Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel is a very popular and easy to prepare, baked pasta dish. Egyptians are known for their Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel, but Palestinians make it too. Bechamel is simply a white sauce that is thickened with flour.
There are so many different ways people make Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel. I’m posting what I find to be the easiest recipe, and will provide two variations on making the actual white sauce.
For a slightly healthier and lighter version of this dish, try Koosa Bil Bechamel, where zucchini is used as a substitute for pasta. It’s equally delicious, and you won’t feel as bad eating it :)
approx 2 lbs of ground beef or lamb (for ~8 people)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 tsp each of allspice (or “bharat” spice), black pepper
1/2 tsp each of cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric
salt to taste
large package of elbow macaroni (or penne, or any other medium-sized short-cut pasta)
For the Bechamel sauce:
5 cups of cold milk
4 tablespoons of flour
1 egg, whisked
3 tablespoons of butter
Start by boiling your pasta until it’s just cooked. Drain.
In a pan, saute the chopped onion until soft, then add the ground meat. Cook the meat thoroughly, breaking it up so you don’t end up with any large clumps. Season with the allspice/bharat, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, and salt to taste.
Coat the bottom of a large baking dish with a few drops of oil. Using half of the cooked pasta, make an even layer of pasta in the bottom of the baking dish. On top of that, add all of your cooked meat, spreading it out to make an even layer.
On top of the meat, add another layer of pasta using the remaining half.
Set this aside while you make the Bechamel sauce:
Method 1 (easier, less likely to clump):
Pour one cup of the cold milk into a saucepan. Add the flour and egg, and whisk until smooth. Add the rest of the milk, the butter, and salt&pepper to taste, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. After it boils, keep cooking for approx. five more minutes, then remove from the heat.
Method 2 (more difficult and likely to clump, but richer tasting):
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir constantly, letting it cook for about a minute and turn golden brown (basically making a roux). Add the cold milk and whisked egg to the pan slowly, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When it boils, cook for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat.
Pour the Bechamel all over the top of the pasta.
Spread it to even it out, making sure to cover the pasta entirely. Set it aside for a few minutes to let it cool and set a bit.
Finally, bake in a hot oven (~450 dgrees) until the top of the Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel browns. This usually takes about an hour. You can put it under the broiler for a couple minutes at the end to make sure the top is perfectly golden, with some darker patches here and there (the best part!).
Alternatively, when I’m in a hurry, I don’t even bother baking it since all the components are already cooked. I simply broil the top, which takes about ten minutes; this method is good for when you’re in a rush, but the layer of Bechamel will have a slightly runnier consistency. If you chose Method 1 for the Bechamel sauce, I highly recommend you bake the dish thoroughly.
I love zucchini. It’s such a versatile vegetable, and its flavor can really be brought out with the simplest of seasonings: some salt and pepper. Zucchini is also relatively cheap here in Jordan, so people cook with it all the time.
Taita makes a really good pasta dish called “Ma’karonah bil beshamel,” where she layers macaroni, spiced ground meat, and a thick bechamel sauce. She then bakes it in the oven till the sauce browns on top. It’s amazing, but very rich. Recently, she introduced me to the (slightly) lighter version, where she uses sliced zucchini instead of the layer of macaroni. I try to convince myself that I’m eating healthy when I eat this version since it’s vegetables, not pasta, but I still end up feeling guilty because the dish is still just as rich!
Approx 1 kilo of fresh, firm zucchini, washed
Approx 1/2 kilo of ground meat
1/2 a large onion, finely chopped
1/4 tsp each of cinnamon and allspice (optional)
5 tbsp of flour
1.5-2 cups of cold milk
Cut the stems and the bottom parts off of the zucchini.
Slice each zucchini into slices of medium thickness. You don’t want them to be too thin or they’ll just sort of dissolve and get mushy when you cook them. If the zucchini are really “fat,” you can do half-slices (pictured below).
Lightly sautee the slices in some hot vegetable oil until just tender. Add some salt&pepper.You don’t want to cook the zucchini through too much, or they won’t hold up to the baking later.
Also, sautee the chopped onion in some oil in another pan until soft, then add the ground meat. Brown the meat, breaking it up with your spatula as it cooks. Add the seasonings: salt&pepper, plus the cinnamon and allspice if you want.
Now, prepare the bechamel sauce that will be the fourth layer in your dish. Dissolve 5 tbsp of flour in about 2 cups of cold milk. Then, heat the milk+flour on a very low flame, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Add salt&pepper, then take it off the fire and let it cool.
Take a glass or metal baking dish, and grease it with some oil. Spread out half of the sauteed zucchini in the bottom of the pan, making your first layer. Then, make your second layer of the browned meat (use it all).
Make your third layer using the rest of the zucchini on top of the meat.
Take your cooled bechamel sauce and crack an egg into it. Stir well until it’s all mixed in. The egg will help the top of the casserole to brown. Pour the bechamel sauce on top of the final layer of zucchini; this is the fourth layer. Put the dish into a medium oven, until the bechamel sauce is baked through and the top browns. You can use the broiler to brown the bechamel sauce at the end if it’s taking too long!
I didn’t have any time to take a picture of the final product in the baking dish, because we dug right in. This is a picture of my own plate, which I took hastily before I gobbled it up.