Tag Archive | Palestinian

Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel: Baked Middle Eastern Pasta with Bechamel Sauce

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 :)

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

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Khobbeizeh: Middle Eastern Greens

Khobbeizeh, or Malva Parviflora, is a wild green that grows throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In Palestinian culture, Khobbeizeh is a food for the common – a green that you can make a cheap, filling, and very healthy meal out of. The season for Khobbeizeh is late fall to early winter, and around this time of the year in Jordan, the markets are full of it. People even go out to large fields outside the city to harvest huge bundles of the wild Khobbeizeh. I’m not sure if you can get it in the US, so I don’t really know how useful this recipe is to people who don’t live in an area where Khobbeizeh grows, buuut because it is such a traditional dish, I definitely wanted to include it in my collection :)

Like spinach or most other greens, Khobbeizeh cooks down to very little, so you need to purchase/obtain it raw in large quantities. There are many, many ways to cook it, and the recipe that I am going to post is a combination of several different variations. Traditionally, the Khobbeizeh leaves are dropped into boiling water, then a traditional whisk-like tool called a Mifrak is used to whisk the leaves rapidly until they start to fall apart. My recipe uses a less traditional and slightly easier method. Although my family doesn’t really make Khobbeizeh that often, it is a very traditional Palestinian dish, and I highly recommend trying it if you like greens in general (or believe in eating them once in a while to feel better about your otherwise-unhealthy diet).

Only the leaves of the Khobbeizeh plant are used.

Ingredients

4-5 cups of Khobbeizeh leaves, washed, de-stemmed, and very finely chopped

2 medium onions, chopped

2-3 cups of water or stock

1 cup of fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 cup of coriander, finely chopped

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

5-6 tbsp of vegetable or olive oil

1 cup of coarse bulgur OR roasted green wheat (freekeh) OR regular or wholewheat flour

salt& pepper to taste

Method

In a large pot, heat 2-3 tbsp of oil, then add half of the chopped onion. Sautee the onion until tender, then add the chopped Khobbeizeh leaves. Sautee until they wilt and cook down.


Add the water or stock, and stir,  letting it come to a boil. Don’t use too much liquid; you want to add just enough to get a very thick, stew-like texture. Add the chopped parsley and coriander.

If using bulgur OR smoked wheat: wash the grains then drain. Soak in hot water for ten minutes, then drain, and add them to the pot of Khobbeizeh.

If using flour: put the flour in a small bowl and gradually sprinkle a couple tablespoons of cold water all over it. Mix it gently with a fork until the flour forms little balls of dough. Sprinkle on more water if needed. Then, add the dough balls to the pot of Khobbeizeh.

Leave the Khobbeizeh to simmer on low heat for a few minutes while you prepare the ‘ad7ah. Remember, ‘ad7ah is basically adding sauteed garlic to whatever you’re cooking to give it an extra layer of flavor. So, in a small frying pan or saucepan, heat the rest of your oil, then add the rest of the chopped onion and the crushed garlic. Fry until golden brown, then pour the whole thing into the pot of Khobbeizeh. Watch out; it can really splatter!

Give the pot of Khobbeizeh a stir, add salt&pepper to taste, and serve with fresh bread, sliced lemons, and green onions on the side. Enjoy!

Homemade Snacks: Baleela and Fule

In the fall and winter, the streets of Amman are filled with men selling Baleela and Fule off of small carts. Baleela – not to be confused with the Egyptian wheat cereal – is chickpeas cooked in a tomato broth, while Fule is fava beans cooked until tender with lemon and salt. Both are flavored with cumin, and are eaten as a popular street food.

I particularly remember leaving the University of Jordan campus on gray, rainy winter evenings, and stopping to order Fule from the man with his cart who stood right outside the main gate. For 25 piasters, I would get a good-sized plastic pouch of Fule from the steaming hot mound piled high, and decorated with slices of fresh lemon. I would snack on the hot beans as I waited to get a taxi home.

Many people make Baleela and Fule as an evening snack at home, too, because it’s so easy,and you can control the quality and quantities of seasoning.

Baleela

2 cups of good quality chickpeas (dried or canned)

2-3 large onions, sliced into rings

1 cup of tomato sauce OR 3 tbsp of tomato paste

1 tbsp of cumin

1/2 tbsp of ginger

1/2 tbsp of black pepper

1/4 tsp of turmeric

1/4 tsp of paprika (optional)

hot pepper flakes or hot chili powder to taste (optional)

salt to taste

Method

If using dried chickpeas, soak them in water overnight, or give them a Quick Soak: Put the chickpeas in a pot and cover with about two inches of water. Let boil for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat, cover, and let the peas soak for an hour to an hour and a half. They should be slightly tender by now. Add half a cup of water and simmer, covered, on medium heat for about 20 minutes or until chickpeas are cooked and tender. Proceed with recipe.

If using canned chickpeas, drain the liquid off of them, rinse, then put in a pot and cover with about two inches of water. Cover and let simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes. Proceed with recipe.

To the pot of chickpeas and water, add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer, covered, on low heat for 20 minutes.

Serve in bowls, with plenty of the broth! Squeeze fresh lemon on it right before eating.

Fule

2 cups of good quality dried fava beans (they’re usually quite large, but the variety I found here at my Middle Eastern store were really tiny, as you can see in the picture)

2 onions, chopped

1.5 tbsp of cumin

1/2 tbsp of black pepper

hot pepper flakes or hot chili powder to taste (optional)

salt to taste

Method

Soak the beans overnight or using the Quick Soak Method described above for the chickpeas.

