Middle Eastern

Basal Mahshi (Sweet & Sour Stuffed Onions With Chicken)

June 29, 2021
1 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist: Pearl Jones. Prop stylist: Ali Slagle.
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as an appetizer
Author Notes

I spent my summers as a kid being coddled by my grandma, and yet I wish I could have spent more time with her, specifically in her kitchen, trying to understand her hybrid of Hebrew, Arabic, and humor that was far beyond my years. The nostalgic flavors I have clung to and the lessons that can be transferred between the stovetop and life, are etched in binders of sacred and vintage recipes and photographs that continue to evoke my kitchen cravings.

This recipe, for chicken-stuffed onions, is one such dish—I think of my grandma when I make these. My grandmother and the ladies in her life would gather in assembly lines to make their stuffed delicacies as if they were party favors (even if there were no parties planned, there was always something delicious to go home with in Tupperware). The idea that with time and effort, something as basic as a common root vegetable could become the foundation for such a special meal is rather humbling, fulfilling, and somehow a little bit life-affirming.

"Mahshi" is the widely used term for most any stuffed vegetable. Said vegetables are usually stuffed with a mixture of spiced ground meat, grains, currants, and nuts and get stewed in a lemon juice, tamarind, water, and sugar mixture. My take on mahshi makes for more of a meal, since they’re bathed in a rich tomatoey sauce that’s just a little bit more sweet and sour. This recipe turns ground chicken, an otherwise unexciting ingredient, into another stealth star, and I think my grandma would be pleased with this.

When you're making these, don’t worry if one or two of your onions slightly unravel; I happen to like seeing their inner beauty spill out here and there. But If you want perfection, you can tightly cover them with aluminum foil before placing in the oven. —Emanuelle Lee

What You'll Need
  • 2 large or 3 medium white onions
  • For the filling
  • 3/4 pound ground chicken (preferably but not necessarily dark meat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, untested
  • 1/3 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
  • Zest and juice from ½ lemon
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • For the sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained of its liquid
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 1/4 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 2 teaspoons to 3 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Zest from ½ lemon
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • For garnish
  • 1 handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pinch lemon zest (you can use any leftover from the lemon called for in the recipe)
  1. Heat the oven to 375°F/190°C, and bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
  2. Peel and prep the onions: Trim the papery skin on the top and the root off of the onion, then with a sharp knife, carefully make an incision about a quarter of the way into center of each onion. This should also help release the skin. Place the onions in the pot, making sure they are fully submerged in water. Once boiling, leave on a medium simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the onions and run them under cold water so they are easier to handle.
  3. Once your onions are cool enough to handle, gently remove each layer until you reach the middle of the onion that’s too small to remove or stuff (approximately where you knife did not reach when making your incision). You should have about 12 to 15 onion layers to use for stuffing. Chop the remainder of the onion that couldn’t be peeled to use for your filling.
  4. Heat a medium to large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the leftover chopped onion, and the ground chicken. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and add the spices. Break the chicken up with a wooden spoon into smallish chunks and allow it to lightly brown and for any liquid to evaporate. Add the rice and pine nuts, allowing the pine nuts to get lightly colored. Stir through the pomegranate molasses, lemon zest, and tomato paste and cook for another minute. Remove from heat.
  5. Before stuffing the onions, spread a light layer of olive oil on the bottom of a large stove-and oven-safe casserole dish. Then, get to work on stuffing: Spoon 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of the filling into the center of an onion layer. Roll the side of the layer that naturally falls higher than the other over the filling, then fold the other side over, forming an oval shape with pointed ends, similar to the shape of a lemon. You want them compact but not too tightly rolled to avoid the filling expanding and the onion unraveling. Repeat the same with the remaining onion layers and place them neatly in your prepared dish, seam-side down.
  6. Place the dish on the stove over medium to high heat, and lightly fry the bottoms of the stuffed onions for about 5 minute. This helps to caramelize them and keep the “seams” fused. Once the bottoms are a dark golden color, about 5 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and spoon the sauce over and between the stuffed onions. Then, pour over the chicken stock, drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the onions, and a sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
  7. Cover with a tight fitting lid and place into the oven; bake for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, uncover and very gently turn the onions over with a spoon; bake for another 40 to 45 minutes, until the onions are soft and caramelized, and the sauce has reduced to a sticky texture and a deep red color.
  8. Transfer the onions to a plate and spoon over the residual sauce and oil from the dish. Sprinkle with a generous handful of fresh parsley and a little more lemon zest. This recipe can easily be made 1 to 2 days in advance and reheated, covered, in the oven.
  9. Note: If you have extra filling, you can pour over enough water to only-just cover the filling. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid or with aluminum foil, reduce the heat slightly and leave for 10 to 12 minutes, until the rice is cooked through and the liquid has evaporated. You can then continue to cook this mixture on medium heat to crisp it up.

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1 Review

Ilana L. June 29, 2021
I love stuffed onions! Never had it with chicken, excited to try this recipe.