Lebanon (and the rest of the Levant) was under Ottoman rule until the end of WWI and back then high-ranking officers were called basha; hence the name of this dish, after an Armenian governor or pasha (basha is the Arabic pronounciation since p as a sound does not exist in Arabic) who was appointed to govern the Lebanese territory.
My grandmother lived through this period of history and passed on many tales to me, the eager listener, while she was busy preparing dumplings in the kitchen or embroidering in her bedroom.
This dish is a homey dish and one that can be found with slight variations all over the Levant. Some people like to make it with lamb and omit the tomato paste so the sauce is just a dark, meaty sauce. It is easy to make, relatively fast and popular.
INGREDIENTS: 4 servings
- 1/2 pound of beef, 96% lean
- 1 small onion+ 2 large onions
- 1 egg yolk (optional)
- 1/3 cup of pine nuts
- 3 tbsp. of tomato paste
- 2 cups of beef stock or chicken stock (can use a cube)
- 1 1/4 cup of Basmati rice
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 3 tbsp. of butter (for the rice)
- Spices: 1 1/2 tsp. of salt, 1 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. of allspice or 1 1/2 tsp. of seven-spice
- Soak the rice in warm water with a dash of salt for 30 minutes or longer (after rinsing it a few times under running water)
- Chop the small onion and douse it in salt and let it spit out its water for a few minutes. Place the meat in the food processor, add the spices, egg yolk, drained onion and process until smooth. Form marble-sized balls and either bake them in the oven for 5 minutes at 350F or pan-fry them.
- Slice the large onions in rings and pan-fry them in some olive oil until translucent and golden; add the meatballs and 2 cups of beef stock along with the tomato paste (if desired). Let the mixture simmer gently for 25 minutes until the liquid is reduced and thickened and the meatballs are thoroughly cooked.
- Pan-fry some pine nuts in a little butter and add to the meatballs at the end.
- Drain the rice and boil in several cups of water till tender. Drain and rinse the rice. Place 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan and let the butter melt, add 1/4 cup of water to the butter. Place the rice over the butter and water and with the handle of a wooden spoon, dig holes in the rice in 3 places; cover the pan and let the rice steam for 30 minutes, first on medium-high heat, then on very low heat. Uncover after 30 minutes to check and add more butter to the rice if desired. Serve with the meatballs.