Bitingan Abyad Mahshi
A recipe from our friend Heba Saleh of Mideats.com:
You know you’re a food snob when you’re looking forward to writing about eggplants, just to refer to them as aubergines. In the world of culinary aficionados, aubergine is the more elegant, proper English name given to the sweet-spicy vegetables, otherwise known as eggplant to the rest of the English-speaking (unsophisticated) world. I’m joking – kind of. I really do prefer the French-inspired wording when it comes to food. Wouldn’t you agree that courgette sounds more enticing than zucchini, and mangetout more interesting than boring ol’ snow peas? Even more interesting than nomenclature is the actual recipe though, so steamed aubergines with no spices won’t cut it!
In Arabic, it’s bitingan, in case you’re wondering … In Egypt, there are three popular types of eggplant, and each variety stars in its own dish. The most popular is the large, purple-brown globe variety, known as bitingan rumi, or translated literally as Roman eggplant (it’s safe to assume that it was originally imported from southern Europe). There’s also the purple-brown, long slender ones called bitingan ‘arus – literally ‘bride’ eggplants, and I have no idea why. Finally, they’re the white, slender eggplants – which come either stocky or long – called bitingan abyad, literally ‘white eggplant’. In this post, I’ll be sharing about the bitingan abyad, which I’ve noticed are more popular in Eastern cuisine than in the West, where the globe variety takes center stage.
In traditional Egyptian cuisine, aubergines have been popularized by two main meals – moussaka (which is typically a baked casserole consisting of rumi eggplants, tomato sauce and ground beef), and bitingan mahshi, or stuffed eggplant. For the latter dish, either the ’arus or abyad varieties work, although the white eggplants are the original stars in their stuffed role. Ask any Egyptian grandma, and you’ll get the same answer: “White eggplants are ideal for stuffing, firstly because of the smaller size, and more importantly because their flavor is subtle and their flesh is tender.” Rumi is often baked, fried or stewed, ‘arus is either pickled or stuffed, and abyad is almost always stuffed.
When my mom and I spotted white eggplants at the Saturday farmer’s market here in Virginia, we both had the same reaction: “Let’s stuff them!” Something about Middle Easterners and stuffing vegetables – I haven’t figured it out, but it’s a comforting culinary tradition, and as you’ll see from my posts, I’ve come to embrace it, even though – I won’t lie – it is time consuming!
3-4 White Eggplants per person (for 4 people, we stuffed 12)
1 lb. organic, grass-fed Ground Beef
½ cup organic Egyptian Rice (other varieties, like Basmati, would probably work)
1 tablespoon Grass-fed Organic Ghee
1 cup filtered Water
1 can/small glass jar of organic Tomato Paste
1 large Onion, chopped
unrefined mineral salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Core eggplant. On a smooth surface, use the palm of your hand to gently roll the eggplant to soften the core and make it easier to remove the pulp. Then, hold the eggplant securely in the palm of your hand, use a knife to remove the stem, and use a corer to remove the pulp – but be careful not to pierce the skin of the eggplant! It is safe to keep about an inch or two-thirds of an inch uncored at the bottom, and discard the extracted pulp.
Add cored eggplants to cold water. Immerse cored eggplants in cold water immediately after coring in order to prevent them from oxidizing and turning brown.
Prepare stuffing. Chop one large onion. In a large pot add ground beef, uncooked rice, two-thirds of can of tomato paste, organic ghee, chopped onion, and salt and pepper seasoning. Mix well (feel free to use your hands!).
Fill eggplants. Add the mixture to each eggplant, using your index finger to push each piece in. Leave about a third of an inch of the front of each eggplant unfilled because the mixture expands as it cooks. Make a small incision (a 1 cm slice) on the side of each eggplant, to make sure the moisture from the sauce is absorbed and it cooks all the way through. But be careful not to make a big or wide cut that can cause the eggplant to fall apart!
Add sauce and cook. Place eggplants in a large pot. Mix remaining tomato paste with water and add to the pot, making sure that the sauce covers most of the eggplants. Cover and cook on medium heat for 30-40 minutes. Before removing from heat, try a bite to check if the stuffing has cooked all the way through.
Stuffed white eggplants are both filling and tasty. They make wonderful side dishes at a dinner party as well. The coring and stuffing process is a bit time-consuming, but the recipe itself is super simple and the ingredients are easy to find. The end result is definitely worth the 45 minutes you spend coring and stuffing each aubergine! Yes – I had to use the fancy eggplant word one last time. Bon apetit!
For stuffing, pick uniform-looking eggplants of similar size.
You have to use a vegetable corer – any other utensil is unusable for this endeavor. Trust me – I’ve tried.
Cold water preserves the freshness of the eggplants temporarily while you core the whole bunch.
Make sure to leave a little bit of room at the tip of each eggplant so it doesn’t explode or overflow while cooking.
Serve with some sauce drizzled on top for added moisture and flavor!