Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fajoom (Navy Beans and Lamb)

In my first "Kitchen Excursions" post, I mentioned Sandy, my beautiful Syrian mother-in-law, who taught me so much about cooking. Few could match her Syrian food, and learning most of it was "you have to watch someone do it."

Sandy once told me that "When you're going to make Syrian food, you get up in the morning and say, 'today I'm making Syrian food, and that's all I'm going to do all day.'"

Syrian food is great stuff, but spending the whole day cooking anything these days is impractical. Thanks to food processors and the top-notch prepared foods now available, it's also unnecessary.

Fajoom is a great intro to Syrian food. The most tedious chore is cutting up the lamb, and even that isn't bad thanks to the convenience of already boned and butterflied lamb. (You can have a butcher cube the meat for you, but he won't fuss trimming it.) I periodically prepare lamb cubes and almost always have them in the freezer, wrapped in 1-lb. portions and reserved for a number of recipes, from French casseroles to Moroccan stew. And, of course, Syrian food.

Baharat, which Sandy called Syrian allspice, is the Arabic word for spice. Every country in the Arab world has its own blend of baharat. If you're lucky enough to have a Middle Eastern grocer nearby, they will surely have it. If not, you'll find different recipes to make it here. Or, you can order it online.

4 Tbs. unsalted butter                         
2-3 garlic cloves, minced                    
1 large onion, minced                          
1 lb. lean cubed leg of lamb
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 14-oz can chicken broth
2 15-oz. cans navy beans
1 tsp. Syrian allspice (Baharat)
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for a minute. Add lamb. Brown well, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small saucepan, combine and heat up tomato sauce and chicken broth. Add to skillet and blend with meat. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While lamb is simmering, thoroughly rinse and drain beans. (Note: If navy beans aren't available, substitute any small white bean.)

Fold beans and baharat into lamb. Simmer another 5-10 minutes, or until beans are heated through. Serve with bulghur wheat pilaf, rice pilaf, or couscous. (Note: Along with Syrian (pita) bread, plain yogurt (laban) is traditionally served with or on the side of most Syrian dishes. Do try it.) Generously serves 4.

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