Tag Archives: Meat

Makarona bil-Bechamel

So, when I pulled up my schedule today, I realized that TUESDAY (not Wednesday, as I said in my previous blog post) is my blogging day.  Guess it’s going to take awhile to get used to this new routine!

Here is a recipe that I can’t believe I didn’t share earlier.  It was one of the first dishes I learned to make, from my Arabic teacher in Cairo.  It is also the first dish that ever earned me a true compliment, from an old, old woman who I visited with nearly every day.  Her only critique was that it needed more salt!  This is one of Hungry Husband’s favorite comfort foods, and in Cairo I would make it with camel meat, although ground beef is a fine substitute for those of you without a local camel market 😛

MAKARONA BIL-BECHAMEL (macaroni with bechamel sauce)


For the meat filling:

1 large onion, diced

1 lb. ground beef

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

Spices of your choice (for the meat): cinnamon, whole cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves, allspice

Salt and pepper

For the noodles:

13-16 oz. penne pasta (it doesn’t have to be precise, just whatever size the container is at your grocery store)

For the bechamel sauce:

1 stick of butter or ghee

1 cup flour

2 cups chicken brother

2 cups milk

2 eggs

salt to taste


1.  Brown the meat with the onions, tomato paste and spices.  You can vary the amount and type of spices depending on how savory you like your meat.  My teacher cooked the meat in a small pot for a long time, so that eventually it reabsorbed all the fat that initially ran out.  It was very, very tasty, but you can drain the meat if you prefer.  When the meat is done, remove any whole spices you used.

Meat browning.

Meat browning.

2.  Cook the noodles to al dente.  Drain and rinse them so that they cool enough to handle and don’t stick together, then return to their pot.

3.  In a pot, melt the butter or ghee over low heat, then add the flour and whisk together.  Cook it over a low heat for several minutes–you should be able to smell the flour cooking.  It may start to brown, in which case take it off the heat so that it doesn’t burn.  Add the chicken broth and whisk vigorously–the flour and broth will seize up and turn very firm, but you can add the milk right in and keep whisking, and it should smooth out.  Cook it for two or three more minutes.  It should be about the consistency of pudding.  Turn the heat off and let it cool for a minute, then whisk in the two eggs.

4.  Pour half the bechamel sauce onto the noodles in their pot and mix together thoroughly.  Spread half the noodles into an oiled 9 x 13 casserole dish, then add the meat layer.  Spread the rest of the noodles on top of the meat and cover with the remaining bechamel sauce, using a spatula to smooth it down.



Lulu spreads the bechamel sauce over the top.

Lulu spreads the top layer of noodles.

5.  Cook in a 375 F oven for 50-60 minutes, until it is heated through and the top is golden brown and firm.  If you can, let it cool in the pan for 20 or 30 minutes before you cut it, as this will help the layers solidify an be more casserole-like.  We never manage to wait that long, so it tends to fall apart a little bit when I am serving.



Not ready to come out of the dish, but we're eating it anyway!

Not ready to come out of the dish, but we’re eating it anyway!

What I’ve Been Up To…

Hi there.

Yes, it’s been a long time.  Longer than I ever would have expected.  When I started this blog, I vowed I would not be “one of those people.”  You know, the ones who start going strong and then suddenly drop off the face of the virtual world.

But, that’s what happened.  Multiple moves, one (very healthy, pleasant, and still ongoing) pregnancy, and a very uncertain future have taken the vast majority of my physical, mental and emotional energy over the past few months.

Still, I’ve come up with a few things worth sharing.  The first (which I only tell you about because it was something new to me) falls into the category of “church potluck casserole.”  That is, it contains canned cream of (anything) soup and some sort of crust on top–often, french-fried onions, but in this case, crumbled crackers.  I thought it absolutely revolting and wrong in so many ways, but Hungry Husband liked it, and so did the people at the homeless shelter.  But I threw the recipe away.  Quickly.  Because canned cream of (anything) soup is not real food.

