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.
One thing I love about Palestinian cuisine is its wide variety of simple yakhani (“thick stews;” sing. yekhen) featuring seasonal vegetables. Many of these yakhani are cooked following a basic pattern: cook meat and obtain broth, add featured vegetable and tomato sauce, then let cook. I love these dishes because I can savor the freshness of the vegetables, and it makes me feel like I am connected to the earth in which they were grown. I always end up pushing the chunks of meat off to the side and eating all the vegetables! Some of my favorite yakhani are yakhnit green fava beans, yakhnit tomato with ground meat, yakhnit white beans, yakhnit okra, and yakhnit spinach. You can eat most of these yakhani with bread or rice (or both, like my Taita does!).
Today we made Palestinian bamyeh, or okra, and I was really happy at the chance to take pictures so I could post the recipe here. The okra that Palestinians know and like best is the small, short kind. I really do not know what variety this is called, but it’s not usually what I have seen sold back in Minnesota. Even in the frozen foods section, it’s easy enough to find chopped frozen okra or long, thin okra, but those don’t work very well for the Palestinian okra dish. I’ll explain why in a bit.
Two things about our bamyeh:
1) We’re going to be cheating a little bit in this recipe, by using frozen okra. If you have fresh okra, all the better, but frozen works just fine when you can’t get fresh.
2) There are several Palestinian dishes that taste even better the next day (actually, they seem to get better day after day :p). Bamyeh is the best example. If you can, I really suggest making this dish a day before you actually want to have it. I’m serious; sitting in your fridge overnight just enhances its flavor, somehow!
500 grams (aprox) of small cubes of beef or lamb
500 grams (aprox) of frozen okra – if using fresh, wash and cut off the stems
8 tbsp of vegetable oil
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cube of chicken or beef bouillon
1 small green chili pepper, chopped (optional)
3 large ripe tomatoes, quartered
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the cubes of meat. Heat two tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a pot, then add the meat and brown it. Add enough water to cover the meat, then add 2 more cups of water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and leave it until the meat is just cooked.
Remove the just-cooked meat from the pot and set aside. Remove the broth from the pot and set aside. Keep the pot with the bits of meat for later use!
In a small bowl, empty your package of frozen okra and add 4 cloves of the chopped garlic, the chopped chili pepper, and the bouillon cube.
In the pot used to cook the meat earlier, heat two more tablespoons of the oil. When hot, add the okra (+ stuff), and brown it for a bit.
Now add the cooked meat…
Crush the tomatoes in a blender with about half a cup of water. If it’s still very thick, add some of the broth from the meat cooked earlier.
Pour the crushed tomatoes through a strainer into the pot of okra and meat. Add enough broth from the meat cooked earlier until you get the stew to your desired thickness. I like it a bit on the thicker side. (Use the rest of the broth for making soups!) Let the stew come to a boil, then taste and adjust salt if necessary. Let it gently simmer for about 10-15 more minutes, or until the okra is cooked.
The final step is the most fun part! In a small frying pan, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil well. Add the remaining two cloves of chopped garlic, and fry the garlic until it is “sha’rah” (“blond,” or golden brown). Then quickly pour all of the oil with the fried garlic into the big pot of bamyeh and meat. It should make a sizzling sound as the hot oil hits the surface of the stew. Mix into the stew. This hot oil + garlic technique is called ” ‘ad7ah,” and is used to add a final layer of flavor to several different yakhani.
Serve your bamyeh with Egyptian or American short grain rice, or with fresh bread for dipping into it. Bamyeh is also commonly accompanied by a simple soup, and mlokhiyyeh, two great dishes for which I will be posting recipes soon insha’Allah :)
(Note on why chopped bamyeh doesn’t work well for this dish: Okra by nature has a “slimy” feel to it (in a good way!), and the “slime” is increased by cutting the vegetable open. If you use chopped okra, the stew itself will become very thick and slimier than it should be. )
Recipes coming soon for: