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Umm Hassane’s Yakhnet Kusa

From the book Day of Honey by
Serves 6 to 8

Culinate recipe editor’s note: I am sometimes skeptical of food memoirs, finding them too often formulaic and clichéd. Day of Honey is neither; it’s a well-written and interesting book that brings understanding to regions of conflict (Iraq and Beirut), intersecting relationships and food throughout the stories.

This recipe for vegetable stew is from the author’s Lebanese mother-in-law, Umm Hassane. Its simplicity belies the delicious alchemy of garlic, spices, meat, cilantro, and lemon; we liked it served with rice.

Introduction

This is my favorite yakhne, or vegetable stew — perhaps because it was my first — but they’re all exquisite. Once you have the basic formula, you can vary it by substituting two pounds of whatever vegetables are in season. I love the ones with roasted cauliflower or thick green beans cut in bite-sized chunks. Mohamad likes one with peas and carrots. Invent your own.

Ingredients

4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided, plus more if needed
1 lb. beef chuck or lamb shoulder, cut into rough 1-inch cubes
18 cups water, divided
3 small or 2 medium-large onions, peeled and cut into quarters
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
8 peppercorns
1 allspice berry
1 Tbsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
2 lb. small zucchini
6 Tbsp. taqlieh
~ Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 lemons

Steps

  1. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the meat and sear on all sides until well-browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. (It will stick to the bottom of the pot at first; do not try to pry it up. After a few minutes, it should release on its own. If it doesn’t, increase the heat.)
  2. Add 6 cups of the water, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down a little to medium-high and let it boil until the scum stops rising, about 5 minutes. Pour off the water from this initial boil and discard. Rinse the scum off the meat in a strainer or colander.
  3. Wipe out the pot and add 12 cups cold water. Add the meat, onions, garlic, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and 1 Tbsp. salt. Bring to a boil again, then turn the heat down to very low. Cover and simmer until the meat is soft, about 2½ hours.
  4. While the meat simmers, cut the zucchini into ½-inch rounds and make the taqlieh. When the meat is done, strain the stock through a colander into a second pot. Save the meat and onions. Pick out the spices and bay leaf and discard.
  5. Wipe out the first pot. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the taqlieh and sauté for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the sides and bottom constantly so it doesn’t stick or burn.
  6. When the taqlieh releases its fragrance but before it becomes dry enough to stick to the pan, dump in the zucchini. Don’t stop stirring. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to coat each piece of zucchini with taqlieh. Add more olive oil if necessary. Do not let it brown.
  7. When the zucchini starts to look tired and a little translucent, dump the stock and meat back in and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer, covered, until the zucchini is soft but not mushy, 25 to 45 minutes depending on size of the zucchini. Taste it periodically, sticking a fork in the zucchini to test for desired firmness. Add salt to taste.
  8. Serve with salt, pepper, and lots of fresh lemon juice to taste. Umm Hassane would only ever serve this dish over rice, but I like it with bread, bulgur wheat, or even simply as a soup.

This content is from the book Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo.

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