Mesaka’a (Vegan Eggplant & Pepper bake): مسقعة صيامي

Egyptian Mesaka'a

Sweet, acidic, and spicy, Egyptian Mesaka’a hits all your taste buds at once. Mesaka’a is formed of layers of meaty fried eggplants studded with mild and spicy pepper, smothered in rich garlicky-tomato sauce, and warmed with a touch of cumin.

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What is Mesaka’a 

Traditional vegan Mesaka’a (pronounced Mou-Sa-Ka’a) is an iconic eggplant dish that is best described in Egyptian dialect as “ordehee”, which means “austere and contains no meat”.

This iconic dish is made of layers of meaty, melting, and fried eggplants mixed along with mild green bell pepper as well as a handful of sliced and seeded hot peppers. All is smothered in rich garlicky tomato sauce, spiked with vinegar, and warmed with a touch of cumin.

Egyptian Mesaka’a is the meatless kin of Greek Mesaka’a that containes layers of ground meat and a top layer of silky bechamel sauce.

Back in Egypt, I grew up eating vegan Mesaka’a during Coptic lent, when Egyptian Christians, my family included, abstained from animal products and committed to a strict vegan diet.

During the austere 55 days of lent, copts capitalize on the meaty texture of Eggplant to stand-in for meat, so eggplants surface in copious recipes and in all shapes and forms.

Mesaka’a is quite a popular dish in Egypt, primarily thanks to the wide availability of eggplants and their usually moderate pricing.

Truth be told, Mesaka’a in specific wasn’t on the list of my favorites, until I revisited it with fresh techniques and a deeper appreciation to the complexity of eggplants.

The right eggplant type for Mesaka’a 

For newbies, Mesaka’a is a fairly simple dish to put together, yet its success mostly depends on the choice of eggplants. Start on the right foot by choosing the suitable matching eggplant for Mesaka’a.

Globe Eggplant, also known as American eggplant, is the only type I am aware of for this type of Egyptian delicacy. Globe eggplants are pear shaped and meaty.

Globe eggplant
Globe eggplant

Eggplants are like watermelons, You need more than luck to pick the ripe ones. Fortunately, there are helpful cues to pick the good ones. Signs of a promising, and meaty eggplant are:

  • Tight, smooth, and glossy skin.
  • Heft/weight. Steer away from feather light eggplants, those are seedy, bitter, and probably old. Opt for the Eggplant which has heft, as they are the good fit with Mesaka’a.

How to cook Mesaka’a 

In case you belong to a mediterranean culture, I am confident you have watched the matriarch of your family sprinkling raw eggplants, prior to cooking,  with salt, letting them rest for a while before she removes the salt and wipes the excess water.

I can assure you that this laborious step, meant to remove the eggplants bitterness, is no longer necessary, as the modern breeds of eggplants are less bitter.

You might also be asking wether you should peel the eggplants or not. I personally, like to do partial peeling, so I make stripes down the length of the fruit and leave just enough skin. Yet, I am not in favor of leaving the skin altogether as it could become stiff and hard to chew when it is cooked.

1. Fry the eggplants and green pepper to perfection 

Eggplants are notorious for being spongy and oil absorbent. Therefore, you should slice your eggplants to 1/2 – 1 inch slices,. They will shrink anyway during frying. Additionally, to reduce the oil absorption, you can possibly dredge the eggplants in all purpose flour, to get a thin coat that should form a barrier against the oil  during frying.

Fry the eggplant slices on both sides, until they have an amber golden color. Remove the eggplant slices with tongs, or slotted spoons, and let them rest on two layers of absorbent paper to release excessive oil.

In the same frying pan, add some oil if necessary, and fry the chopped mild and hot green peppers at once. Don’t over fry. It should be a quick hot bath in the oil and the pepper shouldn’t lose its vibrant green color.  Probably, 2 minutes are enough.  Let the fried green peppers also rest on absorbent paper to release the excess oil.

2. Make the garlicky-tomato sauce

Don’t discard the frying oil you used to fry the eggplants and green pepper. Use a laddle of that oil to make the garlicky tomato sauce. Start by re-heating the oil, add the minced garlic, once it becomes fragrant, add immediately the splash of vinegar, followed by the tomato sauce/juice.

Ideally, use fresh tomato juice (5-7 tomatoes blended without water in the blender). In Virginia, where I currently live, tomatoes are shipped from elsewhere, so they are far from being juicy or flavorful, so I swap in a good quality of marinara sauce.

