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      RECIPE TITLE "LAH'MEH FIL MEH'LEH (Layered Sweet-and-Sour Beef Stew in the Pot) " Author: A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie's Kitchen © 2002 by Jennifer Felicia Abadi.

    yieldsserves 6 time-- difficultymoderate

    Here is an all-in-one pot casserole -- an aromatic blend of prunes, eggplant, and ground beef with cinnamon and allspice -- all layered underneath a sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce. Depending on the dimensions of the casserole you are using, the layers may not completely cover each other. In this case, combine the remaining ingredients into one last layer. The flavor of the stew will improve if it is prepared a day ahead and then reheated in the oven before serving. Serve with rice and a salad with tidbeelit limoneh wa naan'na (Lemon-Mint Salad Dressing, page 142).


    2 pounds ground chuck
    2-1/2 teaspoons salt
    1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    2 teaspoons ground allspice
    3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    2 medium-size yellow onions, cut into 8 wedges and separated into layers
    1 large white potato (any kind), peeled and cut into 8 chunks
    1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 8 chunks
    3/4 cup pitted prunes
    1 medium-size black eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
    One 28-ounce can unsalted crushed tomatoes

    One 6-ounce can unsalted tomato paste
    1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (preferably Lea & Perrins, or another brand that lists tamarind as an ingredient)
    1 tablespoon tamarind paste
    1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2-1/2 cups cold water

    To Serve
    1 recipe Basic Syrian Rice (see following recipe)


    1. Prepare the layers. Combine the meat with the salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice in a medium-size bowl, mixing well by squeezing everything together with your hands.
    2. Pour the oil into a large heatproof casserole. Spread half the onions in a single layer over the oil. Using half the meat, form a layer about 1/2 inch thick over the onions, pressing it down firmly. In layer fashion, proceed with the rest of the onions, then half the white potato, half the sweet potato. half the prunes, half the eggplant pieces, and half the crushed tomatoes in that order, pressing each layer down firmly and repeating the layers until all the meat, vegetables, and prunes have been used.
    3. Prepare the sauce. Combine the tomato paste, lemon juice, Worcestershire, tamarind paste, brown sugar, and salt in a medium-size bowl. Gradually add the water. Mix well. Pour the sauce over the layers. Cover and simmer over medium-low to low heat for 1 hours. Taste the sauce to see if it has a sweet-tart flavor. Correct the seasonings, adding a little more brown sugar if the sauce is too tart or lemon juice if it is too sweet.
    4. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the casserole in the oven and bake until the potatoes are very soft and the eggplant has lost all its sponginess, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot, accompanied by the rice.


      RECIPE TITLE "RIZ (Basic Syrian Rice)" Author: A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie's Kitchen © 2002 by Jennifer Felicia Abadi.

    yieldsServes 4 to 5 (2-1/3 cups) time-- difficultymoderate

    A simple, moist long-grain white rice cooked with oil, onions, and salt, riz is the most basic dish served at any Syrian meal. Piping hot on a platter with browned pine nuts sprinkled on top, riz is one of the most important dishes during most any meal. Like bread to the French, rice is a staple without which no Syrian meal would be complete. It goes with all dishes, especially tomato-based sauces containing apricot. Because it is made with oil and not butter, it is parve (neither meat nor dairy) and can be served with fish, meat, chicken, vegetarian, or dairy dishes. When my friends taste this rice dish, they are surprised that white rice can taste so good. Indeed, with lots of onions, oil, and salt, how could it be bad? Basic it is, plain it is not.

    1 cup long-grain white rice
    6 cups cold water
    3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons warm water
    Pine Nut Garnish (Optional)
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    2 tablespoons pine nuts
    Vermicelli Garnish (Optional)
    1/2 cup vermicelli or thin soup noodles
    1 tablespoons vegetable oil
    3/4 cup boiling water


    1. Place the rice in a medium-size bowl, add 4 cups of the cold water, and let soak for 10 minutes.
    2. Heat the oil in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan for about a minute over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the onions and cook, stirring, until wilted and golden, 3 to 4 minutes; do not allow to brown or burn.
    3. Add the remaining 2 cups cold water and the salt to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and add to the boiling water. Stir once gently and continue to boil briskly, uncovered, until the water is cooked down to the surface level of the rice, about 5 minutes.
    4. Cover tightly, reduce the heat as low as it will go, and steam until all the water is fully absorbed and the rice is tender but not mushy, 10 to 20 minutes.
    5. Fold the rice over very gently with a soup spoon. Sprinkle the top with the warm water to moisten. Serve hot, with the pine nut or vermicelli garnish, if desired.
    6. If using the optional pine nut garnish, just before serving the rice, heat the oil in a small, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and stir constantly until the nuts are brown, about 2 minutes. (Watch carefully so that they don't burn.) Put the rice in a serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with the hot nuts. Serve immediately.
    7. If using the optional vermicelli garnish, break the noodles into very small pieces, about 1/2 inch long. Heat the oil in a small, heavy frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is very hot, add the noodles and stir constantly until the pieces are brown. Add the water, stir, and cook until the noodles are soft, about 8 minutes. Mix half of the noodles into the rice. Place the rice in a serving bowl or platter and garnish with the remaining hot noodles. Serve immediately.

    Making A'Hata: If you want to make the traditional "crusty rice" mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, following the recipe for riz, sautéing the onions in an additional 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Once the rice is fully cooked through (10 to 20 minutes), continue to cook, covered, for an additional 50 minutes to 1 hour over low heat, checking every 10 minutes to make sure that the bottom of the rice is browning but not burning. Remove from the heat. Scoop out the soft part of the rice and place in a bowl. Scrape out the crunchy brown rice ( the a'hata) and serve either on the side in a separate small bowl or sprinkled on top of the soft rice.


    HOT! We recommend:

    A Fistful of Lentils A Fistful of Lentils When Jennifer Felicia Abadi was a child, her mother often pulled down a well-worn homemade black recipe binder from her kitchen shelf and created sumptuous Syrian meals. As an adult, Abadi pulled down that same binder to make her own delicious meals. Mindful of the importance of tradition and the ease with which old-world knowledge vanishes, Abadi embarked on a labor of love with her grandmother to record all of her family's rich, mouthwatering Syrian dishes. The result is A Fistful of Lentils, an intimate culinary food album featuring more than 125 Syrian-Jewish recipes, warm family anecdotes, and little-known stories of Syrian-Jewish culture. Syrian-Jewish cooking comes from the Sephardic (Spanish) and Mizrahic (Arabic) traditions rather than from the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) tradition. The lavish food features meats simmered with cumin, allspice, or cinnamon; savory vegetables, stuffed or roasted; sweet and sour sauces; lemony dressings; and rich sugar-dusted pastries drenched in rosewater syrup or sprinkled with almonds. It all adds up to the best-kept secret in Middle Eastern cuisine. Jennifer Felicia Abadi lives in New York City, where she works as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. She travels whenever possible, especially to Israel and its surrounding countries, studying their food, languages, and cultures. Her recipes have appeared in the Daily News and the New York Times Sunday Magazine, and her illustrations in the Passover cookbook Let My People Eat! and Italian Food and Wine Magazine. A Fistful of Lentils is the first book she has authored.



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