Citizens, Lebanese cuisine is diverse, varied and universally delicious – I am delighted to share with you a specialty recipe of pomegranate meatballs enjoyed not only in Lebanon and Syria today, but throughout the region of the Levant (the Middle East)!
Lebanese cuisine is an ancient one and part of the Levantine cuisine. Many dishes in the Lebanese cuisine can be traced back thousands of years to eras of Roman and Phoenician rule. More recently, Lebanese cuisine was influenced by the different foreign civilizations that held power. From 1516 to 1918, the Ottoman Turks controlled Lebanon and introduced a variety of foods that have become staples in the Lebanese diet, such as cooking with lamb.
After the Ottomans were defeated in World War I (1914–1918), France took control of Lebanon until 1943, when the country achieved its independence. The French introduced foods such as flan, a caramel custard dessert dating back to the 16th century AD, and croissants.
Most often foods are grilled, baked or sautéed in olive oil; butter or cream is rarely used other than in a few desserts. Vegetables are often eaten raw, pickled, or cooked. Herbs and spices are used frequently and in large quantities as is pomegranate. Like most Mediterranean countries, much of what the Lebanese eat is dictated by the seasons and what is available. Lebanese cuisine also varies by region.
The origins of the name of this dish are somewhat shrouded in legend, but most agree that the following story is probably true. Lebanon (and the rest of the Levant) was under Ottoman rule until the end of WWI and back then, high-ranking officers were called basha; hence the name of this dish, after an Armenian governor or pasha (basha is the Arabic pronunciation since “p” as a sound does not exist in Arabic) who was appointed to govern the Lebanese territory. In the late 18th century, Lebanon was under the rule of Basha Dawood, or Pasha David – it is said he created the dish and enjoyed it so much he dined on it every day!
Traditionally served with rice, I’ve created my version of a Syrian spice blend called Bharat, which includes an eccentric touch of rose petals typically only found in the Tunisian version of the spice mix – but I love it, so it found its way in! The use of pomegranate molasses is a needed element of sweet and sour in this dish of meatballs – it’s readily found in most middle eastern markets or on Amazon. Lastly, I added a dusting of za’atar spice blend to the final dish which is not traditional but is delicious. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do, ! 😀
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 450 g (1 lb) kofta meat – mix 1 pound lean minced beef with ½ an onion, ¼ cup of pine nuts, 2 tablespoons raisins, 3 tablespoons fresh mint(finely chopped), 1 teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, ¼ teaspoon allspice powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 egg yolks and a small bunch of fresh parsley leaves in a food processor; add salt and pepper to taste and grind to a paste
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 (400-g (14-oz)) can chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp pomegranate syrup
- 240 ml (8 fl. oz) chicken stock
- ½ Tbsp. Bharat spice, made from:
- 2 Tbsp. ground black peppercorns
- 2 Tbsp. hot paprika
- 1 Tbsp. ground coriander seeds
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
- ½ Tbsp. ground cloves
- ½ Tbsp. ground cardamom
- 1 Tbsp. ground mint
- 2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. ground rose petals
- a few threads of Saffron, ground up
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- ⅓ cup pine nuts (not from China, they can cause ‘pine nut mouth’)
- 2 ½ cups Basmati rice
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 3 tbsp. of butter (for the rice)
- za’atar blend for finishing (optional)
- Preheat oven to 200˚C (400˚F / Gas mark 6).
- Divide kofta meat into 20 small balls. Put on a nonstick rimmed baking tray and bake for 30 minutes. Flip meatballs every 10 minutes for even cooking. Remove and set aside.
- In a large pot, heat oil, add onion and fry until lightly browned. Add garlic and fry gently for 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes, pomegranate syrup and stock and stir together.
- Gently cook for 10 minutes, then carefully add the meatballs and remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil. Cover and cook over low heat for a further 20 minutes or until mixture thickens.
- Pan-fry some pine nuts in a little butter and add to the meatballs at the end.
- Drain the rice and boil in several cups of water till tender. Drain and rinse the rice. Place 3 tablespoons of butter in the pan and let the butter melt, add ½ cup of stock to the butter.
- Place the rice over the butter and stock and with the handle of a wooden spoon, dig holes in the rice in 3 places; cover the pan and let the rice steam for 30 minutes, first on medium-high heat, then on very low heat.
- Uncover after 30 minutes to check and add more butter to the rice if desired. Serve with the meatballs and add a dusting of za’atar to the dish before serving, if so desired.
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