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Shish barak

These delicious dumplings are the Arab world’s answer to ravioli, stuffed with meat and cooked in a garlicy, herby, yogurt sauce, they are seriously addictive.

Growing up, my dad called this dish "cat's ears" and we loved it. Why the name never put us off is a mystery, but I assume it is because they tasted so good, we didn't actually care what they were! This dish is actually called shish barak, and although it is a bit tedious, it is worth the trouble! Like many of the dishes in this Ramadan series, shish barak is a perfect way to show your guests just how much they mean to you!

These delicious dumplings are the Arab world's answer to ravioli, stuffed with meat and cooked in a garlicy, herby, yogurt sauce, they are seriously addictive. Since I set aside a good amount of time to make these, I usually make a couple of batches to freeze, and they are always a godsend on days I am craving some comfort food or have last minute guests. Believe me, you'll thank yourself later for keeping these in the freezer.

Versions of this dish are made not only across the Middle East, but also in Central Asia and the Caucasus, each with slightly different fillings and sauces, but all pretty much the same idea. The recipe has been made in the Arab world for centuries; it appeared as far back as the 15th century in the popular Arabic cookbook from Damascus, Kitab Al-Tibakha. The name is believed to be derived from the name joshpara, with josh meaning "to boil" and para meaning "a bit".

While they are time-consuming to make, the dumplings are actually pretty easy. You want to make sure your dough has enough time to rest, so it is easy to roll out, and when you do roll it out, you don't want to roll it out too thin, so it doesn't break in the sauce. Don't overfill them and make sure you pinch them tightly, so they don't pop open in the sauce. The yogurt sauce is pretty much the standard yogurt sauce used in many Middle Eastern dishes, just make sure you keep it on a low heat, so it doesn't split. Some people like to cook their dumplings in the yogurt sauce, but I prefer to brown them in the oven first because I prefer the texture. If you are making several batches of your dumplings, you can freeze them in Ziplocs after they're out of the oven and cooled completely.

Serve these on their own with an extra sprinkling of toasted pine nuts or with a side of vermicelli rice and enjoy!

Ingredients

Dough

2 cups plain flour

1 tbsp powdered milk (or replace with flour)

1 tbsp oil

1 cup warm water

Pinch of salt

Filling

1.5 tbsp olive oil

300 g mixed meat (beef or lamb)

1 large onion, finely chopped

Salt

Pepper

1 tbsp mixed spice

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped

Pine nuts, toasted

Sauce

1.5 kg natural yogurt

1- 1.5 cups warm water

2 tbsp flour

Salt

Pepper

Garnish

1.5 tbsp olive oil or butter

1/2 cup coriander, finely chopped

1 tbsp garlic, mashed into a paste

Pine nuts, to serve

Instructions

  1. Begin by making your dough. In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients except the water, then gradually add in the water and knead by hand or stand mixer using the dough hook. You want a soft dough, not too sticky. If it is too thick, add a bit of water and knead, if it is too sticky, sprinkle in some flour and knead. Cover and let rest for an hour.
  2. To make the filling, heat the olive oil and brown your minced meat. If it releases too much liquid, pour it out, then add the onions and spices. Cook together until the onions soften, then turn off the heat and fold in the coriander and pine nuts. Set aside to completely cool before filling the dough.
  3. To make your dumplings, take a third of the dough and roll out to a somewhat thin base but not too thin that you can see through it. Using a small cookie cutter or cup, cut as many circles as you can. Take a circle, thin in out in your hand a bit and add a teaspoon of the meat filling. Fold over and pinch the sides. You should have a half circle at this point. Then take the two edges of your half circle and bring them together and pinch, making a shape resembling tortellini. Place on a non-stick baking sheet or add parchment paper to your baking sheet before setting the dumplings on it to avoid it sticking. Repeat until you finish your dough and filling, and you can re-roll the dough scraps.
  4. Once you've finished all your dumplings, bake at 180 C until slightly golden. If you are making a large batch, you can freeze the amount you want once the dumplings are cooled.
  5. While you bake your shish barak, make your yogurt sauce. In a large pot whisk together the yogurt and flour, with the heat off. Once the flour is incorporated, put the heat on medium and continue to whisk, gradually adding in the water. Once the yogurt comes to a boil, add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. By this point, your dumplings should be out of the oven. Place them in the yogurt sauce and reduce the heat to low and carefully stir the dumplings in the yogurt. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. To make the garnish, heat your oil in a small pan and add the coriander and garlic, sauteing until the garlic begins to brown. Pour directly into your yogurt sauce, carefully mix and let simmer 2 minutes.
  8. You can serve this alone with a sprinkling of pine nuts or with a side of vermicelli rice and enjoy!
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