Lebanese bulgur stuffed aubergine is a rare discovery I made on YouTube a couple of months ago. The lady behind the YouTube channel, Aklat Beirut, is a Lebanese home cook who reminds me a lot of my late grandmother. She has this reassuring and kind motherly voice, and her recipes are mostly authentic dishes from the Mediterranean Lebanese and Levantine cuisines, with great focus on the old and traditional culinary offerings of Beirut, the capital of beautiful Lebanon.
As a multi-cultural illustrator with part Lebanese roots, I have good knowledge of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Levantine foods originating in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and to an extent, Turkey. But, I’ve never come across this dish, neither did my husband who has strong culinary experience in the Italian and Levantine cuisines.
If you have been following this blog from its inception about a year ago, you probably already know I started an Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes blog series to share authentic dishes from this part of the world. That’s why, I am so happy to say that what I’m sharing here today is a true culinary gem on so many levels! And, yes, vegetarians and vegans will love adding this one to their recipe books!
In her video, the Aklat Beirut home cook tells us that this Lebanese bulgur stuffed aubergine gem is an old recipe from Beirut (with her own touch represented in adding tomato paste to the filling – see recipe below). I know this is true, because a couple of years back my mom told me all stuffed veggie dishes originating in Lebanon and Syria used to be cooked with bulgur in the olden days. The switch to rice happened probably about 60-80 years ago. She said the reason bulgur was more basic than rice was because the latter was not as accessible to everyone because of its rocket high prices at the time.
I did some googling and found out the Middle East has known rice for centuries now. Who knows what events over the past few hundred years managed to push the Levantine middle class to depend on bulgur, and other wheat products, as their main cooking ingredient, instead of rice!
How to Serve Lebanese Bulgur Stuffed Aubergine
There are so many versions for stuffed veggies in the Middle East, Turkey, and the Levant. The main ingredients are stuffed courgettes, aubergine, and sweet peppers. There are also two main “moods” if you will for such stuffed veggies: A hot plate, usually cooked with Ghee (Samneh), and a cold plate, typically cooked with olive oil and can be served at room temperature, or what some refer to as serving it cold.
Today, the hot-plate variety of these stuffed dishes (aka Mahshi or Mehshi in Arabic, pronounced Mah-Shi) are cooked with minced meat and rice. Unless you’re a grandmother with old recipes on her belt, you wouldn’t commonly know about the bulgur variation mentioned earlier.
Baitinjan Mahshi bil Burghul: The Recipe
Because this recipe is cooked with oil, it can be served cold (at room temperature, not chilled), as well as a hot plate. It is very delicious and quite savoury; perfect for a warm or sunny day. Serve with fresh herbs and vegetables on the side to live the full Lebanese experience!
Also, the bulgur wheat variety for this recipe is referred to as “fine bulgur,” with grains that are a smaller size than regular bulgur. Fine bulgur comes in two colours, light beige and dark brown, and is usually the star in Lebanese and Levantine dishes, like Kibbeh (minced meat in a shell of mashed meat and bulgur). For this recipe you can use either colour.
Chickpeas are a central ingredient in this recipe, as they go beautifully with bulgur and aubergine dishes in general. You can soak them the previous night in warm water and half a teaspoon of baking soda, and cook them the next day until tender. Alternatively, you can use good quality canned chickpeas, if you do not have time for the soaking/cooking routine.
I did alter this Lebanese bulgur stuffed aubergine recipe ever so slightly to match the particular taste of my husband and I. We cook with a minimalist Italian flare, using spices as minimally as possible to enable the main ingredients to shine through. Therefore, although the original recipe calls for mixed Arabic spices and cumin, I opted for a simple pinch of freshly ground black pepper and salt to season.
- 1 kg medium-sized aubergine
- ¾ cup fine bulgur
- ¼ cup cooked chickpeas
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1 tbsp fresh mint
- 2 tbsp tomato paste (optional, suggested by Aklat Beirut YouTube channel)
- ½ tsp Lebanese seven-spice blend (optional)
- 1 pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp garlic, mashed, or crushed with garlic crusher
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 2 cups water
- Core and deseed the aubergines, soak in a bowl of salted cold water to prevent the flesh from turning brown
- Wash the fine bulgur in water, drain, set aside
- For the filling, add the diced tomato, drained cooked chickpeas, fresh mint, and tomato paste to the bulgur, mix well
- Season with salt, black pepper, and (optional) seven-spice blend
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, mix well
- Stuff the aubergine, leave about 2 cm from the rim to give the bulgur ample space to swell
- For the sauce, over medium-low heat, add the olive oil in a saucepan and gently cook the mashed garlic
- Quickly add the dried mint, followed by lemon juice
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the pomegranate molasses. Add water, and bring the pan back to the heat.
- Place the stuffed aubergine in the pan in a circular arrangement, start at the middle.
- Cover the lid and cook over low heat for about 30-45 minutes, or until the bulgur is cooked and the sauce is thick
- Serve with fresh peppers and herbs on the side
Illustrated Recipe + Middle Eastern Food illustration by illustrator and artist Yaansoon