Aish bel lahm and broccoli bil banadura
The Middle Eastern Cookbook has been sitting on my shelf virtually untouched for many, many months. Everytime I’m tempted to experiment from its pages, I’m put off by the ingredients I don’t have and, frankly, the less than appetizing pictures. I mean, the photograph of Kofta on page 71 is enough to put a person off food for a couple of days. But last weekend, tempted once again by an unfamiliar cuisine, I cracked the book’s spine and immediately my eyes fell on a recipe for Aish bel lahm. The picture looked like something I’d had before. Something I’d had and loved.
When I was in college my friend Sarah’s father, an Armenian man who’d moved to the States from Lebanon many years before, would occasionally bring her some frozen flatbreads, topped with either delicious meatstuffs or a tangy herb paste. I could never get the name right, but I loved them, and when we both moved away from Santa Cruz and I couldn’t remember what the damn things were called, I wondered if I’d ever get to try them again. When I saw the picture of Aish bel lahm, it was like running into an old friend. An old friend I was going to eat for dinner! Mwah hah hah! Ok, sorry.
The recipe in Khalife’s book is a Saudia Arabian version of this bread, but it looked just the same. A little research revealed that the Lebanese version is called Lahma bi ajeen, and the herb version is called Mankoush. Sadly, I didn’t do enough research before cooking to realize that Lahma bi ajeen is made with tomatoes, not tahini, which explains why it didn’t taste quite like I remembered it. Alas! It was, however, still very, very good.
I didn’t feel comfortable eating just meat pies for dinner, so I found a vegetable recipe elsewhere in the book’s pages to make on the side. The original recipe, Loubieh bil banadura, calls for green beans. I didn’t have green beans. I had broccoli. Hence, broccoli bil banadura (banadura is tomato in Lebansese, but I couldn’t find the word for broccoli).
The bonus thing about making Aish bel lahm is that I got to use the new (well, sort of) pizza stone! Yes, for those who have followed my pizza making adventures, I have a pizza stone. How did this come about, you ask? Did I go to a store and buy myself a pizza stone? Did the pizza stone that had been left in New York miraculously make its way back to our house? No, my friends. It’s funnier than that. See, there has been a pizza stone in this house the whole time. Since long before even I lived here. Who knows how long this pizza stone has been hiding out in the back of the pantry? Who knows which old and long departed housemate left it behind? I discovered it this weekend, when I was doing a long overdue (obviously) deep cleaning of said pantry. I could have kicked myself. There is was, sitting innocently in the back of a never-opened cupboard. Ready to join all my pizza making parties, to contribute its special skills to a cripier, happier crust. Joy. (And boy am I glad I didn’t go buy a new one.)
Aish bel lahm
For the dough:
- 1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
- 1/2 c. warm water
- 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 3 T. olive oil
- a pinch of salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds (I accidently used dill seeds, because I, silly girl that I am, didn’t label my spice jars and couldn’t remember which was which. Oops. They are labeled now, and the dill wasn’t bad, either.)
For the topping:
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1 leek, chopped, soaked, and drained
- 1/2 a medium onion, chopped
- 1/2 lb. ground beef (or lamb)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. za’atar (This is a spice mix of thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. The original recipe didn’t call for it, but I bought it at the cool spice shop and I wanted to use it, so I did.)
- 4 T. tahini
- 1 T. white wine vinegar (I used distilled, because we didn’t have white wine vinegar. It was fine, but I probably should have used lemon juice, instead.)
- 1/2 c. warm water
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp. poppy seeds
Mix the yeast and the warm water in a small bowl, and let it sit about five minutes, or until the mixture gets kinda foamy.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, pepper, cumin, and fennel seeds. Then add the beaten eggs, the oil, and the yeasty water, and mix it all together. You can add a bit more water if you need to. It really didn’t seem like enough liquid when I first started mixing, but once I got my hands in there, and then turned the dough out on the counter to start kneading, it all came together. You want to knead it until the dough is smooth and elastic, probably about five minutes. Then form the dough into a ball, put it back into the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let it sit in a warm space for at least an hour. Mine sat for about 90 minutes.
Make the meat filling so that it has enough time to cool off before you roll out the pizza. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, and add the leek and onion. Let them cook for a minute or so, until they just start to soften, then add the ground beef and the spices. Break up the beef with the back of a spoon, and let it cook until it’s mostly done, but still tender and just barely, slightly reddish. Remove the skillet from the heat, and let it sit until it cools down.
Mix the tahini, vinegar, water, and garlic together in a small bowl. Whisk it all up well, so it mostly emulsifies. Once the meat is cooled off, pour the tahini mixture in and mix it all together well.
Preheat the oven (and the pizza stone, if you’re using one) to 400F. Let the oven heat for at least 30 minutes. Punch the dough down, and separate it into two halves. One of them can go in the freezer or refrigerator to use another time. Roll the other one out into a large circle. It should be pretty thin. Mine wasn’t quite thin enough, so do your best to get it to about an 1/8 of an inch. Then just spread the meat mixture on top of the dough, and top with the poppy seeds. Bake it for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and crispy.
I had some trouble getting my bread onto the pizza stone. I rolled it out onto a floured baking sheet, and even remembered to slide a spatula all the way under it before I tried to get it into the oven, to make sure it wasn’t stuck anywhere, but it still didn’t want to come off. Pieces of meat were falling onto the pizza stone and sizzling, and it kind of starting flipping over onto itself, causing much cursing in the kitchen. If anyone has any tips for this manouever, I’d greatly appreciate hearing them.
The pizza stone is totally my new best friend. This was the best crispy crust yet! I felt so proud, as though something I’d been striving for had finally been achieved. Or something. Anyway. It was totally awesome. I would recommend sprinking the top with a bit of sea salt once it comes out of the oven, because my first bite, sans salt, was a little bland. But once it got an extra dose of salty goodness, it was pretty near perfect.
Broccoli bil banadura
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1/2 a medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- about 3-4 cups of broccoli (1 large head), cut up
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 3 medium tomatoes, chopped, with seeds and juices
- 1 c. water
- juice from 1 lemon
This was a really interesting broccoli dish. I do suspect it would have been a little better with green beans, but I liked the tangy tomato and lemon, with just a hint of sweetness from the cinnamon. Crystal and I both agreed it was piquant. Heehee.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or pot. Cook the onions and garlic for a few minutes, then add the broccoli and stir it all up good. Cover the pot and let it cook for about five minutes, so the broccoli has a chance to get just a little bit browned and burnt. Add salt, cinnamon, and pepper, tomatoes, water, and lemon juice. Stir it all together and bring the liquid to a boil. Then lower the heat, so it’s just simmering, cover it again, and let it cook for another 20 minutes. Stir it every now and then, but mostly you can just leave it alone.
I thought the broccoli would be nothing but mush when it was done. And while it was pretty soft, it wasn’t all gross and falling apart. In fact, it was pretty good.
So my first foray into The Middle East Cookbook didn’t turn out too bad. But you know what? I’m still not eatin’ raw kibbe.
(Update: I just turned the page in my cookbook and saw a recipe for Lahm bil ajine. Doh. Man, I’m slow.)