Church Potluck Casserole

Fortunately, I have had better luck since then.  In the midst of what has been a long and very stormy spring, I have been yearning for summer and light, fresh flavors.  First, I came up with a lovely black bean-based salad.  It’s the sort of thing that does not have a recipe…I just threw in things that reminded me of the Caribbean: black beans, mango, celery, red peppers, red onions, cilantro, lime juice, chili powder, chicken, corn, jalapeno, garlic, cumin.  It is very flexible and tasty.  I took a big bowl to a friend’s graduation party last weekend and the dish was cleaned out rather quickly.

So pretty!

Finally, another recipe-less dish based on one of my favorite marinades: olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro, and garlic.  I whipped up some penne pasta, opened a can of salmon (fresh salmon is way out of our budget right now–boo!) and had Hungry Husband chunk the meat, and turned the marinade ingredients–plus a slab of butter) into a sauce.  When the pasta was ready I threw everything together and voila!  A fresh and flavorful pasta dish that pairs perfectly with sauteed or grilled vegetables.

A perfect pasta for summertime longings

Tonight, I am having Taco Lasagna with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce (from Sweet Peas and Pumpkins), and I’m secretly glad that Hungry Husband is away for the night, because I may eat the whole pan myself.  Good thing I only made a half recipe!

Havij Polow (Rice with Carrots)

I’ve been very slack lately in cooking in general, but especially in branching out and trying new things.  It is definitely a season when I am leaning towards my comfort foods (tonight for dinner: macaroni and cheese with peas–the way my mom has always made it–and garlic mashed potatoes), and not very excited about dishes that make me think.  However, with a bag of slowly wilting carrots in the refrigerator and and inkling to eat some meat, I pulled this Persian pilaf out of my main cookbook, Ms. Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  (Maybe I never mentioned it before, but when we moved to the Middle East I only brought two cookbooks with me.  Two.  I realized that perhaps this was not normal when I read A Crafty Lass‘s account of paring down her cookbook collection before moving internationally.)  Anyway, this pared with some roasted vegetables was good as a main dish, and could easily be made according to vegan or vegetarian standards.

Havij Polow (serves 6)

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3-1/2 cup butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, coarsely grated or cut into little sticks
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar, or more (optional) (but good, in my opinion)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional) (again, you should add this)
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon rose water

Wash the rice in warm water and rinse ina  colander under the cold water tap.

Fry the onion in 2-3 tablespoons of the butter or oil until soft and golden.  Add the grated carrots and saute gently for 10 minutes.  Add sugar and cinnamon and cook 3-4 minutes longer.

Boil the rice in salted water in a alrge (9-10 inch), heavy-bottomed, preferably non-stick saucepan for about 10 minutes, until not quite tender and still a little underdone.  Drain and mix with the remaining butter or oil, keeping aside 2 tablespoons.  Heat the 2 tablespoons butter or oil in the bottom of the pan, then spread alternate layers of rice and sauteed carrots, starting and ending with a layer of rice.  Sprinkle rose water over the top and cook over very low heat for about 30 minutes.  The rose water, a relic of early-medieval times, gives a subtle perfume to the dish.  (Note from me: I always panic at around minute 25 of cooking the rice, thinking that it must be burning, and turn it off then.  Big mistake…the end result is supposed to be a layer of crusty golden rice, but if you remove it from the heat too soon it’s more like greasy golden rice, and not so pleasant to eat.)

Note: for meatballs, season 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (I used beef) with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.  Mix well and knead until smooth and pasty.  Shape into marble-sized balls and fry in a little oil for about 8-10 minutes, turning them over, until browned all over but still pink and juicy inside.

To serve: Turn the pot of rice upside down onto a platter on top of the meatballs, so that the meatballs are buried.  If you have achieved a good crusty golden layer of rice, that would traditionally be removed and served separately, as a delicacy.  Then the remaining rice and carrots would be stirred together.  (Clearly, I did not follow any of these steps myself.  Just telling you how it’s supposed to be done.)


