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Roasted Meat-Stuffed Onions with Tamarind and Butter

Variations of this traditional recipe, "makshi basal," crop up all over Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and...

Variations of this traditional recipe, "makshi basal," crop up all over Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, where it can be served as a hot mezze dish, or as a main course. Large golden or red onions are ideal for this dish, as the layers can be easily unravelled, stuffed, and rolled up again.

Mezze by Ghillie Basan, photography by Jan Baldwin, is published by Ryland Peters & Small.


  • 2 1/2 large onions, peeled and left whole
  • 9 Ounces lean minced/ground lamb
  • 1/2 Cup long-grain rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato purée/paste
  • 2 Teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon ground coriander
  • A small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (reserve a little for garnishing)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon tamarind paste
  • 2 Teaspoons runny honey
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut each onion down one side from the top to the bottom and pop them into the boiling water for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and begin to unravel. Drain and refresh the onions and separate the layers.

In a bowl, pound the meat, slapping it down into the bowl. Add the rice, tomato purée/paste, spices, parsley, and seasoning and knead well, making sure it is thoroughly mixed.

Spread the onion layers out on a clean surface and place a spoonful of the meat mixture into each one. Roll them up loosely, leaving room for the rice to expand on cooking. Tuck in the ends and pack the stuffed onions close together in a heavy-based pot or ovenproof dish. Mix together the olive oil, tamarind paste and honey with roughly ½ cup water and pour it over the stuffed onions.

Cover the pot or dish with a lid or aluminum foil and pop it in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes, until the rice has expanded.

Melt the butter in small pot and pour it over the stuffed onions. Place them back in the oven, uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, until nicely browned on top and slightly caramelized.

Arrange the stuffed onions on a serving dish and drizzle any leftover tamarind butter over them. Garnish with the reserved parsley and serve them hot with wedges of lemon to squeeze over them.