Coronavirus has completely changed how Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid this weekend. Gatherings will be smaller and more intimate with nuclear families. Outside Washington D.C., Brenda Abdelall, the founder of midEats, is still planning to cook one of her Eid favorites, fatteh hamra, an Egyptian tomato-based beef and rice dish that is the perfect hearty meal to round out Ramadan's 30 days of sunrise to sunset fasts.
Traditionally, fatteh hamra is prepared in big, casserole dish sized quantities that are meant to be scooped out and shared during larger Eid gatherings. This year, Abdelall is making individual portions, served in small crock dishes, for her family of four. Bonus: It creates more options for customizing how sauce-y someone likes their plate or how much protein they're craving.
In the Middle East, there are "probably a thousand different versions" of fatteh, Abdelall tells me. The basic combination consists of a layer of crunchy pita bread on the bottom, followed by rice, chickpeas or meat in the middle and a tangy sauce on top. A Lebanese version, for example, might have a light, lemony yogurt sauce drizzled on top. Abdelall's red (hamra) recipe is a heartier, Egyptian-style dinner dish. It calls for rice on top, slow-cooked beef in the middle and a thick tomato sauce ladled in between its layers.
You can make fatteh hamra with simple pantry staples and inexpensive meat cuts, but this dish's secret ingredient—mastic crystal—transforms it into a celebratory meal. Abdelall explains how one or two of these tiny sap crystals pull out any gamey flavors from the meat and infuse a fresh essence into the broth.
Fatteh hamra is also a great excuse to break out your Instant Pot, for both slow roasting the beef and getting the rice just right. Abdelall is a fan of an old-school pressure cooker, the kind that rattles on the stove. "There's no comparison to how soft the beef gets in the pressure cooker," she said. You can also pull off this recipe in a regular stock pot, making sure you periodically remove the foam that floats to the top.
Recipe: Fatteh Hamra
- 1 pound stew beef
- 2 pita bread
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 1 ½ tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. cardamom powder, or 2 pods
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder
- 2 mastic crystal, if available
- 1/3 cup vinegar
- 1 can tomato sauce, 15 oz.
- 2 cups short grain rice
- olive oil
- In a small bowl, marinate the stew beef with ½ cup of diced onion, 1 tsp of the cumin, the cardamom, and the garlic powder. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
- In a 350-degree oven, toast the pita bread for about 15 minutes until golden and crisp. Remove and set aside. Depending on the thickness of your bread, this may take longer to crisp.
- In a small pot, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over high heat. Add 2 cups of short grain rice, 1/2 tsp salt, and 3 cups of water. Once the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover and let cook for 20 minutes.
- In a pressure cooker, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the remainder of the diced onion. Add the mastic crystals to the onions, if available. Cook the onions until they are translucent and soft. You should get a slight aroma from the mastic crystal. Add the beef and 1 tsp of salt. Lightly brown the beef on all sides.
- Add 4 cups of water to the pressure cooker. 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. **
- Remove the beef from the broth and set aside. You should have at least 2 cups of broth at this point. Using a strainer, drain the beef broth to remove any onions and remaining spices. You should have a clear broth.
- In a small saucepan, heat 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 the vinegar and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add the can of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup of the reserved beef broth to the vinegar mixture. Let simmer on low heat for at least 5 minutes.
- Now you are ready to assemble. (See video below) Crumble the bread into pieces at the bottom of a large casserole. Take the remaining beef broth and pour over the bread, which should be about 1 ½ cups – enough to soak the bread. If you have more broth, you can save/freeze the rest.
- 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.**
- 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!