My Egyptian Grandmother’s Kitchen, pp. 366
by Magda Mehdawy
The American University in Cairo Press, 2006
Cooking on page 32–33 (photo on page 32)
This is the first recipe I’ve made for What’s Cooking on Page 32. I chose it because it’s from the cookbook that was the prize for Emma Bickley, who won the competition to decide which page I should cook from.
I lived in Egypt, off and on, for about two years in the 1970s, and was never able to find a decent Egyptian cookbook. When I was there in 2009, I found several and thought this was, by far, the best one. I missed the opportunity to buy it, and mentioned my disappointment to Ann, my sister-in-law who is married to an Egyptian and was living in the Egypt at the time.
Tell you what. Ann is efficient. She found and bought a copy for me, and presented it to me when we returned home. In the meantime, I, of course, found one too, so I then had two.
The book is a lot of fun and I was delighted to be able to pass one copy on to Emma. Luckily I still have one, and I can now share this recipe from page 32 with you.
Recipe—Bone and Vegetable Soup
1/2 kilo chopped beef soup bones
1 litre water
3–4 mastic grains
3–4 cardamom pods
1/4 kilo chopped green beans or peas (shelled)
1 bunch of celery (way too much, see below)
lime halves (optional)
cooked cubes of meat (optional)
1. Soak bones in cold water for 15 minutes, then drain. Cover with fresh cold water and bring to a boil.
2. Skim froth as soon as it forms. Add onion, mastic grains, cardamom, peppercorns and bay leaf, and reduce to a simmer
3. Cube vegetables and rinse. Set aside.
4. After about 30 minutes, remove broth from heat, Add salt, then strain.
5. Return to heat, add zucchini, carrots and green beans, and bring to a boil. Add potatoes 10 minutes after the other vegetables.
6. Immerse tomatoes in hot water for 1 minute, then rinse with cold water. Peel, cube, remove seeds and add to soup. Boil (simmer?) another 10 minutes.
7. Wash celery and chop it finely and add to the soup near the end of the cooking time. Remove from heat. Serve hot with lime halves if desired.
8. Boiled meat cubes can be added to the soup to increase its nutritional value.
How it played out
The first challenge for this recipe was to find mastic grains—which I don’t think I’d ever heard of before. Not to worry. I headed straight to the Cedars of Lebanon in Mawson, in south Canberra. I love this grocery store cum deli. It’s brimming with all sorts of goodies, and virtually every staple you need for Middle Eastern dishes.
So of course, they had mastic (masticha) grains—large and small packets. I bought a large one for $3.10. Also bought a big bag of burghul for my next batches of tabouli.
I popped next door to the Jabal Halal Market. This green grocer/butcher is another Canberra gem. I loaded up with cheap avocados (for my next page 32 recipe), cherry tomatoes, soup bones, lamb chops and a few other must-haves, then headed home to make this dish.
While the bones were soaking, I chopped the onion, zucchini, beans, potatoes, tomatoes and celery. An important warning about the celery. A bunch of Egyptian celery is a flimsy little thing—even smaller than half a bunch of green onions. I used two ribs of our regular celery and that was more than enough.
Then I started on Step 2. From the outset, I knew that 1 litre of water was never going to be enough to accommodate the sheer volume of vegetables, and I was right. But I started with a litre and added water as I went. I tasted the broth before I added extra water and, sure enough, there was that tell-tale hint of Egypt. It must be the mastic grains. Who knew?
While the soup was bubbling away, I trimmed and cubed about 700 grams of chuck steak and set it to boil, covered with water, in a separate saucepan. I should have started this way earlier because chuck takes quite a while to become tender. When it was finally tender, I added it and its cooking water, plus three beef stock cubes, to the main soup.
Earlier I’d added a bit of chopped cauliflower. I know it’s not listed in the ingredients, but it is shown in the cookbook’s photo of the finished dish, so I figured why not.
Overall, the water and cooking times are way off. I more than doubled the water and the times stated in Steps 5 and 6. The potatoes and celery took the longest to soften, so should be added earlier.
Everyone loved it as made. We sprinkled some grated parmesan cheese on the finished stew, and wolfed it down for lunch on a chilly and rainy autumn day.
P.S. Be sure to check out my travel blog.