The variety of main dishes in Middle Eastern cooking is as great as one would expect from a territory that extends, in culinary terms, from the Atlantic to the Hindu Kush. Yet there are affinities and cross-connections: Moroccan tagines, meat-and-fruit stews, are related to Persian dishes that also inspired Ottoman court cooks; people with a pastoralist tradition, past or present, share a predeliction for roasts and kebabs; and the seas offer riches that coast-dwellers, at least, cannot ignore. Each of the three dishes below, presents a different aspect of Middle Eastern food. The fish kebab relies on the quality of fresh ingredients and the kubbah on conscientious preparation; the meatball recipe exemplifies the roles of yogurt and of the charcoal grill.
BAKED LAMB LOAF—Kubbah bi al Simiyah
500 grams (17 oz.) lean lamb from the neck
2 medium onions
225 grams (7½ oz., 1 cu.) pine nuts
100 grams (3½ oz., ½ cu.) olive oil
5 grams (1 tsp.) salt, 3 grams (1 tsp.) pepper
500 grams (17 oz., 2¼ A cu.) burghul
500 grams (17 oz.) lean lamb from the leg
1 medium onion, 5 grams (1 tsp.) salt
2 grams (½ tsp.) each of paprika, white pepper, cumin and cinnamon
bowl of water with ice
100 grams (3½ oz., ½ cu.) olive oil
Stuffing: grind the lamb once. Chop the onions very fine and saute with the pine nuts in olive oil. Add meat, salt and pepper and saute till lightly browned. Keep warm.
Kubbah: Soak the burghul in advance, wash it and squeeze out the water. Put the lamb through the fine blade of a meat grinder and then pound it to a paste in a mortar. Chop the onion very fine and pound with salt and spices. Put the onion and the meat through the grinder once together. Knead the meat mixture with the burghul, dipping hands in ice water to keep meat smooth. Put the mixture through the grinder again, adding ice water as required.
Oil a large round baking pan well and pat in a smooth layer of kubbah about half a centimeter (¼ in.) thick. Spread the stuffing in a second layer over the kubbah. Shape a second slightly thicker layer of kubbah on a large plate or a piece of plastic wrap and slide it or place on top of the stuffing. Score the surface of the top layer with a knife to make a diamond pattern. Sprinkle generously with olive oil and bake in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, or until browned. Garnish with pine nuts. Serves six.
FISH KEBAB—Sikh Samak
1 kilogram (35 oz.) of firm-fleshed fish (swordfish, monkfish or similar)
1 large onion
100 grams (3 ½ oz., ½ cu.) olive oil
60 milliliters (2 oz., ¼ cu.) lemon juice
slices of lemon
20 grams (1 cu.) chopped flat-leaf parsley
bell pepper pieces, mushrooms, celery pieces,
Clean and wash the fish. Cut into cubes 2 ½ centimeters (one inch) on a side. Spread the fish cubes in a dish and cover them with a layer of finely chopped onion. Break and sprinkle the bay leaves on top, then pour olive oil and lemon juice over the whole. Sprinkle with salt and peppercorns and lay the lemon slices on top. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and leave to marinate for two hours.
Put the marinated fish cubes, interspersed with vegetable pieces, on a skewer - not too close together, so that the fish cooks evenly all around. Use about five pieces of fish to a skewer. Cook over a charcoal fire, turning occasionally. Serve with a bowl of summer salad.
GRILLED MEATBALLS IN YOGURT SAUCE—Kujtah Lataniyyah
900 grains (2 lbs.) lean lamb
2 large onions
15 grams (¾ cu.) minced flat-leaf ("Italian") parsley
30 milliliters (1 oz., 2 tbs.) milk
5 grams (1 tsp.) salt
3 grams (1 tsp.) black pepper
3 grams (1 tsp.) thyme, 4 grams (1 tsp.) cumin
15 grams (½ oz., 1 tbs.) butter
2 rounds day-old Arab bread
450 grams (1 lb.) yogurt
30 milliliters (1 oz., 2 tbs.) meat broth or bouillon
bell pepper, tomato, parsley
Put the meat, onion and parsley through the meat grinder, add the milk and spices and mix well by hand. Form into walnut-sized meatballs, flatten them slightly and grill them - preferably over charcoal. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes, cook them to a sauce in butter. Toast the bread, break or cut it into small pieces, and put it in the bottom of a warmed dish. Spoon the tomato sauce and meat broth over the bread. Beat the yogurt and pour it over the bread, then arrange the meatballs on the bed of yogurt. Garnish with slices of tomato, pepper pieces and more chopped parsley. Serves six.