Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Today I thought I'd make Fatta. It's a simple dish, that is cheap to make and very filling. It's also found throughout other Middle Eastern countries, namely in the Levant area. They usually use yogurt and tahina in their versions, and often it is without rice. I will do the Egyptian version, with rice.
It's not a dish I grew up eating--at all actually. But on my last trip to Egypt, I tried it a few times (thank you Nesma), and got the recipe from my cousin's mom.
The history behind this dish is varied. It is found in numerous communities. In the southern area of the country, near Aswan and onwards to Sudan, are the Nubians. Though they have a shared history with Egypt, they have maintained their own culture and community over many years since Pharonic times. Even after their displacement from the completion of the 1970 Aswan High dam (all of Old Nubia is under water), they rebuilt their communities and maintained their traditions. One of their specialty dishes is Fatta. It is usually prepared for special occasions when there are many guests, such as a marriage, or a woman's first pregnancy. Molokhia is also added to the Fatta, which is one variation of the meal.
Outside of Nubia, fatta is eaten by the Bedouin. They are the nomadic tribes found along the western areas facing the Nile valley and in the Sinai. Fatta is also a meal cooked for special occasions that starts off with the slaughtering of a lamb, that is then boiled with spices, then layered with bread and rice.
For the urban and country dwellers, fatta is eaten by both Christians and Muslims as the first main meal following a major fast. So for Orthodox Coptic Christians, after fasting for 40 days for Advent, fatta is eaten right after Christmas midnight mass. For Muslims, following a month of fasting, fatta is one of the main dishes eaten at the festival, Eid al-Fitr (Festival of breaking the fast), which marks the end of Ramadan.
Regardless of the origin, the main staples are: bread, meat, and rice. The word Fatta is arabic for crumbs, which may refer to the breaking of the bread in the dish.
It's a dish that requires very few ingredients, and is layered depending on how many guests are attending. The main flavouring comes from the seasoned meat and also from the dressing made with garlic and white vinegar. Some variations in Egypt include tomato sauce, but I like the simplicity of this version.
One of the keys to this meal is getting along with your friend butter:
You and butter will make this dish tastier. Which is probably why you don't want to eat this meal too often. Yes, oil can also be used; but why choose oil when butter is right there?
As with before, I would stay away from instant rice, as you want the starchier kind to soak up the flavouring from the broth and the dressing.
When I made this dish for feasting, there were only two of us. So I didn't have a chance to slaughter my own little lamb. Instead I used lamb chops and it worked out splendidly . The recipe should be good for four people though and you can use any animal of your choice.
Total Preparation time: 25 mins (not including stock preparation)
Yield: 4 persons
stewing meat (lamb, beef) or chicken (enough for at least four people to eat)
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 pods of cardamom (optional)
1 quartered and peeled onion
Handful of salt, peppercorn
1-2 bay leaves
2 small loaves of pita bread cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons of butter
2 cups of egyptian or italian (aborio)
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt (or more depending on taste)
1 teaspoon butter (unsalted)
2-3 cloves of garlic, mashed a little
2 tablespoons of butter (or olive oil)
1. Allow meat to cook until tender and broth is flavourful (about 30-40 minutes)
2. Take meat out and break into small pieces
3. Cut-up or tear pieces of pita bread
4. In a small frying pan, melt butter and fry bread until it is golden and crispy
5. Set aside
6. Measure out the rice and rinse the excess starch under warm water. Add 4 cups of water,
add the butter and salt and set to high heat.
7. Once the water is boiling, add the rice and stir.
8.Cover the pot with a lid and set the heat to low. It should finish cooking within 15 minutes.
9. In a small pot, melt butter and add mashed garlic
10. When garlic starts to change colour (not burned!) add vinegar
11. Turn down heat and allow vinegar mixture to simmer a little (2-3 minutes)
12. Add about half a cup of stock to vinegar mixture
13. In a deep dish, add bread to bottom
14. Add about half a cup of stock on top
15. Add about 1.5 cups of rice, and pat down
16. Pour a few tablespoons of dressing over rice
17. Repeat process until rice is done
18. Add meat on top, pour remaining dressing and a bit more stock
Let's be honest, it's not an attractive looking meal, but if you like garnishing or pretty plates, you can try to dress it up a little.
Otherwise one bite of this and you'll see why you don't need to make it pretty. The tangyiness of the vinegar and garlic mixed with the flavourful broth and crisp bread and salty rice make this dish wonderfully tasty and satisfying And simple. And filling. And cheap.