Very Like a Tortellini

Shishbarak is a Levantine cuisine preparation, that is believed to have originated in Syria. However some people believe that it’s real origin is Turkish, and some even believe that the Turks have adapted theirs based on the original Armenian cuisine’s Mante. As with most Middle Eastern food the origins are very tricky to confirm and require much research. I have done some extensive research about Arabic cooking, and having read a plethora of historical cooking references, as well as the research I have done in Istanbul with the turks themselves, I have formed an idea as to where this might have originated from. I will not discuss this today as it deserves a dedicated post, which I shall do. For now, I am confident to say that according to the historical documents, court documentations and orientalist books, the first historical reference of this specific dumpling is in 11th century Arabic cooking. From there to Sicily and from there – as different pastas including tortellini and others – to Europe.

With that said, and whichever the origin of Shishbarak, it is delightful and produces very tender and delicious dumplings that while traditionally are cooked in a yogurt sauce, do lend themselves well to a variety of options if you allow yourself to imagine and try. Think, soup, think the Asian style steamed with perhaps a pomegranate sauce, think deconstructed… there really is no limit except your imagination!

Shishbarak is is essentially a dough casing that is filled with a classic meat filling. It is very similar to the Italian Tortellini, both in concept and final shape. Once the dough is rolled filled and shaped, it is then slightly baked in preparation for freezing (option for the frozen pantry). Or cooked straight away if having it fresh.

Making the Shishbarak is the first step, then using this Shishbarak in the making of a variety of stews is the final product. Check out the “Shishbarak & Kubbeh stew in yogurt sauce on this link.

In case you were wondering how to make the original Italian Tortellini, I have also included it for you here in the video recipe below.

Yalla let’s get rolling…

Ingredients

  • 3 cups organic all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 recipe Classic Meat Filling (recipe on this link)

The dough used for making Shishbarak is a basic and very simple dough; consisting only of water, flour and salt. No leavening agent, no improvers… no additions. The idea is to achieve a slightly sticky dough, that will encase the filling. The dough does not need to rise, and in fact it has to be somewhat thin as to not overwhelm the flavour of the meat filling. The size of the Shishbarak is optional. Some like it big, others prefer it small. I always go for smaller sizes, I find them to be more elegant and easier to present… for that, I use the standard 3 inch round cookie cutter.

Start by making the dough. Here is a quick tip:

Tip 1 The moistness of dough is highly dependent on environmental conditions. If the weather is humid, you will find that you need less water. If the weather is dry, you might need more water. All you need to do is add the water gradually and mix until you achieve a slightly sticky dough. If the dough is too sticky add more flour, if the dough is dry, add a little bit more water and so on.

Place the flour in a large wide bowl, or on a clean work surface. Gradually add the water and mix using your fingertips. Once the flour and water start binding, start gathering and pressing them down in a kneading motion. Continue to add water and knead until a slightly sticky dough is achieved (where the dough will stick slightly to your fingers, but not enough to cover them).

Cut the dough into 2 portions, roll into a ball and place into a bowl. Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the Meat Filling following the recipe on this link.

Once the filling is finished, place in a sieve over a small bowl in order to get rid of any excess liquids. The liquids are not desirable here because they will affect the consistency of the Shishbarak dough. Placing the meat in the sieve is also good to cool it down, which makes it easier to handle.

TIP 2 In some recipes you can use raw minced lamb, seasoned with spices. If you choose to do that, make sure to use fresh mince as frozen and thawed ones cannot be refrozen. If using thawed frozen mince, you must cook the shishbarak on the same day.

Now, you are ready to start rolling the dough.

  • Rolling Shishbarak dough is best done using a pasta roller as it facilitates rolling the dough into the very thin sheets we are looking to achieve. You can use a traditional Italian Pasta Roller, or you can buy the Pasta rolling attachment for your stand mixer (most quality stand mixers have pasta rolling attachments).
  • Set your pasta roller firmly on the table or hook the attachment to your stand mixer, set the roller on size 4 and sprinkle the tops – where the rollers are – slightly with flour.
  • Take the first ball of dough and roll it slightly using a rolling pin, then pass it through the pasta roller.
  • Once the dough sheet is rolled, place on slightly floured surface, and cut rounds using a cookie cutter. Place all the cut out dough circles under a cotton cloth to prevent them from drying out.

 

Now you are ready to fill the dough

  • Place the dough cutout on your worksurface. Top one half of the round with the meat filling, keeping away from the edges or the dough will open up after cooking.
  • Fold the dough over the filling (to shape a half circle) and pinch to seal the two sides of dough together. Pinch all around the edge to seal the dough making sure no openings remain. The case will now look like a crescent.
  • Hold the crescent and fold the right tip over to the left tip and pinch them together to hold the now round shape.
  • Place the dough on the work surface and slightly press the top to flatten a little.
  • Place the finished Shishbarak piece on a floured tray, and keep uncovered to slightly dry.
  • Continue the same process until all the dough and filling are consumed.

Once done and having placed all Shishbaraks on the tray, sprinkle the tops with a little more flour. Leave to stand for 20 minutes.

 

If going to freeze the Shishbarak,

bake in 400F oven for 10-15 minutes to firm up and prepare for the freezer. If you freeze the dough without baking slightly, they will become soggy when thawed and might break up during cooking. Once baked, cool completely, then place in freezer safe containers, separated by wax or parchment paper. Otherwise you can just use them fresh for cooking.

 

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