We all love mehshe (in arabic محشي, to be pronounced me7she). Mehshe koussa, mehshe wara2 3enab, mehshe malfoof,… the list is long! In english, it would translate to stuffed courgettes, stuffed summer squash / marrow, stuffed vine leaves and stuffed cabbage. These are considered standards of our dear Lebanese cuisine, which also includes stuffed aubergines, potatoes, bell pepper, swiss chard,… well, pretty much anything that can be stuffable!
The problem with mehshe is the preparation: not only does it require patience and dexterity (which a lot of people don’t have), but it is, on top, an extremely time-consuming operation which, let’s face it, does not fit in the hectic pace of our lives. If asked, most people would tell you that they would gladly eat mehshe EVERYDAY if they could, but they almost never make it themselves. They usually only eat it in restaurants or at family gatherings (moms, grandmas and aunties, for some reason, always have the time to make mehshe…).
But it’s a shame, because mehshe is delicious. And nutritious. Whatever the variation, it caters to all palates, providing a delectable and hearty grub in a presentation that’s so charming and friendly. No wonder it is one of the most popular local comfort foods.
The mehshe formula is a pretty straightforward one: you stuff something with something else.
Nevertheless, the application can turn out quite sophisticated. A simple potato or some cabbage leaves would serve the purpose, as much as would a whole bird or a lamb. In any case, there will be some carving or rolling you’ll need to do. For the stuffing, you can generally choose between standard rice and minced meat, or the vegetarian ate3 (قاطع) version that blends greens, onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, walnuts, etc…
So is this post gonna be about the history of mehshe? the anthropological value of mehshe? its molecular composition? its metaphysical dimension? hell no. This post is about the mehshe revolution 🙂 – and it will most probably sound blasphemous for the mehshe puritans amongst you.
Like many, I love mehshe. In spite of all the goodwill I could muster, I could only manage to make a mehshe dish… ONCE in all those years! Although the result was delicious, and in spite of the fact that I don’t mind spending hours in my kitchen, and that I truly enjoy the “crafts” aspect of rolling vine leaves, it simply never happened again.
Until something in my head snapped. And something like that came out of it:
And why not?
One big vine leaves roll – or “mega wara2 3enab“.
You can apply this method to your favourite rolled mehshe recipe (your mother’s or one taken from your precious cookbook).
Boil the vine leaves for a few minutes, and make sure to keep the water for the sauce. Meanwhile, mix the usual stuffing: rice, meat, few spices, and yoghurt (a good non-dairy alternative for this recipe is sunflower seed milk). Then, instead of rolling each leave individually, do it in a swiss-roll-like fashion. The first time, I spread the leaves on a tray lined with a plastic film, and covered them with a loose layer of stuffing (the rice will expand during cooking so it shouldn’t be too compacted). I repeated the process for a second layer, then rolled the whole thing supported by the plastic film. I took care to fold in the exceeding tips at the sides, to form some sort of gutter at each end of the log, the same way we roll sandwiches using arabic bread. The second time around, I improved the method by using a mat that’s similar to the ones employed to roll sushi: I was able to shape a fantastic “mega wara2 3enab” in no time and with absolutely no mess. The manoeuvre takes no more than 10 minutes (that’s if you’re really taking your time). Then, you can cook the “mega wara2 3enab” in two ways:
- On the stove top: transfer the log to a pot of similar size (I recommend covering the bottom with thick potato slices, like you would with conventional mehshe, to avoid burning), and pour the sauce around it (you don’t need to cover it). Average cooking time 15 to 20 min (12 – 15 min if using a pressure cooker).
- In the oven: transfer the log to a baking pan (loaf-shaped for one log, rectangular for two – the tighter it is, the better it will holed during cooking). Again, make sure to cover the bottom and sides with thick potato slices (like you would with conventional mehshe, to avoid burning. Pour the sauce leaving about 5 cm on top. Cover with aluminum foil perforated with a fork of knife, and steam in the oven at medium thermostat for about 20 min.
Ever since I’ve started to mess with mehshe, it got more experimental and I soon found myself breaking the very foundation of what mehshe is: bypassing the stuffing part.
What gave rise to this “coup” is my daily pace that’s becoming more and more hectic, and the fact that I’m on a very specific diet (promoting meats and vegetables and banning grains), which got me quite creative on the “stew” mode. The day I decided to cook summer squash, I spontaneously put together a stew-like dish using all the ingredients of the mehshe are3 (محشي قرع), except for the rice, following the same classic stew preparation steps: fry onion and/or garlic, then add minced meat and cook till browned. Add chunky squash and tomatoes (peeled in my case as I have to limit my fiber intake), throw a whole garlic, then add some water, or meat stock / bone broth for extra flavour and nutrition. Bring to boil, then let simmer for about 20 minutes. Add your choice of aromatics (in this case dried mint) a few minutes before it’s done cooking… and ready to serve!
Not only you can prepare in no time a dish that tastes very close to mehshe, but you can also customize it to accommodate your dietary needs if you happen to be on a special diet.
Derive from any trusted recipe to make unstuffed courgettes, potatoes, bell pepper, tomatoes,… or venture in more innovative combinations ;). Believe me, the riceless squash above was as delectable than its traditional counterpart!