Recipes | Layered sweet and sour beef stew (Lah'meh Fil Meh'leh)

Recipes

Layered sweet and sour beef stew (Lah'meh Fil Meh'leh)

So many cookbooks these days have similar dishes that it's great to come across one that includes recipes you won't find elsewhere. That's absolutely the case with Eat Share Love a collection of recipes and stories from the home cooks of Bristol's 91 language communities collated by food writer and campaigner Kalpna Woolf.

This unusual sweet and sour Syrian stew from Viviane Bowell sounds really delicious and I can't wait to make it

Viviane writes: "My mother’s family originates from Aleppo in Syria. My grandparents left in 1910 for economic reasons and settled in Egypt as it had become the new El Dorado, due to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The Jews of Aleppo had developed an elite cooking style which featured fine ingredients such as cinnamon and allspice, and exotic flavours such as tamarind paste and pomegranate molasses. Dried fruits were commonly available in the markets of Aleppo and were added to all sorts of vegetable and meat dishes. This remained very much my grandmother’s style of cooking. She taught my mother everything she knew, and I have tried to keep the tradition going in my own way.

I have shared two Syrian Jewish recipes for this book: layered beef stew (opposite) and borekas, which you can find on page 142. These little pies are the trademark and the pride of Jews of Spanish descent. Their ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492 and most of them settled in the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans. My father’s family moved from there to Egypt just before the First World War as the Ottoman Empire had by then disintegrated. Borekas were a staple in my family and part of my childhood. Every housewife had her own variation and prided herself that hers were the best. The ones I remember most fondly are my mother’s as her pastry just melted in the mouth.

LAH’MEH FIL MEH’LEH (LAYERED SWEET AND SOUR BEEF STEW)

This Syrian Jewish dish favours the sweet and sour combination of ingredients. It’s very easy to prepare, as it’s all cooked in one pot. The flavour will improve if prepared a day ahead and reheated in the oven before serving.

Preparation time: 30 minutes • Cooking time: 2+ hours • Serves 6-8

900g stewing beef
• 21⁄2 tsp salt
• 1⁄4 tsp black pepper
• 1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon
• 11⁄2 tsp allspice
• 2 medium onions
• 2 medium potatoes
• 1 large sweet potato
• 1 medium aubergine
• 3 tbsp vegetable oil
• 3⁄4 cup (134g) pitted prunes
• 400g tinned chopped tomatoes
• 21⁄2 cups (625ml) water
• 3 heaped tbsp tomato paste
• Juice of 2 lemons + 3 tbsp
• 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce or pomegranate molasses
• 1 tbsp tamarind paste
• 1⁄4 cup (51g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
• 1⁄4 tsp salt

First, prepare the layers. Cube the stewing beef and then combine it with the salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice in a bowl, mixing well with your hands. Cut the onions into wedges and separate them into layers, then peel and chop both types of potato into medium chunks. Cut the aubergine into 2cm cubes. Pour the vegetable oil into a heatproof casserole dish. Spread half the onions in a single layer over the oil. Place half the meat over the onions, pressing down firmly. If using a large saucepan, you may have to use all the onions in one layer and then all the meat. Add the vegetables in layers, beginning with the white potatoes, followed by the sweet potatoes, prunes and then aubergines, in that order. Press down firmly and then pour the chopped tomatoes over the vegetables.

Next, prepare the sauce. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, tomato paste, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce or molasses, tamarind paste, dark brown sugar and salt. Give the mixture a stir, quickly bring it to the boil and then pour the sauce over the layers in the casserole dish.

Cover with a lid and simmer the stew over a low heat for 1 hour. Correct the seasoning to taste. You may have to add more brown sugar, as the sauce should have a sweet-tart taste. Preheat the oven to 180°c (Gas Mark 4) and then transfer the casserole dish to the oven and cook for another 1 hour 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours until the potatoes and aubergines are soft. If necessary, cook uncovered for a further 15 minutes if the sauce needs to be reduced. Serve with white rice.

What to drink: There is actually a great Syrian red if you can get hold of it but otherwise I'd go for a full-bodied Lebanese red or a grenache/syrah/mourvedre blend. FB

Eat Share Love by Kalpna Woolf is published by Meze. All proceeds from the book go to the award-winning Charity 91 Ways to Build a Global City.

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