March 31, 2011

Middle Eastern Stuffed Onion Rolls: Mehshi Bassal

I grew up loving the stuffed vegetable dishes my mother makes: eggplant, zucchini, tomato, onion, all stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice and cooked in a sour tamarind sauce. I had a great onion crop last summer, so thought I'd share this recipe, a real treat, that used a few of my very large onions. The combination of the sweetness of the onions and the sour sauce is delectable, and the long cooking time adds extra caramelized flavor. You can find tamarind paste in middle eastern or Indian groceries; pomegranate syrup, which is also sour, is an acceptable substitute. This recipe is from my cousin Poopa Dweck's book Aromas of Aleppo.

for the filling
1 lb ground beef
1/3 cup rice
1 teas ground allspice
1 teas ground cinnamon
1 teas salt
1/4 teas pepper
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup water

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. (I knead the mixture with my hands, as my mother does, but a spoon will also work.)

3 very large onions
3 Tbs tamarind paste
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 cup boiling water
1 teas salt
  1. Peel onions and make a vertical cut to the center and not more. Place them in boiling water and cook for 10-15 minutes, until they soften and begin to open. Drain, and when cool enough to handle, separate the layers.
  2. Spoon about a tablespoon of filling in each layer, more for larger pieces, less for smaller, then roll tightly. If you have filling left over, you can form it into balls and cook with the onions.
  3. Line the bottom of a medium saucepan with onion remnants or sliced potatoes; this will prevent the onion rolls from burning and sticking. Place the rolls closely in the saucepan; layering is fine.
  4. Combine the tamarind paste, lemon juice, salt and water and pour over the onions. Put a small plate on top to hold down the rolled onions. The liquid should cover the onions when pressed down with the plate.
  5. Bring to a boil on top of the stove, then simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Transfer to a preheated 350º oven and cook for another hour and 20 minutes.
  6. Remove them from the pot by turning it over onto a serving dish. If you try to lift them with a spoon or other utensil, it's more likely they'll break apart. As you can see from my photo below, I didn't make the prettiest rolls, but they are still delicious.


  1. Printing this, putting tamarind or pomegranate on my shopping list.

  2. Altoon, what does the very long baking time do for these?

  3. The long baking time is essential for the caramelized flavor. All the stuffed vegetable recipes use very long cooking times; it gives the food a deep rich flavor.

  4. While looking for substitutes for tamarind paste I found this: blend dates, prunes, apricots, and lemon juice together in equal parts. ....Does that sound like the flavor?
    Making this for pot luck Friday.- Thanks,
    John Fairley

  5. John, I just spoke with my mother to get her recipe for a substitute tamarind paste:
    mix together a bottle of prune juice, a tablespoon of sour salt (or juice of two lemons), 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours until much reduced and thickened.

  6. This dish was a complete success. I ended up making a Pomegranate syrup as a substitute for the tamarind paste. Unique flavor, lovely on the plate. Thank you!

  7. John, that's great to know. I'm so glad it was a success, because with some recipes I'm not sure that they would suit everyone's palate.

  8. This looks seriously fantastic.....!lovely n delicious .it tastes yummy too!
    kabab Restaurant In south delhi


  9. Hello,

    If you want to go into onions farm business, There are so many company website this days like that will enable you as a beginner to raise the fund you need to start up your onions farm business without you seeking for a loan.

    This company is where many business dealers from all over the world generate fund that backup their various businesses financially.

    I used this company to backup my cocoa beans export business each time my business is running down.

    You can visit and register with the company website here to raise the fund you need now to go into your onions farm business.