Season with cumin, salt, and pepper. Let the garlicky tomato sauce simmer for 3-5 minutes on low heat until the sauce is dense and fragrant. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

3. Assemble Mesaka’a

Typically, mesaka’a is cooked in a clay pot, that is called tagen or beram, yet you can simply use a deep baking dish. Add a layer of the tomato sauce to a baking dish, top it with the slices of eggplants, arrange the pepper on top, and then add another layer of sauce. If you have any eggplants left, arrange on top finish the dish with the tomato sauce and bake for 20 minutes at 375 F°.

4. Serve Mesaka’a

Garnish the mesaka’a  with some fresh parsley and serve it warm,or at room temperature, with vermicelli rice, or Egyptian Aish Baladi, or alternatively pita bread. Dip the pita in the Mesaka’a sauce and enjoy this tantalizing experience as mighty Mesaka’a will hit all your taste buds at once.

In defense of eggplants 

I totally understand that many among us have been turned off , at some point in their lives, by a bad eggplant experience. And my definition of an unfortunate eggplant incident is being terribly bitter, ugly, spongy, and annoyingly seedy.

However, eggplant is similar to watermelon, meaning, there are cues that can help you pick a delicious and fresh eggplant.

Give eggplants a second chance, as you become responsible for its success if you master the eggplants keys:

  • Pick eggplants with smooth, firm, and glossy skin
  • Pick eggplants with heft or weight. If it is feather light, most probably it will be spongy, seedy, and bitter.

How to store eggplants

If you are cooking the eggplants  a day or two after you purchase it, then you can keep it in a cool dry place. Yet, for longer storage keep it in the vegetable bin of your fridge.

According to Becky krystal from the Washington post, Eggplant is ethylene sensitive, which means it should not be stored near ethylene producers, such as tomatoes, melons and stone fruit, which can hasten ripening or even rotting.”

Health benefits 

“Eggplants are a nutrient-rich food that contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They may benefit your overall health, including your heart.”, according to healthline.com .

Make-Ahead 

“Mesaka’a is like fine wine, it improves over time”, so my family say jokingly.

Yet this joke holds some truth, as the Mesaka’s  flavors, like many mediterranean dishes, meld better together and the flavors deepen if they are consumed a day or two after it is cooked.

How to serve the dish 

Ideally, we serve Mesaka’a with vermicelli rice or warm “Aish Baladi” (Egyptian bread) or regular pita bread.

More eggplant recipes: 

You might also like:

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Disclaimer:Chez Nermine blog is an Amazon Associate. We earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. Our commission doesn’t affect the  price of the product you purchase.

Mesaka’a (Eggplant and Green pepper bake)

Mesaka'a (Egyptian vegan eggplant and pepper bake)
Mesaka’a (Egyptian vegan eggplant and pepper bake)

 

INGREDIENTS 

  • 2 Eggplants, sliced 1/2inch
  • 2 mild green bell peppers
  • 2 hot green peppers or more
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup frying oil, preferably canola
  • 1 cup- 1 1/2 cup garlicky tomato sauce (recipe follows)

Tomato sauce 

  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons white distilled vinegar
  •  1 cup tomato juice, freshly fresh or marinara sauce (see notes)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  •  1/2 teaspoon sugar, optional
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Garnish 

  • fresh parsley leaves

DIRECTIONS

  1. Peel the eggplant lengthwise and cut in 1/2 to 1 inch slices.
  2. Dredge the eggplants in all purpose flour to coat it. Shake the eggplant slices to get rid of the excess flour and fry in hot unflavored oil until the eggplants have an amber deep color. Remove from the hot oil with a slotted spoon or tongs and let the eggplants rest on double layers of absorbent paper to release the excess oil
  3. Fry the mild bell pepper and hot pepper in the same oil for no longer than two minutes and before it loses its vibrant green color. Let the fried peppers rest on absorbent paper as well.
  4. In a deep medium saucepan, use 3 tablespoons of the oil you used to fry the eggplant and pepper and reheat it. Once hot, add the minced garlic. Once it becomes fragrant, immediately add the vinegar followed by the tomato juice or marinara sauce. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper. Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes on low heat until it thickens and all the flavors blend well.
  5. Assemble Mesaka’a in a deep baking dish. Start with a ladle of tomato sauce followed by the fried slices of eggplant and arrange the pepper on top. Arrange any eggplants left as a second layer. Top it off with the tomato sauce and bake in a preheated oven at 375 °F for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Serve warm, or at room temperature, with vermicelli rice or warm pita bread.
NERMINE’S NOTES 
  • Fresh tomato juice means that you blend 4-5 ripe tomatoes in the blender without adding water. Alternatively use a good quality of marinara sauce.

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Former diplomat | Travel & Food Writer | Stauch advocate of Culinary Diplomacy. Find more here: https://cheznermine.com/about/

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