Tag Archive | cooking tips

Bamyeh: Palestinian Okra

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!

Ingredients

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


Method

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!

Cooked meat; set aside...

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.

Bamyeh, chopped garlic, chili, and 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.

Browning the bamyeh ...

Now add the cooked meat…

Added the 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.

Crushing the tomatoes...

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.

Letting the stew simmer...

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. )

Bowl of Bamyeh!

Recipes coming soon for:

Rice, and two common sides: Mlokhiyyeh (the green stew) and a simple soup...

“Upside-Down”: Chicken Ma’loubeh with Eggplant

You knew this was coming, didn’t you?

Of course. If there is a dish of which absolutely every Palestinian is fond, it would be ma’loubeh. Ma’loubeh is like roast beef and mashed potatoes for Americans. Or chicken noodle soup. Or spaghetti. My family is from the Palestinian city of Khalil (known as Hebron in English), and ma’loubeh is definitely a favorite among Khalilis. It is one of about four possible dishes you will be served if you are invited to dinner by a Khalili family, especially in Ramadan (a “3azoomeh”). Ma’loubeh is easy, relatively cheap to make, and everyone likes it. Even if you don’t like eggplant or cauliflower, you can still eat the rice and meat.

The name means “Upside-down;” perfectly fitting, because the dish is literally constructed upside down and then flipped upon serving! Q-l-b is the verb root meaning “to flip,” and m-q-l-ou-b-ah is that which is flipped :)

Also pronounced maqloubeh, magloubeh, makloubeh – depending on which region of Palestine you’re from -, ma’loubeh is basically rice, meat, and a vegetable, layered in a pot then cooked. The rice can be either Egyptian or American short grain, the meat can be chicken, beef or lamb, and the vegetable can be either cauliflower or eggplant (although I have even seen some people use potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and carrots!). The best part of this dish is the “flipping” of it; you pull off the pot to reveal a steaming hot layered “cake” of delicious, spiced rice, tender chicken, and succulent eggplant.

Today I’d like to post my aunt Hala’s recipe for the most delicious chicken ma’loubeh with eggplant you’ll ever eat :) She is known in the family for her excellent ma’loubeh.

Tip #1: If you live in the Middle East, cauliflower is known to be tastier in the winter. It is softer, more flavorful, and fries well. Ma’loubeh with cauliflower always tastes better in the winter :)

Tip #2: The eggplant used in ma’loubeh is fried. The best type of eggplant for frying is the short, “fat”, round, purple eggplant; it does not absorb much oil in frying. If you can only find the longer, oval-shaped eggplant (which is all I could ever find back in Minnesota), be warned that you’re going to be using a LOT of oil. The stuff soaks up the grease like a sponge.

Ingredients:

1 chicken, washed and quartered – best way to wash a chicken explained here

3 large eggplants (add more if you like!)

1 kilogram of American short grain rice, washed and soaked (if using Egyptian rice, do not soak!)

Spices: 2 tablespoons each of allspice, black pepper, ground ginger, ground coriander and 1 tablespoon each of cinnamon,  cardamom, turmeric, yellow curry powder, and half a tablespoon of cumin 

Salt to taste

Vegetable oil for frying

Method:

First, get the chicken cooking because this is what takes the most time. Put your washed pieces of chicken into a pot, and add enough water to cover. Add three quarters of the spices to the water, stir, then cover. Let the chicken boil for about half an hour, or until just cooked. When it’s done, take out the chicken and set aside. Add the remaining quarter of the spices to this broth, or put in even more of each spice if you like extra flavor! (I do.) Set this spiced broth aside.

(Tip #3: If you are hesitant about your “chicken cleaning” skills or the quality of the chicken you are using, try this tip. It will make for an even “cleaner” chicken experience if you let the chicken boil in plain water (no spices) for a few minutes. You will notice that a grayish foam will start to form on the surface of the water. Scoop that off and dump it! We call this foam “zafar.” When the foam no longer continues to form (or it turns white instead of gray), you can add the spices, cover the pot, and let the chicken cook. )

Next, prepare your eggplant for frying! Wash your eggplant, then cut off the green stem. You can peel the eggplant if you don’t like the skin, or think it’s too tough (my aunt does). Cut off any brown, hard spots on the purple skin if leaving the skin on. Slice the eggplant into slices of medium thickness. Put the slices in a colander in the sink, then sprinkle them generously with salt. Leave them to “salt” for 20 minutes. This process gets rid of any bitter juices in the eggplant, and also ensures that they don’t absorb much oil when fried.

After they have salted for twenty minutes, rinse the slices of eggplant, and fry them on each side in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Don’t crowd them in your fryer!

Now start layering!

Layer 1: In a large pot, put a few spoonfuls of vegetable oil, then take your boiled chicken pieces and layer them on the bottom.

Layer 2: On top of the chicken, layer your fried eggplant.

The big pot of ma’loubeh (chicken and eggplant have already gone in)..

A closer look at what’s in the pot so far…The eggplant is so tender!

Layer 3: On top of the eggplant, layer the washed and soaked American rice evenly (or just washed, if using Egyptian).

Finally, here is the tricky part: you want to pour enough of the spiced chicken broth you’d set aside into the pot of ma’loubeh to just barely cover the rice. As you pour the broth in, the rice you’d layered evenly in the pot might get unsettled and form little hills; use a spoon to even it all out.

Cover the pot of ma’loubeh and let it cook on high heat until the broth starts to boil. Let it boil for two minutes on high heat, then turn your stove down to the lowest heat setting. Leave it to cook – covered – for about 20 minutes. Check on it: if it looks terribly dry, add some more broth (or water if you don’t have any broth left). Use a fork to turn over the grains of rice on the top; they will be the least cooked, so you want to mix the layer of rice a little bit just so the topmost grains can get their fair share of cooking!

The ma’loubeh shouldn’t take more than 35-40 minutes of cooking time, max. Check on it throughout; fork through the layer of rice, and whenever the rice is done, your dish is complete.

Flipping!: You’ll need to be very careful with this step. Uncover the pot of ma’loubeh and place a large, round serving dish face down on it. With both hands, grab the handles of your pot and the edges of the serving dish, and flip the entire thing upside down onto a table in front of you. It would be good to have someone standing nearby to help grab in case you feel like the pot or serving dish is slipping! My father or uncles usually get called in to the kitchen to take care of this step. Tap the upside down pot with a spoon to try and make sure the rice doesn’t stick inside, so you get a nice clean “cake.” After a few seconds, pull the pot off slowly! The result is indescribable. Dig in!

The flipped ma’loubeh! It’s still steaming hot. We had already dug into it before I could even take the picture. Notice the layers you create: rice on the bottom, eggplant, then chicken. We serve it family-style and all eat off the one communal serving dish. The aluminum dish in the photo is called a “sidir.”

Traditional sides to serve with ma’loubeh: fresh yogurt and salad, like fettoush.

I have some pictures of a chicken cauliflower ma’loubeh we made a few months ago when my friend Cat was visiting me here in Jordan.  These Ma’loubeh Memories are for her :)

Ma’loubeh Memories: Just flipped…

Slowly pulling off the pot…check out the fancy pinky move..

Ta-da! Success! The thing on top is a round piece of metal that you put in the bottom of your pot before starting to layer the various items in. This prevents whatever is on the bottom from burning and sticking. I have no idea if it has an actual name in English.

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