Feeling compassion and a heavy heart for folks who have to endure a tragic and nightmarish situation in Libya, I escaped into the kitchen and made a very ancient and traditional Libyan dish, bazin.
Libya is an extraordinary country with a wide coastline of beautiful beaches and a rich history replete with Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and finally Italian presence. Incredible archeological sights, with a capital, Tripoli, described as the Bologna of Africa due to its Italian architecture.Image from iwantsun.co.uk
Mona al-Khalil, whom I met in Tyre, Lebanon, who has been protecting the giant turtles’ eggs off her coastline, told me then (in reply to my question): “Do you know where in the Mediterranean giant turtles go to lay their eggs? the Libyan coast!”
What is bazin?
It is like a giant dumpling, made of barley flour, and served in the middle of the plate surrounded by a stew. The traditional way is to eat it with one’s fingers. A rustic and filling tomato-based dish, redolent of spices such as paprika (mild and hot) and turmeric.
INGREDIENTS: 4 to 6 servings
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 pound of lamb shoulder chops or beef stew or chicken
- Potatoes or pumpkins, cut up (figure on one medium potato per serving)
- 4 Tablespoons of tomato paste or 4 large tomatoes, peeled and cut in dice
- Spices: 1 Tablespoon of paprika, one tablespoon of hot paprika, 1/2 Tablespoon of turmeric, salt, black pepper
- olive oil, as needed
- 2 cups of barley flour, preferably organic (250 g.)
- Make the stew first: Heat the pot, add the olive oil and the onions and fry the onions for a few minutes; add the lamb chops or stew meat and brown for 15 minutes, flipping it every 5 minutes.
- Add the paprika, both hot and mild, turmeric, salt, black pepper, tomato paste and 3 cups of water. Close the lid and let the stew simmer for 30 minutes or so, adding more water if necessary.
- Add the potatoes or pumpkin pieces to the stew (or both) and cook 25 minutes longer, adding more water to the pot. Uncover the pot towards the end of cooking time to let the sauce thicken a bit and taste, adjusting seasoning.
- Make the dumpling: Pour a quart of water into a pot; add 1/4 cup of oil and a teaspoon of salt. Bring the water to a boil. Dump the barley flour on the simmering water and without touching it, let the mass of flour float and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the mass of dough into a bowl, reserving the cooking water nearby. Using a long stick or a long and thin rolling pin, start stirring the dough, gradually adding more water, until the dough becomes a compact and smooth form, just like a cookie dough. Pinch off large pieces of dough and form into a mound in the middle of the plate, using a large spoon to form a crater in the middle.
- Spoon the hot stew on the crater and all around the dumpling. Serve.
NOTE: The stew can be prepared with fish or chicken as well. While eating it with one’s fingers was traditional amongst tribes in the desert, I feel more comfortable eating this with a fork and a spoon for catching the sauce! The barley flour can be substituted with wheat flour or rice flour.
Once the dumplings have been formed, it is OK to put them in the stew to keep them warm.