Fresh molokheyya; picture from pinakbet.wordpress.com

This is molokheyya.  It is a member of the jute family.  It does have an English name (Jew’s mallow) although I highly doubt anyone in Europe or North America is at all familiar with it unless they have some Middle East connection.  It has a lot of the good vitamins you tend to find in dark leafy greens, but this plant is its own kind of special.  In the Middle East, you can buy it fresh, dried, or, if you’re lazy like me, frozen.  (Although no good Arab woman would ever admit to using frozen molokheyya, its presence in supermarkets all over the Middle East makes me think otherwise.  Someone must be buying it–and it’s not the foreigners!)

Spot the irony in this picture...

Because, see, Egyptian-style molokheyya is a food that, mostly, only Egyptians love.  Egyptians, and me.  It is the Egyptian national dish, and the one food that I craved when we were back in America last year but could not replicate.  Towards the end of August, I did find a bag of frozen molokheyya at a food shop run by an Afghan man in NorthEast Portland; he had no idea what it was or how to prepare it.  I bought that molokheyya and put it in the freezer at my cousin’s house, but she had already prepared salmon for that night, and then we left the next morning, and I never got to eat my molokheyya.  Later I emailed instructions for cooking it to my cousin, but I think my description of the final product kind of turned her off and she probably never ate it.  Maybe it will still be there next time we visit?

The problem for most non-Egyptians is that when Egyptians make molokheyya they mince the leaves very, very finely before turning it into a soup.  And when you mince molokheyya leaves and then cook them, they turn slimy, like cut-up okra.  Viscous.  “Mucilageinous” according to Wikipedia, although neither spell-check nor my computer dictionary recognize that word…As far as I know, Egyptians are the only ones who eat molokheyya this way; cooks in every other Arab country keep the leaves whole or add vinegar or lemon juice to avoid a snot-like texture.  Egyptians also add a LARGE quantity of mashed garlic, as in 20 or more cloves.  This may be the real reason I love molokheyya so much…

Mmmm...garlic...a whole head of it!

Plain molokheyya or molokheyya with chicken is a standard dish on many Egyptian tables.  But for a really special treat, they like to make it with rabbit.  Rabbits that are waiting, alive and fluffy and big-eyed, in cages at the market.  Fortunately, I grew up in a family that, on occasion, raised and killed animals for eating, so I am not squeamish about that sort of thing.  Also fortunately, the nice man who sells the rabbits also kills and cleans them, because although I have no problem choosing the cute little bunny to be slaughtered, I don’t actually know how to do it myself.

Not so cute and fluffy anymore (insert maniacal laughter here)

At this point, I doubt you have much appetite for molokheyya or anything else, so while I am still going to give you a recipe, it will be the “cheater” version that I use, which does not require me to look like a fool while trying and failing to hand-mince the molokheyya leaves with a large, double-handled curved knife or mash the garlic in a mortar and pestle, two essential Arab cooking skills that I have yet to master.

Molokheyya (Egyptian-Style)

  • 1 400g bag frozen minced molokheyya (do not thaw it)
  • 2-3 cups chicken or rabbit broth, depending on how thick you want the soup
  • 1 head garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. coriander (dried coriander, for you non-Americans)
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Salt

Bring the broth to boiling in a pan large enough that the entire block of frozen molokheyya will fit into it.  Add the molokheyya and turn the heat down to med-low, and stir regular so that the molokheyya thaws slowly.  It is important that the soup does not return to boiling, because if you overcook it, the molokheyya will not remain suspended in the broth but will separate, and that’s not a pretty sight.  Once the molokheyya is thoroughly thawed, turn the heat to low and keep an eye on it while you prepare the garlic.

In a frying pan, heat the oil and add the garlic, coriander, and a big pinch of salt, and fry until the garlic is golden.  Pour this mixture into the molokheyya and hopefully it will make a very pleasing sizzling sound.  This means everything is hot enough!  Stir to combine and serve over rice or with flat bread.  If perchance you made the broth yourself and have the chicken or rabbit meat available, feel free to add the meat, chunked or shredded, to the soup.