I’m a huge fan of yogurt for a whole host of reasons- and not just eating a small cup of flavored yogurt a day, but eating it as part of a healthy diet in as many ways as possible. When I buy a tub of yogurt, I find all sorts of ways to finish it off because I see it as a valuable health food that I’m grateful we have so readily available to us. That said, from a halal perspective, nowadays you have to read labels to know if there is any gelatin in your tub of yogurt. Yes, gelatin. Which can come from either beef or pork, but could also come from agar agar, a sea-derived gelatin. Either way, if it’s made in a homemade style, it is not made with any of those. The reason it’s often done in the food industry is that it helps to keep the yogurt conformed in the tub or container and to withstand varying temperatures during transport.
One solution to that is to buy a halal-certified yogurt and there really aren’t many brands on the market to fit that category, however, I have been consuming and developing many wonderful recipes with Mountain High Yoghurt, a halal-certified brand available at many stores- widely available in the Western states, but I find the larger tubs available at my local Costco store just outside of Chicago. It’s nice and creamy, smooth and clean of any ‘funny stuff’ or doubtful ingredients. They make it without any gelatin, which I believe is how yogurt tastes best anyway. I have been delighted by this new find!
Have you ever bought a tub of yogurt and then got to the last part of it and wondered what you could make or bake to finish it off? I make a conscious effort to never throw away any food, and yogurt is something that can easily be incorporated into so many dishes so that you never waste a drop. After all, the barakah, or blessings, are in the last part of any vessel…
In this case, when I’m looking to use the last drops of yogurt in the tub, I think of sauces- sauces on meat, sauces on pasta- either purely yogurt or mixed with something else, both of which can be amazingly delicious. I remember the first time I ever had yogurt on top of pasta with red sauce because a Turkish friend of mine in college had poured it on top of my plate. I felt as though it was a mortal sin to do this, having grown up in a Sicilian family where the only thing that went on a plate of past was some sort of Italian hard or soft cheese, that’s it. I didn’t want to be rude to my host, so I ate it. And absolutely loved it, so much so that I kept this way of eating pasta my very own secret for a very long time. Eventually, I found myself making pasta with yogurt more than with red sauce, as my best friend often made macarna (macaroni) with yogurt for her kids and we would sit at the table with them together often and eat this up as though it was the new comfort food, at least in my life. I guess food memories really do create the bond we have with certain dishes, don’t they?
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This recipe is a whole new spin on my love for Middle Eastern meat dishes. It combines a whole lot of flavors I love and piles it all on to one plate, which is fantastic, in my opinion. When the combination of beef and eggplant is mentioned, I’m in for pretty much whatever dish it is, having first been lured into its greatness by my dear friend Inci who would present Ottoman-style dishes at my door when we were neighbors many moons ago. She would explain their history and tell me how she made the stew cuts with the eggplant so silky and soft, but I could never quite replicate the texture or taste. To this day, it’s the one thing I ask her to make when I see her, as I really love her dish the most, especially when served with the perfectly-formed buttery rice with strands of toasted vermicelli. How spoiled I’ve become over the years having excellent home chefs as friends…
Anyway, I first heard about this particular ground beef dish while listening to an episode of Nigella Lawson’s cooking show. I had never really watched her before and all of a sudden I started to watch her programs with interest because of the variety of Turkish and Lebanese recipes she was showing how to make, using many of the ingredients I also cook with and have on hand much of the time at home. One dish that stood out, in particular, was her recipe for Fatteh, something which she also called Middle Eastern nachos- and it’s true- they do look and feel a bit like making a nacho dish although here the meat is flavored with Middle Eastern spices instead of Mexican ones. Genius. I thought I’d give it a go and ended up making dishes for a couple of weeks, experimenting in my own way and coming up with a style and format I love so much I’ve served it to my guests who also loved the yogurt sauce on ravioli, which you’ll see at the end.
Here’s how the Middle Eastern Beef is spiced up, the eggplant is made and of course the yogurt-tahini sauce, which to me tastes a lot like something you’d find on a certain halal cart somewhere around the country. I’ve been asked so often for that yogurt sauce recipe and this is the one way I feel as though it tastes the closest to the cart.
First, I make the yogurt sauce, although you can do the beef and eggplant first instead. If you like the yogurt sauce warm when eaten, do it last. If you don’t care, then it won’t matter when you make it.
You need to use a double boiler or make one as I’ve done here. A pot of water on the bottom and a stainless steel bowl on top where the yogurt, tahini, garlic cloves and salt will go. Also the lemon juice at the end.
I warm the yogurt first, as the water in the bottom pan has come to a boil.
Then I add crushed garlic, tahini sauce, salt and the juice of half a lemon.
It’s whisked all together and warmed gently, then taken off the heat.
