This Lebanese eggplant dish, Sheik al Mehsheh, is so incredibly savory and delicious! Meltingly soft eggplant, tomato sauce, and ground beef or lamb studded with toasted pine nuts, and topped with cheese (Mom’s addition!)–you will LOVE.
Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Trim the stem from the eggplant. Cut the eggplant in half crosswise (the shorter cut), then cut each half lengthwise in 1/2-inch slices. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil, and season one side with a teaspoon of salt. Arrange the eggplant on the prepared baking sheet and broil it in batches until it is deep mahogany brown, turning once to brown both sides.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a small frying pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the pine nuts and cook them, stirring constantly, until they are golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a medium sauté pan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add chopped onion and cook over medium heat until translucent but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about a minute. Add the ground lamb or beef, breaking up the meat into very small pieces with a spoon. Season with salt, cinnamon, and pepper. Cook until the meat is medium-well done, continuing to break up the meat into small pieces with a spoon.
Butter or oil a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking or similar sized gratin dish. Spread about ½ cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. Place eggplant slices over the sauce, covering as much surface area of the bottom of the dish as possible. Spoon half of the meat evenly over the eggplant and pour half of the remaining tomato sauce over the meat. Sprinkle with half of the pine nuts. Now layer again with eggplant, meat, pine nuts, and tomato sauce. Finish with a layer of eggplant and cover that with more tomato sauce.
Pour enough water around the edges of the dish to fill the gratin a little more than halfway. This is an important step or your sauce will be too thick; it may seem watery when you do this but the sauce will thicken as it bakes.
Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 90 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle with crumbled fresh mozzarella cheese. Bake for about ½ hour longer, uncovered, until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Serve warm, over rice.