Ramadan Kareem everyone!
It always seems to come suddenly, doesn’t it?
This year, with all the madness that’s been going on in my personal life (moving houses AND cities, baby on the way), as well as a sudden influx of work (for which I am incredibly grateful, but slightly overwhelmed), I have not had time AT ALL to prepare myself in any way! I usually like to start getting into the Ramadan mood a bit before the month actually starts. I like to go shop for some Arabic gorceries, make a few traditional oriental drinks and stock up my pantry with all the basics that I use often during the month like rice, dried beans, dates and nuts.
With our recent move to Melbourne, I am still very slowly trying to get my bearings around the city and our neighbourhood, attempting to fast forward the process of aquiring my “local” spots; to shop, to dine, to get coffe, to find Middle Eastern groceries…which usually does take time. Time I don’t really have lol.
Thankfully though, there are a few wonderful friends who are already helping out with recommendations and tips, and I feel so lucky to have them around in close proximity. A few old friends, a bunch of new ones; all absolute gems and all making Melbourne seem much friendlier, warmer and more familiar.
More than ever though, I find myself craving flavours of my hometown and my childhood, veering more and more towards the comfort of our traditional dishes and old family recipes. Ramadan always has this effect on me, but interestingly enough, ever since I became preganant last December, this is all the more pronounced. All I want is Egyptian/Middle-Eastern food.
I created this recipe last year for a client back in Egypt, and never got around to sharing it on the blog with you guys. I felt that Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to do so, as Mah-shi is such a very typical Egyptian dish, served often during the holy month.
Mah-shi, literally means stuffed. We LOVE to stuff things in Egypt you guys. All kinds of vegetables have been victim to this, as well as some unfortunate animals as well – stuffed pigeon is a classic Egyptian delicacy that borderlines national obsession, and it is DELICIOUS. But today, the pigeons will be spared, all thanks to these beautiful red peppers.
Traditionally, vegetables like peppers, zucchini, baby aubergine, tomatoes and onions are stuffed with a mixture of short-grain Egyptian white rice, minced beef, herbs and spices, then cooked slowly in a light tomato sauce till everything is uber soft and bursting at the seams. Most households serve vegetable Mah-shi as an assortment, on a massive platter, for guests to pick from as they please. In our home, we preferred to segregate the veggies (veggie racism?) and always cooked them separately. I still do this. Can’t help it.
Since I now live in Australia and have to do everything by myself, the Mah-shi I make the most often is stuffed peppers…because frankly, I’m lazy. They are the easiest to stuff, and require the least fuss and finesse. No apologies here. I still do make others, but just not as often, and never in time to take pretty photos and blog about it (although I promise I will someday!).
This client wanted me to create a slightly more virtuous variation using brown rice, and I was rather sceptical, as brown rice is generally so much tougher and never really reaches that almost-mushy moorishness of white rice. I accepted the challenge though, and happy to report that I was able to create a very successful, incredibly delicious recipe for May-shi using brown rice. The trick is to prep the rice twice, by first soaking overnight, then precooking it briefly before stuffing it into the peppers.
Give it a go, it really is quite simple and straightforward to make. I love how Mah-shi is a full meal in one, and all it needs on the side is a big salad and possibly some yoghurt to dollop onto the beautiful vegetables.
- FOR THE PEPPERS:
- 1 cup (200g) brown rice, soaked overnight in a bowl of water
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 250g minced beef
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. mixed spice
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- ½ cup water
- 1 bunch fresh parsley, leaves picked & finely chopped (or you could use a mixture of herbs like coriander & dill if you prefer)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 5 large red peppers
- FOR THE SAUCE:
- 3 heaped tbsp. tomato paste
- 3 cups hot water
- salt & pepper to taste
- Rinse and drain the soaked rice well, then place it into a medium saucepan and cover with water by about 5 cm. Place on high heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Drain the excess water from the rice and set aside to cool.
- In a large pan, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently for 5-7 minutes, until onions are softened and starting to yellow. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Turn the heat to high and add the beef. Cook the beef, breaking it up with the spoon until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the spices and tomato paste and cook for one minute. Add the water, turn the heat to low and cook for 5 more minutes until most of the water is evaporated, but the mixture is still nice and moist. Season well with salt & pepper and set aside to cool slightly.
- While the beef mixture cools, prepare you peppers: carefully cut off the tops of the peppers, but don’t discard them. Remove the seeds and white pith inside each pepper and arrange them into a suitably sized pot with a lid; they should be fitting snugly.
- Once the beef has cooled down a bit, add the semi-cooked rice to it, along with the chopped herbs. Season with a little more salt & pepper and mix well until all the ingredients are nicely distributed. Using a spoon, scoop the stuffing mixture into the peppers, diving it equally among them.
- MAKE THE SAUCE: in a jug, combine the tomato paste and the hot water. Whisk together until well mixed and season with salt & pepper. Spoon 3 tablespoons of this sauce into each of the peppers (right onto the stuffing) and then cover each pepper with its top. Pour the rest of the sauce into the pot around the peppers, and place the pot onto the stove on high heat.
- As soon as the sauce in the pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot, and cook on low for 30-40 minutes, until the peppers are softened and the rice mixture inside the peppers is fully cooked. Serve, along with the sauce from the pot.
will need to cook it for longer in the first step, about 15-20 minutes. However, I highly recommend you do soak it, as the outer husk of the brown rice can be quite tough to cook and digest. *You may use this mixture to stuff other vegetables such as zucchini and eggplant.
*You may also make this recipe with white short-grain rice. Just give it a good rinse, then add it to the beef mixture raw.