sauce.
Serve with yogurt sauce (laban or tzatziki) or pomegranate seeds for a bright, fresh flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, sheikh el mahshi is even better the next day! Refrigerate in an airtight container and heat in the microwave or the oven next time you serve it.
I like to use globe eggplants, but any type from the grocery or farmers market will do. This Lebanese stuffed eggplant recipe works with Japanese eggplants, mini aubergines, long eggplant, and Italian eggplant.
No, the peel softens very nicely with the long cooking of the dish.
Yes! This is a nutrient-packed dish of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats.
This star of all stuffed dishes can be served with Lebanese rice, a side salad, yogurt (laban), and pita bread. This also makes a nice, if extravagant!, side dish to roasted chicken.
Yes, but use cooked rice so it doesn’t absorb as much of the saucy liquid during baking. Also, because the meat mixture since the eggplant boats is not fully submerged in the tomato broth, the rice may not fully cook in the oven.
Lebanese cuisine often uses a variety of spellings and names for the same dish. For this dish, Mahshi batinjaan, stuffed aubergines, and sheikh el mahshi are the most common.
More Eggplant Recipes
Lebanese Baba Gannouj (baba gannoush), smokey eggplant dip
Lebanese Stuffed Eggplant Recipe
For the Boats version:
- 6 medium eggplant, about 8 x 3 inches
For the Layered Version:
- 2 large globe eggplant
For both versions:
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 pound ground beef (round) or lamb
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 28 oz. can tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 1 large ball fresh mozzarella cheese, torn in small pieces (optional)
Prepare the Eggplant:
- For BOAT-style: Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise and arrange on a foil or parchment lined sheet pan, cut side up. Brush the cut sides with a tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place the pan under the broiler on a rack about 3 inches from the broiler, and broil until the tops are deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- For LAYERED-style: Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Trim the stem from the eggplant. Cut the eggplant in half crosswise (the shorter cut), then cut each half lengthwise in 1/2-inch slices. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil, and season one side with a teaspoon of salt. Arrange the eggplant on the prepared baking sheet and broil it in batches until it is deep mahogany brown, turning once to brown both sides.
Make the filling:
- In a medium sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion with a pinch of salt until translucent and cooked through, but not browned. Add garlic and saute just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ground meat, sprinkle with cinnamon, more salt, and pepper, cooking and breaking up the meat into small pieces until it is juicy and browned.
- For the layered version, now set the filling aside. For the boats version, add half of the tomato sauce (we’re using the rest shortly), bring to a simmer, and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. Taste and add more cinnamon, salt, and pepper if needed.
- Move a rack to the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Assemble the eggplant and filling:
For Boat-style assembly
- Arrange the eggplant halves in a large casserole or lasagna pan. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit lengthwise down the center of each half and push the eggplant from either end to open the slit slightly for the filling.
- Spoon the cooked tomato meat sauce into the slits and mount on top of each eggplant half. Then, in the same saute pan, heat the remaining tomato sauce with ½ cup water and season lightly with salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then spoon the sauce into the casserole around the eggplant.
For Layered-style assembly
- In a a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking or similar sized gratin dish, spread about ½ cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. Place eggplant slices over the sauce, covering as much surface area of the bottom of the dish as possible. Spoon half of the meat evenly over the eggplant and pour half of the remaining tomato sauce over the meat. Sprinkle with half of the pine nuts. Now layer again with eggplant, meat, pine nuts, and tomato sauce. Finish with a layer of eggplant and cover that with more tomato sauce.
Bake the eggplant:
- Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for about 90 minutes. Toward the end of baking time, remove the foil and place the mozzarella pieces over each boat. Continue baking until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the casserole from the oven, sprinkle with more toasted pine nuts, and serve warm.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.