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Lebanese Stuffed Eggplant

Lebanese stuffed eggplant, or eggplant boats, is the traditional way to make Sheik al mehsheh, a meal “fit for a king”! The filling is a savory combination of ground beef or lamb with onions and seasoned with cinnamon. This dish is easily made ahead, as well as casserole-style, with my recipe for Sheik al Mehsheh.

Lebanese eggplant boats in tomato sauce topped with cheese and pine nuts, in a white casserole, Maureen Abood

For some reason, our Lebanese eggplant, or Sheik al Mehsheh, has always been made by my mom as a layered casserole. Aunt Hilda, she loved to make her eggplant in the traditional stuffed Lebanese eggplant boats. The layered version is luscious, given lots of bake-time to meld the spiced meat/onion/tomato/eggplant flavors in a most delectable way. The boats . . . well, my brother Chris has on occasion told the story of eating them at Hilda’s for dinner with Ruth, and every time he looked down at his plate there was more eggplant boat there. Ruth was piling it on to Chris when nobody was looking, while she went for the savory filling in hers and his.

Aunt Hilda loved her version, though, and would say as only she could: “Your mother makes delicious sheik al Mehsheh. Delicious. But that’s not how the Aboods do it. That’s not how I do it, honey.” In other words: mine is better, honey.

Eggplant at the farmers market, surrounded by squash, peppers, and tomatoes, Maureen Abood
Purple eggplant in a footed dish on a marble countertop, Maureen Abood

There was no question for her, or for me, that the boats look better. They’re distinct, tidy, and make it clear that you’re eating Lebanese eggplant boats and not Italian lasagna. (For Dan, this is not a good thing, since he’s “allergic” to eggplant. He’d rather the eggplant be indistinguishable, even if he’s not eating any. Because he’s allergic.)

In culinary school, we had many assignments asking us to make a familiar dish new in some way. I went for the eggplant boats, thinking I’d impress with a broad soup bowl with three filled halves, tomato sauce, and topped with the sautéed meat and onions and a dollop of labneh. I thought I’d cook the components separately to maintain the eggplant’s color and shape better. I thought it would be great. I had bragged up how delicious this dish is without realizing how important the long bake time is, how essential the melding of flavors. Chef loved how they looked but the message was: keep trying.

Which I did not, believing in my soul that the boats are simply an inferior Lebanese eggplant dish not at all worth my time. But I’ve wondered about them even as I relegated them, especially as I’ve perused the beautiful smaller eggplant at the market (not super small, just a little smaller than the globes).

Sliced eggplant on a board with a knife, Maureen Abood
Eggplant halves brushed with olive oil and salt, Maureen Abood
Broiled eggplant halves on a foil-lined sheet pan, Maureen Abood

Not to mention all of the boats we have going in our lives up north on Little Traverse Bay. Every day it’s a question of the boat rides relative to the temperature, the wind, the timing, and etc. Recently we were awaiting my brother Tom’s arrival across the bay by boat. I said to Chris as we looked way out there, hey, is that Tom? He looked at me in total disbelief that I couldn’t distinguish Tom’s boat from the boat in question.

He said this deficit must be a matter of interest, and I’m just not interested enough to know. He wouldn’t know a brioche from a babka, he said.

What? I love boats (okay, maybe not as much as he does, but do see this and this and this and this and this) and he loves bread (no, not as much as I do). I guess it’s not that different from back when I was in junior high and cursing all that is geometry. He told me then that I must not have been that interested in doing well, and if I did want to do well, I had to apply myself, getting after the real homework in a real way every day, and I would get an “A.” He bet me $10 I could do it. (I know, what a cool brother, going all the way back. Today, he operates on brains and other interesting things like that)

Browned meat and onions in a saute pan with a wooden spoon, Maureen Abood
Eggplant boats in a white casserole filled with tomato meat sauce, Maureen Abood

I did the math. I got the “A” (and the $10). And of course, my brother’s nod of approval, which was worth a lot more to me than the grade or the cash. And so: the eggplant boats. I did the homework, applied what I know, and here we are with a dish equally as good as my mom’s, one that nobody’s going to pass off to someone else’s plate.

Lebanese eggplant boats, sheik al mehsheh, Maureen Abood

More Eggplant Recipes

Garlic Tahini Eggplant

Sheik al Mehsheh: how eggplant healed a heart and always welcomes us home!

Lebanese Baba Gannouj (baba gannoush), smokey eggplant dip

Lebanese eggplant boats in tomato sauce topped with cheese and pine nuts, in a white casserole

Lebanese Stuffed Eggplant Recipe

Maureen Abood
Lebanese stuffed eggplant boats are the traditional way to make Sheik al mehsheh, a meal “fit for a king”! Serve the eggplant over a bed of cinnamon-scented rice with a crisp, lemony romaine salad on the side. This dish is easily made ahead by a day or two and refrigerated before baking (or bake, cool, refrigerate for up to two days, then reheat covered in a 350 degree oven), or frozen (thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking or reheating).
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings 6


  • 6 medium eggplant, about 8 x 3 inches
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound ground beef (round) or lamb
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 28 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1 large ball fresh mozzarella cheese, torn in small pieces (optional)


  • Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise and arrange on a foil or parchment lined sheet pan, cut side up. Brush the cut sides with a tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place the pan under the broiler on a rack about 3 inches from the broiler, and broil until the tops are deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • Move a rack to the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • In a medium sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion with a pinch of salt until translucent and cooked through, but not browned. Add garlic and saute just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ground meat, sprinkle with cinnamon, more salt, and pepper, cooking and breaking up the meat into small pieces until it is juicy and browned.
  • Add half of the tomato sauce (we’re using the rest shortly), bring to a simmer, and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce takes on a meaty, flavorful taste. Taste and add more cinnamon, salt, and pepper if needed.
  • Arrange the eggplant halves in a large casserole or lasagna pan. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit lengthwise down the center of each half and push the eggplant from either end to open the slit slightly for the filling.
  • Spoon the cooked tomato meat sauce into the slits and mount on top of each eggplant half. Then, in the same saute pan, heat the remaining tomato sauce with ½ cup water and season lightly with salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then spoon the sauce into the casserole around the eggplant.
  • Cover the casserole tightly with foil and bake for about 90 minutes. If you’re short on time, a shorter baking time is fine, but try to keep it in the oven for an hour. Toward the end of baking time, remove the foil and place the mozzarella pieces over each boat. Continue baking until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove the casserole from the oven, sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts, and serve after the eggplant rests for about 10 minutes.


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  1. Gregory Jarous on September 16, 2017 at 1:00 PM

    Maureen you write such beautiful stories about our food and family. I miss so much talking to Aunt Hilda and Uncle Dick. Your stories warm my heart cousin

    • Maureen Abood on September 17, 2017 at 12:52 PM


  2. Michelle Maltese on September 19, 2017 at 6:35 PM

    Hi Maureen, I love reading your recipes and about your family traditions. Love sheikh al mehsheh but never had it with mozzarella cheese. Was that a common way to make it in your family? Michelle Mansour Maltese

    • Maureen Abood on September 21, 2017 at 10:01 PM

      Thank you Michelle! My mom always added the cheese and I think that was her special spin on it.

  3. Clare on October 19, 2017 at 12:39 PM

    Hi Maureen! I have made the sheikh al mehsheh from your book many times, and it is always a HUGE hit. I am making it this way tonight for a dinner party. I am marrying into a Lebanese family and this is one dish that I have actually introduced to them, as their Tita apparently never made it. They love it but give the mozzarella the side eye. Have you ever come across any melting cheeses that might be more authentically Lebanese/Syrian? My father in law always talks about this cheese his mother kept in a glass jar covered with water and had little black seeds in it. He has no idea what it was and I would love to figure it out!

    • Maureen Abood on October 20, 2017 at 11:41 AM

      Hi Clare! For the cheese, you can use Lebanese ackawi cheese if you can locate it. It’s very similar to mozzarella, but saltier. The cheese with the carroway might have been fresh jibneh. I’ve also seen string cheese in Lebanese markets with carroway seeds.

  4. Diana Duffy on January 27, 2020 at 10:42 AM

    Love your recipes. So easy to follow. Is there’s a secret getting the baklava out of the pan after baked? Mine sticks and is difficult to get Out without falling apart.

    • Maureen Abood on January 29, 2020 at 5:34 PM

      Diana, baklawa sure can be tricky to remove from the pan. I find that if I cut the pieces away with the knife going toward where the majority of the baklawa is in the pan, if that makes any sense at all!), it helps hold the pieces together more. I cut all the way along the already cut rows and diagnals before I cut away an individual piece. I’m trying to think of a good way to explain this!

  5. George Younes on March 17, 2020 at 10:46 AM

    My mother asked me every year what I would like for my birthday: without hesitation, Sheik el Mikshe. It is, by far, my favorite dish. To this day I make every effort to make this dish. So far I’ve been successful at it. she taught me well, and I’ve now perfected a few dishes that I can make with ease. I am so grateful to her, and I’m sure my brother is as well, for giving us the skills to make these dishes. Our kitchen, as a small kid, was packed with relatives on Saturday, making Lebanese food for the week. It was a gastronomic feast. Thank you for continuing the tradition.

    • Maureen Abood on March 19, 2020 at 2:44 PM

      Georges, what a special mother. Thank you so much.

  6. Cindy Dixon on April 20, 2020 at 6:55 PM

    Hi Maureen,
    My dad would make this layering the eggplant between the meat mixture that also included the toasted pine nuts. I can smell it cooking! So delicious.
    Thank you for your version!

    • Maureen Abood on April 22, 2020 at 9:32 AM

      Special! Thank you Cindy!

  7. Carol Goldbach on May 4, 2020 at 11:06 AM

    Hi Maureen,
    I made my (very similar) version of this the other day, but next time I’m going to try it this way. You have inspired me, and lately I’ve been cooking all of the Lebanese recipes that I haven’t made in years! Thanks for waking up my taste buds!!
    Warm Regards,
    Carol from NJ

    • Maureen Abood on May 12, 2020 at 9:21 AM

      That’s wonderful Carol, thank you!

  8. Judy on October 4, 2021 at 11:56 AM

    I have made this many times, but layered like lasagna. I grow eggplant in Wisconsin every summer and eat batch after batch of this!

    • Maureen Abood on October 5, 2021 at 3:42 PM

      I love eggplant layered too Judy, just divine. How excellent to have your own home-grown eggplant at your fingertips!

  9. Denise Zenladin on February 13, 2022 at 6:40 PM

    I want to thank you for this website. My husband comes from Syria. We had my mother-in-law living with us for about 8 years but now she has gone back. I enjoyed her cooking for all that time. I tried figuring out some of her recipes myself, but I always seem to be doing something wrong. Thanks to your website I have been able to make some of my favorites (oh yeah, and my husband’s) and I cannot wait to try others.

    • Maureen Abood on February 20, 2022 at 3:34 PM

      Well that just means the world to me, thank you Denise. How great that you’re working on these recipes. Let me know any questions!

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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!

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