Fettah Hamra

There are many versions of fettah in the Middle East. There are Lebanese, Iraqi and Egyptian versions of fettah.  Loosely speaking, the basic form of fettah contains layers of crispy pita bread, rice (or chickpeas) and a tangy vinegar sauce.  Sometimes there is yogurt, other times there are meat.  In the Egyptian version, we add a tomato sauce to the vinegar, making it red, hence the word “hamra” in the title above. In this version, cubes of beef are added to the mix too. You can easily omit the meat, and make it a hearty vegetarian dish too.  So basically you would have toasted pita bread at the bottom of a casserole dish that is sprinkled with fresh broth, topped with cubes of meat, then rice, and then drizzled with a fiery vinegary tomato sauce. Delish 🙂

This recipe (a loose version of my mom’s) will always remind me of Ramadan growing up – especially the smell of the vinegar and garlic bubbling on the stove-top.  I made this for our first iftaar dinner here in Abu Dhabi for our new friends here, and it was a huge hit – especially since I served them in individual crocks.  I felt like a brown Martha.   Ironically, I used to hate this dish as a kid – something about the vinegar and soggy bread at the bottom that made a finicky teenager cringe.  Now, it has to be hands down my absolute favorite dish.  Crazy how time changes our taste buds!!

As for special ingredients, this recipe uses mastic, which is loosely translated as Arabic gum. They look like little crystals but they are actually very soft and are packed full of flavor. I found a small jar at the local Middle Eastern grocery store for $6 and it contains at least 50 crystals. I used one in this recipe so a little goes a long way. Is it bad if you don’t use it? No, but it doesn’t hurt to try something new! I also used a pressure cooker – which is the working mom’s best friend.  If you don’t have one, find a bed bath and beyond coupon and go get one (or wait a long time for the meat to get tender by keeping it cooking at a low boil).

Fettah Hamra
Prep and Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

1 lb of stew beef
2 loaves of pita bread
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 mastic crystal
1/3 cup of vinegar
2 cups of rice
1 15-oz can of tomato sauce
olive oil
(1)In a small bowl, marinate the stew beef with 1/2 diced onion, 1 tsp cumin, cardamom, and garlic powder. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
(2) In a 200 degree oven, toast the pita bread for about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.
(3) In a small pot, heat 1 tsp of olive oil over high heat. Add 2 cups of rice, 1/2 tsp salt, and 3 cups of water. Once the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and let cook for 20 minutes.
(4) In a pressure cooker, heat 2 tsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the remainder of the diced onion. Add the mastic crystal to the onions. Cook the onions until they are translucent and soft.  You should get a slight aroma from the mastic crystal. Add the beef and lightly brown all sides of the beef.
(5) To the pressure cooker, add 4 cups of water and a dash of salt. Cover, and let cook for at least 30 minutes on medium heat.  Release the pressure according to your pressure cooker’s specified instructions.   The meat should be very tender. If not, add another cup of water and cook again for another 10 minutes, and repeat with releasing the pressure. (If you do not have a pressure cooker, then boil the meat for at least 2 hours. You will need to periodically remove the foam that floats to the top when the meat boils).
(6) Remove the beef from the broth and set aside. You should have at least 2 cups of broth at this point.
(7) In a small saucepan, heat up 2 tsp of olive oil on medium heat.  Add the minced garlic and saute. Add 1/2 tsp of cumin powder to the garlic and quickly stir.  Add 1/3 cup of vinegar and let simmer for at least 10 minutes.
(8) Add one can of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup of the reserved beef broth to the vinegar mixture. Let simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
(9) Now you are ready to assemble. Crumble the bread into pieces at the bottom of a large casserole. Take the remaining beef broth and pour over the bread. It should be about 1 1/2 cups – enough to cover and soak the bread. If you have more broth, then save/freeze the rest.

(10) Sprinkle the cubes of beef on top of the soaked bread. (if you really want to be indulgent, you can pan fry the beef cubes in a pat of butter before assembling the dish….makes an awesome dish much more awesome…).
(11) Pour about 1/3 of the red sauce on top of the bread and beef.  Add the rice on top and spread across the entire casserole. Pour more red sauce over the top.  I usually save some red sauce on the side in case anyone wants extra.  Enjoy!

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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