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Sheikh el-mahshi

Any yogurt-based dish is automatically my favourite. The way yogurt becomes velvety and smooth after it’s cooked is just amazing. My fellow Levantines feel the same way, as they make the most yogurt based dishes in the Middle East.

Most people know this dish’s more famous cousin, mahshi kousa, or stuffed courgettes. That dish is usually tomato based and is stuffed with rice and mince. Sheikh el-mahshi was known as a “king’s dish” since it skips the rice altogether and is stuffed with the more luxurious stuffing of meat and pine nuts. They are then popped into a minty yogurt sauce and voila, one of the best and most underappreciated dishes out there!

There are two key skills needed for this dish. First is coring out the courgettes. This will take some getting used to, because you can easily pierce them. There is a special corer that you can find in most Middle Eastern shops. Also, make sure you use the small light green courgettes which you can also find at Middle Eastern shops (not their larger cousins).

The second skill is making the yogurt sauce without having it split. It is really worth learning to make this sauce if you like yogurt based dishes because this is a basic yogurt sauce. In order to gain some confidence making this sauce, you can use what I like to call a “training wheel” ingredient, i.e. an egg. Adding an egg with the flour to the yogurt before putting it on the hob will stabilise the sauce and ensure it doesn’t split. You could leave this out later on once you’ve mastered the sauce. Also, don’t forget to continuously whisk, because there is nothing worse than a lumpy sauce.

Although this dish requires a bit of practice, once you get the hang of it, it becomes easy and will definitely be a regular occurrence at your dinner table.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 kg small courgettes
  • Oil for frying

Filling

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 400g minced meat (beef or lamb)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp. garlic paste
  • 2 tsp. mixed spices
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 tbsp. parsley
  • Toasted pine nuts

Yogurt Sauce

  • 500g plain yogurt
  • 1 ½ tbsp. plain flour
  • ½ cup stock
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tsp. garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp. dry mint

Instructions

1. Cut off the tops of the courgettes and carefully hollow them out. Be careful not to pierce them. Wash and place upside down on a kitchen towel to drain.

2. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and brown the minced meat. Drain any excess liquid and add in the chopped onion and garlic. Add the spices, salt and pepper and sauté until cooked through. Take off the heat and add the parsley and pine nuts. Set aside to cool.

3. Stuff the courgettes with the meat filling and then fry in the oil until the courgettes are browned.

4. To make the yogurt sauce, whisk together the cold yogurt with the flour in a large pot. Put it on a medium heat until it begins to bubble and gradually add in the stock, while quickly whisking. Add the garlic, salt, pepper and mint and bring to the boil. If you feel the sauce is too thick, add more stock and adjust the seasoning. Lower the heat and place the stuffed, fried courgettes in the yogurt sauce and cook for about 10-15 minutes.

5. Serve with vermicelli rice. Enjoy!

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