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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Makmooret Zahra bil Fakhara (Stew of Cauliflower in Yogurt Sauce Cooked in A Clay Pot) - how a stew takes a whole new dimension!

From Palestinian cuisine, specifically from the cities of the Westbank, comes this superb stew of cauliflower cooked in yogurt sauce known as Makmooret Zahra مكمورة زهرة . Traditionally the cauliflower is fried till light golden brown, then added to lamb broth and left to simmer for a few minutes. The simmering process here is to flavour the broth  with cauliflower. After simmering, thickened yogurt is added to the mix and simmered again to infuse all flavours (lamb, cauliflower, and yogurt). The only tricky part in this recipe is to keep the yogurt from splitting and curdling while cooking. For that reason, the yogurt is usually thickened with a binding agent. In the traditional kitchen, eggs are used to keep the yogurt together, by being tempered then added to the yogurt; kind of like the concept of custard. However, many find this method to be a little complicated and labour intensive as you will have to continuously stir in order not to end up with scrambled eggs in the sauce.  The method I use to make any yogurt-based sauce is to add starch to the yogurt and blend in a food blender until it is well incorporated. It works like a charm, and requires much less work.

Read on for the full article...

You can carry out this recipe in a regular stew pot, but for the authentic and unmatched flavour, go for the earthenware or clay pot (Fakhara فخارة  in Arabic) it makes all the difference. Earthenware, is porous and when it soaks up the moisture from the food while being subjected to the heat in the oven; the steam evaporates from its pours into the food and therefore combining the stewing cooking method and the steaming method all at once. Steaming is known to enhance the flavours of vegetables, and therefore the flavour of stews cooked in fakara are seriously good and unmatched. Covering the tops of the pot with a simple dough encloses all the steam created in the clay pot, keeping all the moistness, goodness and flavour circulating around the food and in turn resulting in stronger flavours and more tender meats! Goodness...!

When it comes to cooking in clay pots, the natural properties of clay produce rich and deeply flavoured foods. These pots have been used for cooking throughout the civilisation of mankind. Nowadays we have specific erthenware pots for almost every use. There is the soup clay pot, the angled bean clay pot, the chicken brick, the stew clay pot, the Tagine clay pot with a coned lid, the Chinese sand pot which looks like a skillet with ceramic glaze and ceramic handles, the Tandoor pot, the Tian dish...etc. They are all designed for specific uses. Yet earthenware is very versatile and is really multi-purpose. Any clay pot can be used as a stew pot, as a roaster, as a steamer, a pie dish...etc. One of the fabulous features of clay is its ability to retain heat, whick makes it perfect for slow-cooking (like stews and roasts). More importantly, this heat-retaining  property is perfect for baking breads and pies as it provides the needed crustiness.

Earthenware, otherwise known as clay pots, terracotta pots, Fakhara, Cazuela...etc can be natural (unglazed), glazed, ceramic enamled...etc. Usually you want to follow manufacturer's instructions on how to use your clay pot, however these are general guidelines that you should follow:
  • The temperature must gradually rise and fall, therefore never place earthenware in a preheated oven, instead place in a cold oven, and as the temperature rises in the oven the clay pot gets warmer. This is why clay pots are perfect vessels for slow cooking methods. In the same effect, never place a hot clay pot on a cold surface, rather place over a cooling mat or so.
  • Unless otherwise instructed by the manufacturers, most clay pots should not be placed directly over heat. A buffer must be placed in between.
  • Soak unglazed clay pots in water for 10 minutes before use to moisten.
  • Since clay is porous it can absorb strong flavours which are then hard to wash off. Dedicate a clay pot for strongly flavoured dishes such as tandoori chicken, curries...etc. Or the flavours will rub off to other dishes.
  • Never place unglazed clay pots in dishwashers. And never wash unglazed pots with detergents, as it will settle in the pours and be released into your foods.
  • Not all clay pots are food grade, or food safe. Some clay pots contain high levels of lead which are hazardous. Therefore buy your clay pots from a trusted source and better go for ones that have a food grade stamp on them.
  • for more on earthenware and other cookware, check out my post 'Understanding Cookware'

