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
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.
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.
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.