Today I’m sharing Eggplant and Tomato Casserole, or mnazelet betinjan.
When I was first teaching myself how to cook, I went through phases of different cuisines. Since I learned through publications like Bon Appetit, New York Times, Saveur, etc., I cooked Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican, Moroccan, Georgian, and the list goes on. This and an affinity for picking up food souvenirs when traveling meant that my pantry had everything imaginable: gochujang, ras el hanout, all the chili powders, cans of jackfruit, pickled red onions from Calabria, etc., all of which I inevitably had to confront when packing up and moving to Dubai.
One of the unforeseen benefits of starting this blog, essentially committing me to one type of cuisine, is that my house is filled with much less JUNK. Another is probably the most important: I’ve learned the rhythm of the Syrian kitchen, honing my intuition and technique, which makes things easier and quicker. I no longer have to follow meticulous directions. When my mom says "make meat stuffing,” I know exactly what she means, and in this case, I had some in the freezer from making fattet makdous.
So, part of me wants to say this is a “quick weeknight meal.” And, to be honest, if you’re in the rhythm of cooking Middle Eastern food and have some meat stuffing in the freezer, it probably is. I know, for a lot of you, that’s not the case. Not to worry, it’s only a couple extra steps, and I’ll walk you right through it.
Syrians have a category of food called mnazeleh, which essentially consists of a fried vegetable that’s topped with ground meat, onions and pine nuts and cooked in sauce. This version is perfect in the summertime when tomatoes and eggplants are in season (find the winter squash version here).
People in Damascas call this dish “black mnazeleh” or mnazeleh soda for the color of the black small eggplants that are used. Palestinians call the vegan version mnazeleh (which Syrians call maghmour or moussaka).
I was introduced to this dish when my mom and I did a pre-wedding Whole 30. We ate a LOT of this. It uses simple ingredients which are combined together into something delicious, and of course eating it with rice is completely optional.
I love the deep fried (or roasted) baby eggplants which are stuffed with ground meat, pine nuts and onions. Baking them with the tomato sauce makes all the flavors come together, giving you the true taste of summer.
I hope you give this recipe a try! If you do, don’t forget to put it in the comments and tag #omayahcooks and @omayahatassi on Instagram! I love to see your creations!
Eggplant and Tomato Casserole (Mnazelet Betinjan)
Baby eggplants are stuffed with ground meat, pine nuts and onions and baked in a tomato sauce. Serve with rice or pita bread.
Traditionally made with fresh tomato sauce, canned also works fine here. The original recipe fries the eggplants, but I roasted them. Feel free to do either.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 45 minutes
1 kg or 2 lbs baby eggplants
500 g or 1 lb ground beef or lamb
1 large onion, chopped
1/3 c pine nuts, toasted
5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tsp 7 spices
4 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 28-oz. cans or 1 kg fresh tomato sauce
1/4 c chopped parsley for garnish
Rice or pita bread for serving
- Preheat the oven to 425 F/210 C. Make a slit on one side of each eggplant, being sure not to cut all the way through. Place the eggplant on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Cover and roast until soft, about 40-45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make meat stuffing. In a 12-inch skillet over high heat, cook the ground beef, breaking up constantly, until browned completely and moisture has evaporated, about 5-7 minutes. Add 7 spices, 2 tsp salt, black pepper and set aside. In the same pan over medium heat, add onion and rest of olive oil. Cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, about 10-15 minutes. Add to ground beef and top with toasted pine nuts.
- Heat tomato sauce over the stove. Add remaining salt and adjust seasoning.
- When eggplant is ready, remove from the oven and transfer to deep roasting pan. Reduce heat to 350 F/175 C. Stuff with meat stuffing through the slit and freeze is whaterver is leftover for future use. Top eggplants with warm tomato sauce, cover with foil, and place back in the oven for about 30 minutes.
- Once the sauce begins bubbling and the flavors meld together, remove from oven and uncover. Top with parsley and serve with rice or pita bread.
- Can be made up to 3 days ahead. Reheat before serving.