Tag Archives: Pasta

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)

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

Layers.

Layers.

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.

Finished!

Finished!

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!

WHAT WE EAT WHEN I AM LAZY

There is a particular dish I make on the days when I don’t really want to cook but think that smoothies just won’t cut it.  Fortunately, Hungry Husband is fond of it and I can easily make enough to last us two, sometimes even three, days.  There’s no particular name for this, as far as I know, and although the original recipe (which I use primarily for inspiration) comes from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, no specific country or location is attributed as the source.  My neighbors here do not know it and tend to wrinkle up their noses when I describe it to them.

Noodles with Lentils and Tomatoes (my recipe)

  • 1 c. brown lentils
  • 3 or 4 big handfuls of smallish macaroni, like elbow or corkscrew
  • 1 lb.  (or more, if you like) tomatoes, chopped
  • 1-2 large onions, quartered and sliced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, mashed
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • A big pinch of dried mint

I get the lentils cleaned and boiling first, adding enough water to the pan for the lentils and the macaroni.  The lentils usually need about 30 minutes or so until they reach a tender-ish stage, at which point I add the macaroni, stir well and leave to simmer until lentils and macaroni are both cooked.  Strain the cooking water off and leave them in the pot.

While the lentils are going, I get my onions frying.  Sometimes I like to caramelize the onions by putting them in a frying pan with a decent glug of oil, covering the pan, and leaving them over low heat for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  Then I turn the heat up to high and stir constantly, never taking my eyes off the onions because it only takes about 3 seconds for them to go from brown to burnt.  When they are nearly perfect, I throw in my garlic and stir, then add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar, and mint, and stir very well.  I let it cook for just two or three minutes, until everything is heated through.  Add it to the lentil and macaroni mixture, stir well, and eat.  Or wait, because it is surprisingly tasty when eaten cold as well, making it a prime leftover meal.