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Alayet bandoura bil lahmeh (tomato and meat stew)

In my opinion, there are two types of people in the world, those who prefer tomato-based stews and sauces and those who prefer cream or yogurt-based ones.

In my opinion, there are two types of people in the world, those who prefer tomato-based stews and sauces and those who prefer cream or yogurt-based ones. There is no wrong or right group, but I myself usually prefer white sauces to red ones, as I somehow feel they are more comforting. With that being said, this tomato stew, known as alayet bandoura, is one of my favourite ways to use up any super ripe tomatoes I have in the house. While I sometimes find tomato stews too harsh, this one is actually more mellow, packing just the right amount of acidity and spice.

Many may know alayet bandoura, which translates to "tomatoes fried in a pan", as just being tomatoes, onions and garlic sauteed in oil, the meat version is also called alayet bandoura, with some adding bil lahmeh, meaning "with meat" to make the distinction. This dish is popular across the Middle East, and especially the Levant, where it is said to have originated. The meatless version is usually made outdoors on an open fire on camping trips as the ingredients are easy to carry and can all be made in one pan.

When making this dish, it is best to use the freshest ingredients possible to ensure the best result. Cutting the meat up into small pieces, known in the Middle East as "ras asfour" or "bird's head" in reference to the size of the meat, means it will become soft and tender quicker. You can make this dish without peeling your tomatoes, but I like to do this extra step because you're left with a smoother stew without any rough skins. If you're a fan of spicy food, sprinkling some fresh chillies or chilli flakes is highly recommended. The pine nuts give the perfect nuttiness and crunch to this dish, giving another texture.

READ: Basbousa bil ishta

This dish is traditionally served with bread used to scoop up the sauce, but my grandmother used to serve it with vermicelli rice, and I personally prefer it that way. It is also easier for kids to eat it that way. If you have soft tomatoes in your kitchen, give this delicious stew a try and I'm sure it'll be a new favourite to add to your rotation.

Ingredients

1 kg tomatoes, ripe

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp garlic paste

350 g boneless meat chunks, lamb or beef, cut into very small cubes

4 cardamom pods

1 tbsp mixed spice

Salt and pepper to taste

Pine nuts, toasted

Instructions

  1. To peel your tomatoes, make an X on the bottom of each one and place in a large bowl. Pour enough hot water to submerge the tomatoes. Leave to sit 10 minutes, peel the tomatoes, using a knife to help if necessary. Roughly chop the tomatoes and set aside. Reserve some of the water the tomatoes were blanched in.
  2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion. Once the onion is soft, add the meat and garlic and continue to brown.
  3. Once the meat is browned, add some of the water the tomatoes were soaking in, about 2 cups or enough to just cover the meat. Add the cardamom pods and allow to simmer covered for about 5 minutes or until the meat is tender, then add the chopped tomatoes.
  4. Add the salt, pepper and mixed spice and stir. Cover and leave to cook on low heat until the tomatoes are soft, and the stew reaches the desired consistency. Depending on how juicy your tomatoes are, you may need to add a little bit of water.
  5. Once the stew is cooked through, stir in the pine nuts.
  6. Serve over vermicelli rice or eat with a side of pitta bread and enjoy!
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