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Umm Hassane’s Yakhnet Kusa
(recipe, Annia Ciezadlo)
This is my favorite yakhne, or vegetable stew — perhaps because it was my first — but they’re all exquisite. Once you have the basic formula, you can vary it by substituting two pounds of whatever vegetables are in season. I love the ones with roasted cauliflower or thick green beans cut in bite-sized chunks. Mohamad likes one with peas and carrots. Invent your own.
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided, plus more if needed
- 1 lb. beef chuck or lamb shoulder, cut into rough 1-inch cubes
- 18 cups water, divided
- 3 small or 2 medium-large onions, peeled and cut into quarters
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves
- 8 peppercorns
- 1 allspice berry
- 1 Tbsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
- 2 lb. small zucchini
- 6 Tbsp. taqlieh
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 lemons
- Heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the meat and sear on all sides until well-browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. (It will stick to the bottom of the pot at first; do not try to pry it up. After a few minutes, it should release on its own. If it doesn’t, increase the heat.)
- Add 6 cups of the water, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down a little to medium-high and let it boil until the scum stops rising, about 5 minutes. Pour off the water from this initial boil and discard. Rinse the scum off the meat in a strainer or colander.
- Wipe out the pot and add 12 cups cold water. Add the meat, onions, garlic, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and 1 Tbsp. salt. Bring to a boil again, then turn the heat down to very low. Cover and simmer until the meat is soft, about 2½ hours.
- While the meat simmers, cut the zucchini into ½-inch rounds and make the taqlieh. When the meat is done, strain the stock through a colander into a second pot. Save the meat and onions. Pick out the spices and bay leaf and discard.
- Wipe out the first pot. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the taqlieh and sauté for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the sides and bottom constantly so it doesn’t stick or burn.
- When the taqlieh releases its fragrance but before it becomes dry enough to stick to the pan, dump in the zucchini. Don’t stop stirring. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to coat each piece of zucchini with taqlieh. Add more olive oil if necessary. Do not let it brown.
- When the zucchini starts to look tired and a little translucent, dump the stock and meat back in and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer, covered, until the zucchini is soft but not mushy, 25 to 45 minutes depending on size of the zucchini. Taste it periodically, sticking a fork in the zucchini to test for desired firmness. Add salt to taste.
- Serve with salt, pepper, and lots of fresh lemon juice to taste. Umm Hassane would only ever serve this dish over rice, but I like it with bread, bulgur wheat, or even simply as a soup.