Cooking up Tradition: How to Make Sheikh al Mahshi at Home

The name (Shaikh al mahshi) roughly translates into the lord of mahshi.

What is mahshi ?you may ask.

Well it is the Arabic word for stuffed. It is used for all stuffed leafy greens and vegetables.
Kousa mahshi (stuffed zucchini)
Betenjan mahshi (stuffed eggplant)
Jazar mahshi (stuffed carrots)
Mahshi warak enab ( stuffed grape leaves)
khas mahshi (stuffed lettuce leaves)

Batata mahshieh (stuffed potatoes)

If you are a fan of Arabic cuisine, you’d know that this list goes on and on. Hopefully, someday I will get around to posting most of these! but for today, it is Shaikh al mahshi time 🙂

This recipe goes by many names in different areas of the Levant كوسا مغشي/ مخشي/ ابلما/كوسا بلبن Kousa Maghshi /Makhshi /Shaikh al mahshi /ablama. There might be no consensus on the name, but we all agree that it is a delicacy worth the trouble of preparing it.

Sheikh al Mahshi (zucchini stuffed with meat and cooked in yogurt sauce)

How to make sheikh al mahshi ?

Zucchini is cored, filled with perfectly seasoned minced meat, and then it is lightly fried to give it a beautiful golden colour and nutty almost smoky notes. Then it is cooked to perfection in a yogurt sauce that can be infused with mint and garlic.
Sheikh al mahshi is then served over a bed of vermicelli rice.
Pure bliss!
I promise!

Cooking in yogurt sauce

 If you have never tried it before, the idea of yogurt sauce might seem like a lot to digest (pun intended ) but it is actually a staple in Levantine cuisine. Yogurt or “laban” is used as a sauce with fava beans, stuffed zucchini (today’s recipe), shish barak (dumplings filled with spicey minced meat and herbs) and a varient of kubbeh called kibbeh bil laban. It is also the main ingredient in mansaf (the most famous traditional dish in Jordan)

Yogurt sauce makes a wonderfully creamy and slightly tangy background to anything cooked in it. It is creamy without being overly rich, there are mild tangy notes that add freshness and the colour acts like the perfect canvas to serve your creations. It is easy to prepare. All you need is patience to stir it none stop till it boils (which doesn’t take long) and you are rewarded with a versatile sauce that you can enjoy with many recipes.

Which type of zucchini should I use?

The kousa (zucchini) used in this recipe (and in all Arabic and middle eastern recipes ) is the one you see below. It is often referred to as grey zucchini or Mexican zucchini. It is short and wide, which makes it ideal for stuffing.

grey zucchini or mexican zucchini

Sheikh al mahshi (Minced meat stuffed zucchini cooked in Yogurt sauce)

30 medium-sized zucchini (10 to 15 cm long)

For the filling
500 g minced meat (beef or lamb)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 teaspoon allspice
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom

For the sauce
2 kg yogurt (preferably Greek )
drizzle of olive oil
dash of salt

  • Prepare the filling
  1. In a pan add the olive oil and chopped onions. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes
  2. Add the minced meat, salt and spices, break up the meat, and stir till the meat is browned. Take off the heat and set aside.
    • Prepare the zucchini
  3. You can either buy your zucchini cored if you have a Arabic/middle eastern store near you or you can do it yourself (the technique and tools are described here and below in the FAQ). Make sure to wash your zucchini inside and out if you buy it precored.
  4. Stuff each zucchini with enough filling to fill the inside leaving about 2 cm on top (You can measure this using your index finger, if you insert your index finger into the cored zucchini, enough space should remain to insert it up to the first finger joint. Don’t over stuff the zucchini, if you do, it might burst or the extra stuffing will leak into the yogurt sauce changing its colour and flavour.
  5. Place 4-8 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and shallow fry the zucchini turning them gently every minute or so till they are golden brown on all sides.
  6. Remove the zucchini from the pan and place them on absorbent kitchen paper to remove the excess oil
steps for making sheikh al mahshi
  1. Prepare the sauce: 
  2. Blend the yogurt with a drizzle of oil and a dash of salt in the food processor or blender until it becomes liquid and smooth.
  3. Pour the yogurt into a pot, on medium heat stir the yogurt none stop until it comes to a boil.(if you stop stirring the yogurt sauce will split and the texture will change from creamy to granular, if that happens you’ll have to blend it again in a mixer and then reboil it)
    • Assembly
  4. Add the fried zucchini to the yogurt sauce gently and allow it to come back up to a boil over medium-low heat. The sauce will thicken after adding the zucchini.
  5. Stir gently only one or two times then cover and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Serve with vermicelli rice and enjoy
authentic Sheikh al Mahshi (zucchini stuffed with meat and cooked in yogurt sauce)

Frequently asked questions

What is the best tool for coring kousa?
The best tool to core kousa is a corer or mankara but if you can’t find it, an apple corer is a great substitute.

coring tool

How to core zucchini (kousa)?

  1. Wash the zucchini: Rinse the zucchini under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. Remove the ends of the zucchini
  3. Insert the corer: start by measuring the distance you want to insert the corer on the outside of the zucchini (try to stay about a cm away from the bottom of the zucchini) I, this way you will avoid puncturing the zucchini. Hold the zucchini firmly with one hand and insert the corer into one end of the zucchini, twisting it gently to push it through the center of the zucchini.
  4. Pull out the corer: Carefully pull the corer out of the zucchini along with the core of the zucchini(the central seeds and flesh area), taking care not to break the zucchini.
  5. scrape the sides : to widen the space at the core and make room for your stuffing, gently scrape the sides or the hole you created with the zucchini corer. Be careful not to poke the walls of the zucchini. Stop when the walls are about 1/8 of an inch thick
  6. Use the cored zucchini in your recipe: The cored zucchini can now be used in your recipe, such as stuffed zucchini.
  7. Don’t discard the zucchini cores, you can use them to prepare omelet or saute them with some onions and dried mint for a lovely side dish.