To the pot of fava beans and water, add the rest of the ingredients. Let simmer, covered, on low heat for 20-30 minutes. The skins of the beans should start to crack open; this is a sign that they’re ready.

Fule is usually served steaming hot and without the broth. People sprinkle salt, extra cumin, and a squeeze of lemon onto their individual servings. You eat them with your fingers, popping the skins off before putting them in your mouth. Delicious!

Pasta with a Palestinian Twist…plus a bonus recipe at the end!

I love pasta, and was really excited when I first had pasta the way a lot of Palestinians make it: with yogurt and nuts! It might seem strange to a lot of people for a pasta sauce to be made using just plain yogurt, but it makes for a really light dish. We especially like it in the summer because it is served cold. It’s also super easy, and my brother and I had fun whipping it up quickly.

Note: everyone I have seen uses spaghetti for this dish, but we didn’t have any, so I just used penne pasta. It worked just fine :)

Ingredients

1 package of pasta (any kind you like)

half a kilo of ground meat

vegetable oil to brown the meat

1 tablespoon each of pepper, cinnamon, allspice + salt to taste

1 large onion, finely chopped

4-5 cloves of garlic, finely crushed

1 large container of yogurt (more if you like the pasta more yogurt-y!)

half a bunch of parsley, finely chopped

3/4 cup of almonds (halved and skinned or slivered) and 1/4 cup of whole pine nuts

oil for browning the nuts

salt to taste

Method

Boil the pasta in well-salted water. When it’s cooked, drain off the water.

In a big bowl, mix all of the yogurt and garlic. Add salt to taste. Stir in the cooked pasta. Combine till the pasta is well coated. If you like more yogurt or garlic, add more!

Lay the pasta with yogurt in a casserole/baking dish. It needs to be somewhat deep, so you can layer the ground meat, nuts, and parsley on top. Chill the dish of yogurt+pasta in the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to eat, heat some oil in a pan, then add the chopped onion, cooking until it becomes very soft and just barely starts to turn golden. Add the ground meat, and break it up with your spatula as it cooks. Cook it thoroughly, adding the pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and salt to taste. After it cooks, turn up the heat just a bit and let it brown till it gets a bit crispy, if you like. Spread the layer of cooked meat on top of the chilled pasta+yogurt. In the picture below, I had already started layering on the nuts..


In another frying pan, heat some oil and brown the pine nuts, then the almonds. You want them to be a nice golden color. Stir them constantly as they brown, because they burn easily. If you don’t have pine nuts, just use more almonds. That’s what we did! Layer the browned nuts on top of the layer of meat.

Finally, spread the chopped parsley in a layer on top of the nuts. This is the final step, and makes the dish look so pretty!

Serve! This recipe can be adjusted according to your preferences; if you like more yogurt, less garlic, more meat, less nuts…whatever!

Bonus Recipe: Another way some Palestinians make pasta is by mixing crushed, dried mint, crushed garlic, and salt to taste in a small bowl. Then mix about a quarter cup of buttermilk into a large container of plain yogurt till you get a thick, saucy consistency (use less buttermilk if you like it thicker). Add the mint+garlic mixture to the yogurt sauce. Heat this sauce in a saucepan if you’d like to serve it hot; otherwise, it’s great cold too. They serve the sauce by spooning it over spaghetti, then sprinkling each serving with browned pine nuts. It’s fantastic and great if you don’t like meat!

Some Simple Salads…

I thought I would post a few simple salad recipes today. They are refreshing, and a great complement to any meal.

Palestinian Cucumber-Mint Yogurt Salad

Ingredients

2 cucumbers, chopped finely or grated

1 tub of plain yogurt

3-4 cloves of garlic, mashed

1-2 heaping tablespoons of dried mint

salt to taste

Method

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl except for the mint. Then, put the mint between your palms and rub your hands together briskly over the bowl, letting the mint fall in. This releases the oils in it and makes sure it gets ground up finely.

Serve chilled.

Turkish Carrot Yogurt Salad

Ingredients

5 large carrots, grated

4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed (you can also use garlic salt instead, but I prefer fresh garlic)

3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil for sauteeing

aprox 2 tubs of plain yogurt

salt to taste

Method

In a frying pan, heat the oil. Add the crushed garlic and sautee it until just golden.

Then, add the carrots to the frying pan and sautee them until they get tender and turn a dark orange color. Take them off the fire and let them cool off.

In a mixing bowl, empty the tubs of yogurt. Add the carrots, scooping all the oil out of the pan into the yogurt. Add salt to taste.

Serve chilled.

Fasulya b Zeit, or Turkish Green Bean Salad

Ingredients

aprox 1 kilo of fresh green beans, washed, with the ends taken off, and cut in half

1 large tomato, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

aprox 1/3 cup of olive oil, more if you want

salt to taste

pinch of sugar

Method

In a cooking pot or wok, heat the olive oil. Add the chopped onion and sautee until tender. Then add the green beans.

Sautee the green beans gently for a couple minutes, then add the chopped tomato.

Stir, then add water to the pot, until just a few centimeters below the level of the beans. Add salt to taste and a sprinkle of sugar. Cover the pot and let the beans cook on a low flame. Keep covered. Check every fifteen minutes if they need more water. The dish is ready when the beans are tender. Serve chilled (although my Arab relatives preferred to eat this dish hot, with a squeeze of lemon juice, using bread to scoop up the beans!).

I didn't cut the beans in half because I was in a hurry, so that's why they're slightly long.

“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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