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Shakriya

You've been served - Shakriya (Yogurt stew)

 

Let me start off by saying this is one of my absolute favourite dishes. It takes me straight to my grandmother’s house and is the definition of comfort food for me. Although this is most famously a Syrian dish, some Jerusalemites (like my grandmother) make it regularly. The Jerusalem way is quite similar with the exception of adding chickpeas to the dish.

Shakriya is basically a yogurt stew consisting of full fat yogurt, lamb or chicken, and onions, usually served with vermicelli studded rice. The dish was named by Syrians and is derived from the Arabic word shukr which means “to thank”. The name comes from the fact that this dish is considered to be an expensive dish and a dish that ordinary people couldn’t make often. Therefore, they chose this name, as they are thankful for the times they are able to make it and enjoy it.

This dish is quite technical, but once you’ve mastered the skill of making the yogurt without curdling it, it really is very simple. Some find it a bit time consuming and labour-intensive, but good things take time! I think the best tip to give anyone making this dish is to make sure you are not in a rush when you make it, as you can easy curdle or burn the yogurt if you try to make this in a hurry. Another tip I learned from my grandmother is to add a bit of flour or corn flour, as well as an egg, to the cold yogurt before heating it up. This helps stabilise the yogurt. It’s almost like having training wheels and once you are confident in your yogurt making skills, you can leave out the egg, which is what I do now.

If you like tangy dishes, this is perfect for you. The yogurt gives just the perfect tang that really compliments the meat, while the onions give sweetness to the dish, which balances the dish perfectly. The chickpeas, which are optional, give you a really nice bite and texture. Although cooked yogurt will sound strange and alien to many, it is definitely worth trying.

Ingredients – Serves 4

Meat

  • 500g lamb shoulder – bone in or boneless (you could use chicken or beef too, but I think lamb is the best)
  • 2-3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 7-8 cardamom pods
  • 15-20 black peppercorns
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 1.5 tbsp. mixed spice
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 garlic cloves (halved)
  • 1 small-medium onion (quartered)
  • Salt and pepper

Yogurt

  • 2-3 large white or yellow onions (thickly sliced)
  • 2 tbsp. butter + a splash of olive oil
  • 1 kg full fat yogurt
  • 2-3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 2-3 tsp. crushed garlic (to taste)
  • 1-2 tbsp. mixed spice (to taste)
  • Dry mint (optional)
  • 400 grams canned chickpeas (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Start by cooking the meat. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and brown the meat until it is a nice mahogany colour. Add in the spices, onion and garlic and then top off with enough water, reaching an inch over the meat.

2. Once the water comes to the boil, you will notice the impurities rising to the top. Make sure you skim all of this off. Let the water come to the boil two or three times, until no more white foam is produced, then lower the heat, cover, and let simmer for 2-3 hours, depending on how big the pieces of meat are. Check regularly and add water regularly, making sure the water always covers the meat.

 

3. While the meat cooks, you can start on your onions. In a frying pan, melt the butter with a little bit of olive oil. This prevents the butter from burning. Add the onions as well as some salt and cook slowly until the onions are completely soft. We do not want to caramelise the onions and the salt will help prevent this. Once they are completely soft and cooked, put aside.

4. Once the meat is cooked, drain it and reserve the stock. You will use this to cook the yogurt.

5. In the same pot, put the yogurt, flour, and egg (if you choose to use it). Before you put the pot on the stove to cook, whisk the mixture together, making sure to get rid of any lumps. Once it is smooth, put it on a medium heat and continue to whisk until the yogurt starts to bubble.

6. Slowly add the meat stock to the mixture until it is slightly runnier than you would like it. The thickness of the stew depends on your personal preference; I like it a little thick, almost like a pancake batter. However, you can have it as thin or thick as you like, but remember when adding the stock that it will still reduce, so go for thinner than you ultimately want.

7. Add the garlic, spice, and salt and pepper to the yogurt, as well as the mint if you decide to use it. Keep tasting and tweaking the yogurt until you are happy. Add in the cooked meat and onions, along with the drained can of chickpeas and leave on low heat to simmer for about 20 minutes. Check on it and stir occasionally so it does not burn or stick to the bottom of the pot.

8. If you feel that the yogurt is still too thin, allow to simmer longer, and if it is too thick, add more stock.

9. Serve this stew with some vermicelli rice. All you need to do is fry some vermicelli in your rice pot, until it turns golden brown, add the rice and the meat stock (if you have any leftover) or water. Add salt, turn down the heat, and cook the rice and vermicelli together.

10. Enjoy!

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