Lamb Mb’atten Sliders with Bzaar Seasoned Ketchup
Our next stop on this culinary journey is Libya. Libya is a country in North Africa bordering Tunisia, Algeria, Chad, Niger, Sudan and Egypt. Originally settled by the Berbers, the area was later ruled by Egyptians then became part of the Roman Empire. After the Roman Empire fell, various groups ruled the area until the Ottoman Empire took over in 1551. Then in the 20th century the Italy began an occupation that lasted until the end of WWII. Libya became independent in 1951. Muammar al-Qadhafi assumed leadership in 1969. Qadhafi espoused a mix of socialism and Islam. But he wasn’t happy spreading his ideology in just his home country. Because Libya has large oil stores, he was able to use the money from oil to support other like minded people and he became the face of terrorism in the 1970s.
In 2003 Libya admitted responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland. The government turned over two suspects and paid reparations to the families of the victims. Qadhafi also agreed to stop trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. After 7 years of normalizing relations between Western nations and Libya, the unrest that began late in 2010 and later became known as Arab Spring, spread to Libya in early 2011. Qadhafi was overthrown by mid-2011 (and killed in the process) and a transitional government took over until elections in 2014. Since then, Libya has continued to struggle with instability and violence.
So that’s the short version of a very long and complicated history. Which brings us to the more uplifting part of the tale – the story of food. Food is central to Libyan life and culture. Libyans have a popular saying “One must eat well.” Central to Libyan cooking is olive oil, dates, grains and milk products (like ghee and yogurt). My favorite fun food fact is that the sand in Libya gets so hot in the summer that you can (and many do) bake bread, potatoes or eggs by burying them in the sand. Unfortunately, the sand in Boston is not quite up to the task, so I didn’t get to try it out.
As I was researching the various flavors of Libya, and this is a country that loves complex flavors and myriad spices so there was lots to build on, I came across Mb’atten. There are some who claim that this is a dish unique to Libya, but I have friends who are from the Middle East and they assure me that this dish can be found outside of Libya. They also assured me that it is delicious. So, what is Mb’atten you ask? It is herb, onion and lamb stuffed inside a thinly sliced potato pocket then fried! That’s right folks, it’s like potato skins that you didn’t cut all the way, so they’re connected and then you stuff with the most deliciously seasoned meat you can conjure up and some zesty fresh herbs and it’s heavenly.
I’m sure you can tell from the picture that I totally overstuffed the potato; I found that a generous meat to potato ratio tasted the best, but this also makes it more difficult to eat. My choice is always going to be for yummy vs. easy to eat, a little mess and lamb juice running down your chin is good for the soul. I added the seasoned ketchup because I always like a little sauce and I think the juxtaposition of tart ketchup and sweet lamb is nice – you could also make a seasoned or herbed yogurt if you prefer (insert joke about American love of ketchup here…). If you do make the ketchup, just go light with it. Tomato is a strong flavor and it can easily overwhelm the lamb. I found serving it on the side worked better so each diner could decide how much was perfect themselves.
Cutting the potatoes just right is not easy, be prepared to scrap a few as you learn the feel. I went through three versions before I came up with one pretty enough for the blog. The good news is that the ugly ones were just as tasty. Even if they fall apart completely you end up with a thick potato chip – hard to be sad about that. Try to find fat potatoes so that you get decent sized “buns”. Once you mastered the potato “bun” or “pocket”, this technique could be used with any number of different flavor profiles and meats – I’m thinking carnitas might be a good match. Let me know if you try any crazy combos…sweet potato pockets with pulled pork anyone?
But I digress, if you fried food and/or Middle Eastern spices, you will enjoy this burger. It’s meat and potatoes with flair and zing. If you enjoy this burger you should also consider my Bahrainian burger, it’s another take on lamb and fresh herbs, perfect for summer dining.
1 pound ground lamb
2 Tablespoons Bzaar Seasoning (recipe below)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cloves garlic minced
8 scallions chopped (white and light green parts)
½ cup fresh dill chopped
4 Tablespoons fresh cilantro chopped
4 teaspoons minced Serrano chilies
1 egg beaten
3-4 large Yukon gold potatoes
Bzaar Ketchup (recipe below)
Combine the lamb, Bzaar Seasoning and salt. Cook the meat mixture in a medium skillet over medium heat until just browned. While meat is cooking combine the garlic, scallions, dill, cilantro and chilies. When meat is just browned (don’t overcook), turn off the heat and add the herb mixture. Stir until herbs are wilted the transfer mixture to a glass bowl. Let it cool a bit then add the beaten egg.
In the meantime peel the potatoes. It helps at this point to take one side of the potato and slice a little bit off so that you have a flat side to keep the potato steady, if you feel ok with your knife skills, then you can skip this. Now comes the tricky part. Slice the potatoes into 8 rounds that are less than ½ inch thick. Now comes the even trickier part, slice each round ¾ of the way through (or more if you can do it without the seem breaking). Try to keep your knife centered so that each side of the “bun” is the same thickness.
Stuff each “bun” with a generous helping of the meat and herb mixture.
Dip the open end into flour. In a large skillet, heat ¼” of vegetable oil until shimmering. Fry each of the stuffed potatoes until golden then gently flip them and fry the other side until golden. This takes about 4 minutes per side and it helps if you baste (especially at the seam of the potato). The challenge is moving these gently so you don’t lose your filling and making sure the potato is cooked through. The seam will take longer to cook than the ends, so basting it with oil as it cooks help cook both sides of the seam at the same time.
When the potatoes are cooked through and golden, serve the sliders hot with a side of Bzaar Ketchup.
1½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine all the spices and store any extra in an airtight container in the freezer.
½ cup ketchup
1½ teaspoon Bzaar seasoning
1½ teaspoon olive oil
Mix all ingredients together and store covered until ready to use.
©Copyright 2015 Linda Monach