Next, I dice up the eggplant to make sure all the pieces are about the same size so that they cook evenly. Since they soak up oil quite a bit, I use grapeseed oil to saute them in first, then once fully cooked I move them out of the pan and onto a plate, set aside until the ground beef is done. The ground beef is cooked in the same pan with the cumin, coriander and dried parsley.
Once it’s done, I add fresh parsley.
Prepare some pita chips, either store-bought or make your own.
Use the pan or dish you’re going to serve the meal in to line it with the pita chips. I actually keep the center hollow of any chips if I don’t have enough to go around, and it’s fine.
Add the yogurt-tahini sauce on top.
Now come the added ingredients that if you have can be great, but if you don’t you can skip them, but find something crunchy to put on top, as well as something picante, or hot.
Like Aleppo pepper flakes or Urfa biber. I bought some on my recent trip to Turkey and the others at the Spice House in Chicago and it’s excellent.
Dry roast the pine nuts in a pan, without any oil or water (which is why it’s called dry roast). Do this for about five minutes or less, on low. Keep a careful eye on it and pull it off the heat when they’re mostly browned. Don’t skip this step; it makes a huge difference on this dish.
And…ripe pomegranate seeds.
They’re not really in season right now, so I was realized that only when opening mine. The color was really light; otherwise, it’s nice and dark. I love the way they burst with flavor in your mouth in this and any other dish where fresh pomegranate seeds are used. If you can’t get these, you can add my other favorite ingredient here: grape molasses. Actually, I used both in this dish because of the grape molasses which adds a sour flavor, and I love it. You can get most grape molasses products in a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern stores in the honey aisle or where they keep Turkish products. Pile it all on top and add fresh parsley. I love the color combo, don’t you?
Naturally, I had to plate this in my copper pans brought from Turkey; they’re perfect for this dish.
Now, there is one variation you can make here. If you don’t have eggplant, just use the beef, or lamb, or ground chicken or turkey- although I feel this recipe tastes best with either lamb or beef. The point is, you can make it with eggplant and I realized this the first time I made the dish and forgot to add that important ingredient, but it was fine. It was totally fine and even quicker to make!
One other thing you can do to #finishthetub is to put the yogurt-tahini sauce on top of cooked ravioli. This particular dish below is made of butternut squash ravioli and then creamed spinach on top, then topped with the yogurt-tahini sauce. You can warm just the yogurt if you don’t want to add all the other ingredients and then put the toasted pine nuts on top.
Either way you make it, you can #finishthetub in tasty, quick ways. How do you do it?
- 2 cups Mountain High Yoghurt
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon tahini paste
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed oil
- 1 large eggplant
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ ground black pepper
- Toasted pine nuts
- Aleppo pepper flakes or urfa biber
- Grape Molasses (found in most Mediterranean or Middle Eastern markets)
- For the Yogurt Sauce: Use a double broiler or create a two-pot contraption by using a saucepan with boiling water on the bottom and a stainless steel bowl on top where the yogurt and other ingredients will be warmed.
- Add the yogurt to the bowl on top and allow it to be warmed by the boiling water. Add the garlic cloves, tahini and salt and give it all a stir. Allow it to warm for about 2-3 minutes while stirring continuously to remove any lumps from the yogurt and to prepare it for the lemon juice, which is when it is highly probably it could separate if you don’t continue to stir. When you’re ready to use both hands to whisk and add the juice, go ahead and squeeze the lemon into the mixture, then don’t stop whisking for about two minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and set aside, continuing to whisk until it seems creamy and pulled together with no signs of separation. Set aside until ready to drizzle onto your meat or pasta dish.
- For the Beef & Eggplant: In a cast iron pan, heat the oil then add the eggplant and a dash of salt. Continue cooking and stirring until all of the eggplant has softened, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the eggplant to a plate and set aside.
- To the pan add the onion and saute until translucent (you shouldn’t need any more oil added to the pan, but if you do, add it in one-tablespoon-at-a-time increments). Add the ground beef, coriander, cumin, dried parsley, salt and pepper. Cook until the meat has browned entirely, about 10-15 minutes on medium-low. Stir continuously. Add the eggplant and give it a good stir all together. Add some fresh parsley on top, if you have it.
- Place the pita chips onto a serving plate, bowl or platter.
- Dry toast the pine nuts by placing them in a saute pan for about 3-5 minutes, watching carefully that they only brown, not burn in any way.
- Pour the meat onto the dish where you’ve placed the pita chips, covering the middle of the plate and letting the chips hang out over the sides so they can be used as ‘spoons’. Drizzle or pour on the yogurt sauce (however much or little you prefer) and add the pine nuts, pomegranate seeds on top. Finish with a very generous drizzle of grape molasses, of which, I promise you won’t regret using it; and then some fresh parsley for color. Doesn’t it look beautiful? I think it’s a feast for the eyes...