Back to the stew :)
The combination of cauliflower and yogurt sauce is really one you do not want to miss. This is one of those recipes that you and your family will devour. I roast the cauliflower instead of deep frying it, as I find it healthier and lighter, which doesn't leave you feeling heavy and lazy afterwards. But for deeper flavours, and an authentic experience, you might want to stick to the traditional recipe. Also traditionally this stew is served with a side of rice pilaf, but I prefer a side of crusty bread, which you can dip into the yoghurt sauce and be transformed into a world of creamy goodness unknown except to your palate! The creaminess, warmth and softness of this dish, thrones it at the top of comfort foods. However way you look at this, you will find a well-rounded experience of flavours and goodness.

مكمورة زهرة بالفخارة Makmooret Zahra
(Cauliflower & yogurt bake in clay pot)

Serves 6
Makmooret Zahra Bil Fakhara
مكمورة زهرة بالفخارة
You Need

For the lamb broth
2Kg lamb meat on the bone (or 1kg boneless meat chunks)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
4 pcs whole all spice corns
1 large cinnamon stick
3 pcs whole cardamom seeds
2 dried bay leaves
3 whole cloves
1 heaped tbsp cumin powder
Salt & Black pepper to taste
enough water to cover the meat

For Roasted Cauliflower
2 large heads of cauliflower, cut into flowerettes, washed and dried
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp cumin powder
Salt & Black pepper

For Yoghurt Sauce
1 ltr lamb broth
1 1/2 KG plain yogurt
3 heaped tbsp starch
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt & Black pepper

For Simple Dough cover
2 1/2 cups flour
1 - 1 1/2 cups of water

Start by making the lamb broth. Sweat the onion and crushed garlic in the olive oil until translucent but not browned. Add the meat pieces and brown slightly on all sides. Season with cumin, Salt & black pepper and stir to mix. Add the water and stir scraping the bottoms of the pot. Place your spices in a spice sieve container as in picture above, and place this spice bouquet into the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer skimming the gray scum until the meat is cooked.
When cooked, drain to separate the meat and liquid reserving the liquid. You will use 1 ltr of the liquid in this recipe, and the remaining liquid you can place in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks and use in other recipes. Discard the spices.

While the meat is cooking, prepare the cauliflower for roasting (or fry if desired).
Preheat oven to 450F. We are roasting, so you will need the top fire setting. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. In a small bowl, mix all seasoning (spices and salt). Place the cauliflower on top, and sprinkle with oil, then the seasoning mixture. Place in preheated oven and roast till golden brown. About 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning twice throughout.

In a large pot, bring 1 ltr of lamb broth to a boil and place roasted cauliflower in the boiling broth together with the lamb pieces. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, covered.

Meanwhile, prepare the yogurt. In a blender, place the yogurt, crushed garlic, starch and seasoning. Blend till smooth and all incorporated. There should be no lumps of starch in the yogurt mixture. Add this yogurt mixture to the simmering lamb broth and cauliflower, stirring to incorporate all. Continue stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pour the stew into the priorly soaked clay pots. Top with rolled simple dough to seal. Prick the centre of the dough with a sharp knife for extra steam to escape. Place the ready pots on a lined baking sheet and place in cool oven.
set the oven to 300F and bake the pots for 40-45 minutes. When done and the dough cover has browned, remove from oven and serve alongside rice or bread.

To make the simple dough cover, mix the flour and salt together, then gradually add enough water to bring the mixture together into a dough. This dough will not be eaten, it is just to seal in the flavours. Once you have achieved dough consistency, roll out and use to cover the clay pots.

Please Note  In concoctions like this one, when the preparation is done in steps, you need to keep an eye on seasoning. We are seasoning every layer as we go, therefore watch out from over seasoning and keep tasting to ensure you haven't gone too far with the salt.


Thank you for dropping by and reading this post. Hope you have enjoyed it.
Let me hear from you before you go. Drop by again soon for more scrumptious food and chats :))

For learning the makings of Arabic Cuisine and mastering Arabic Cooking join my course 'Arabic Cooking Basics'. get in touch with me for details.