Before I decided to cook Arabic food, I was intimidated as all hell. I saw how much time, energy and love went into each dish. So I decided to go for the behemoth of them all (or at least one of them), fatteh, and in this case fattet makdous, or eggplant fatteh. Fatteh best translates to “crushed” or “crumbs,” and it includes day-old bread fried and mixed with toppings. It’s made all over the Levant region of the Middle East, but fattet makdous is specifically Syrian.
This dish took the better part of a day to make, but once I bit into the deliciously creamy fried and stuffed eggplant combined with the tangy yogurt and tomato sauce with crunchy bread, I knew it was all worth it. As promised, I broke the recipe down into components and specified which parts you can make ahead.
A few notes about the recipe: when looking at the ground beef stuffing recipe, you might ask yourself, “Do I really need to cook the onions and ground beef in separate pans?” Not necessarily, but it’s how my mother does it, and I told you I’d deliver what my mama taught me. She uses this ground beef mixture frequently on a variety of different dishes, and preparing everything separately ensures that the onions are cooked to the right temperature and the ground beef is nice and crumbly.
It’s best to core the eggplants to make sure you don’t get many (or any) bitter seeds that might come up. If you feel like your eggplants have minimal seeds, or if you don’t have a coring tool, you can very easily slice these little guys in order to stuff them.
And now I present to you…the recipe.
Fattet Makdous (Eggplant Fatteh)
12 baby eggplants (estimate 2-3 per person)
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp 7 spice (or all spice)
1/3 c pine nuts, more for serving
3 large Spanish onions; 1 finely chopped, other 2 chopped in larger chunks
3 14 oz. cans tomato puree
1/4 c (or so) pomegranate molasses
1 pint labneh
1 tbsp tahini
5 garlic cloves; 1 clove smashed to a paste, other 4 cloves minced
1-2 loaves of pita bread, preferably day-old
Sunflower oil, or other neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point, like Grapeseed
Parsley for garnish
Make the ground beef stuffing (stored up to 3 days ahead):
Place a medium-sized skillet on medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion and olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it just starts turning a golden-brown.
Preheat another large skillet. Add the ground beef and constantly “chop” the meat with a wooden spoon while it cooks to break up into fine pieces. The meat will start to release juices, cook until completely dry.
Preheat a small saucepan (or if you want to reduce the amount of pans, wait until the ground beef or onion is finished), reduce to medium and add about 1/2 tbsp of butter. Add the pine nuts and stir constantly until they turn a delicious golden brown.
Combine the onions, ground beef and pine nuts in a pan over low heat. Season with 1 teaspoon of 7 Spices, 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge if using later. Or, continue with cooking the eggplant, and you can stuff and store all of them together.
Fry the eggplant (stored up to 3 days ahead):
Slice the top off the eggplants and core them. When you core them, be sure to just get the center with the seeds. You still want to leave a lot of the inside intact because that’s what makes this dish tasty. Alternatively, make a slice on the side of each eggplant, deep enough to stuff them but not sliced all the way through.
If cored, stuff the eggplants with the ground beef mixture, making sure you really push the stuffing in there with your thumb so you can fit as much stuffing as possible.
Fry those bad boys! Fill a stock pot with about 1-1.5 inches neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point, I use sunflower. Heat the oil to about 350 degrees fahrenheit, or if a grain of rice is dropped in, it rises to the top and starts cooking. Fry about 2-3 minutes per side, being careful not to overcrowd the pan.
If you fried sliced eggplants, you can stuff them at this point.
Stuffed and fried eggplants can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for about 3 days (or make some extras and keep them in the freezer).
Make the tomato sauce (stored up to 3-4 days ahead):
Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit
Grab a pan that’s deep and wide, like a dutch oven. Preheat on high and reduce to medium. Add ~2 tbsp olive oil.
Add the onions and add some salt, cook until nice and golden brown, about 40 mins.
Add the tomato puree, simmer together for about 10 minutes until all the flavors are combined.
Turn off the heat. Add the 1/4 c pomegranate molasses.
Add salt to taste. After tasting the sauce, if you feel like you get a bunch of intense acidity (from the tomatoes and pom. molasses), add salt. Keep adding salt 1/2 tsp at a time, letting the salt incorporate and dissolve and tasting each time. You should start to feel the acidity mellow out and the flavors become more rounded on the tongue. Whenever you see “salt to taste” in a recipe, this is really what you should be doing.
You can store the sauce in an air-tight container for a few days at this point or continue cooking.
If you decide to continue cooking (hooray! that means fatteh sooner), place the eggplant in a baking dish and and cover generously with sauce. Like a lot of sauce. The eggplants should be submerged.
Cover with foil and place in the oven for about 20-30 minutes until nice and soft.
Make pita chips (stored a really long time):
Slice the bread into wedges.
Preheat a pan over high, reduce to medium and add enough oil so that it’s 1/2 inch deep.
Add the bread and fry for about 30 seconds. When it’s finished, drain on paper towel.
Alternatively, you can bake the bread. Add a bit of oil and place on a baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees fahrenheit for about 7-8 minutes until crispy.
These can store on the counter for, like, ever. It’s a great way to use stale bread.
Make the labneh sauce:
Combine the labneh, tahini and garlic paste.
If your labneh is quite thick, you might need to add a bit of water. It should be loose enough to combine with the bread later.
Salt to taste.
Make the fried garlic topping:
Preheat a small saucepan over high heat. Reduce to medium and add ~1/4 c olive oil.
Add the minced garlic and stir constantly until golden-brown, being careful not to burn.
This can also be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week. Be sure to bring to room temperature before serving.
Assembly (the best part! because it means eating soon):
Do this right before serving to make sure the pita chips stay crisp.
Make sure the eggplant and tomato sauce mixture come straight from the oven. They need to be hot since the labneh will be room temp.
If you have extra tomato sauce, bring to a simmer over the stove.
In a deep serving dish, spread the bread and mix with the labneh.
Add about 2-3 ladlefuls of the simmered tomato sauce.
Top with eggplant, and add even more sauce!!
Cover with extra pine nuts, if you have them and then the fried garlic & its oil.
Top with parsley. Take your first bite, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!