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.
I have been away for the past ten days, traveling across the West Bank. I didn’t have any internet access, so updating this blog was impossible. But I’m back, and excited to start updating again inshallah :)
My aunts really like one particular Syrian dish that has a very peculiar name. In Arabic, it’s called “7orra2 Usba3oh” – I think. Which sounds something like “his finger is burning,” or perhaps “his finger is spicy.” Every time I ask my aunts to clarify the name and its origin, they end up telling me “who knows about those Syrians.” So I’m still pretty confused. But what I do know for sure is that the dish is REALLY good. It’s a bit strange, because of the combination of macaroni and dill/cilantro, but it’s a nice, light, cool lunch for a hot day. The closest thing I can compare it to in American cuisine would be a cold casserole. My aunts say this dish is a “women’s dish;” something quick and light that women enjoy making and eating, but definitely not satisfying enough for a hungry man, apparently. I’ll let you be the judge!
250 grams of brown lentils
250 grams of macaroni, cooked al dente, any shape (shells, bows, elbows)
3-4 tbsp of flour
3-4 tbsp of tamarind paste, soaked in hot water for a couple hours
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 bunches of cilantro and dill, finely chopped
half a loaf of pita bread, torn into little pieces
Boil the lentils in a pot of salted water, then cover and let simmer until half-cooked. Do not drain! Add the macaroni to the pot of lentils.
Rub the soaked, softened tamarind paste between your fingers over a strainer, letting the juice fall through into a bowl. Extract as much juice as possible out of the paste. Add the juice to the pot of lentils and macaroni.
Dissolve 3-4 tbsp of flour in a bit of cold water, stirring till smooth. Add this to the pot of lentils and macaroni, and stir immediately. The contents of the pot will thicken. You want the consistency to be pretty thick. Add more flour-dissolved-in-water if necessary.
Add half of the crushed garlic, half of the chopped cilantro and dill to the pot, and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Add salt if needed. Set the pot aside.
In a frying pan, heat some olive oil, and fry the sliced onions till crispy and golden. Take the onions out and let them drain on a paper towel.
Pour the olive oil left over from your frying pan into the pot of lentils and macaroni. Give it a good stir.
Sautee the rest of the crushed garlic and chopped cilantro and dill in another couple tbsp of olive oil. Stir while sauteeing, until the greens wilt a bit. Set aside.
Fry the torn pieces of pita bread until golden and crispy. Note: In the original dish, they do not use pita bread. The women traditionally prepare a special dough, and roll it out very thinly. They then cut the dough into little pieces and fry it. Pita bread is a much easier and equally tasty substitute.
Now, to assemble: In a baking/casserole dish, pour the lentils+macaroni mixture. Spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the crispy pita bread chips all over the top. Sprinkle the fried onions on top of that. Finally, scoop little spoonfuls of the sauteed garlic+cilantro+dill over everything decoratively.
Chill. Eat with a spoon! The tamarind juice gives the dish a bit of sourness, and the garlic with the greens is a powerful burst of flavor. I know, it looks kind of strange but I think it’s really tasty, and I am glad they introduced me to it!