Today's dish is Lahmeh bil Saniyeh, which literally translates to Meat in a Tray. The dish, surprise suprise, is meat spread in a tray and baked in the oven. Very imaginative naming on our behalf! Some people have another equally creative name for this dish, Lahmeh bil Sahen. Which means Meat in a Plate.
In the old days, late ninteenth, early twentieth century, most people didn't have ovens in their homes. Lahmeh bil Saniyeh was usually prepared by the family butcher and then sent to one of the city's many communal ovens to be baked. You can still get that today in Damascus especially in the old city and traditional old neighbourhoods.
The dish is made from minced lamb meat mixed with spices and spread in roasting tin with slices of tomatoes on top. Sliced potato and or sliced green peppers are optional toppings. The meat is usually eaten with Arabic flat bread and served with tahini yoghurt sauce.
Lean meat doesn't work for this dish as the cooked meat will come out dry like a piece of wood. Choose a fatty mince or add a big knob of butter. For the waist-size-watching lot, don't worry! You will have a chance to drain all the excess fat towards the end of the cooking procedure.
Here is my recipe:
Minced lamb 1kg
One medium onion
White bread 2 slices
Two large tomatoes
Black pepper 1tsp
Salt 1-2 tsp
For the sauce:
Greek style yoghurt 300g
Heat the oven to 200 degrees.
In a food processor, chop the onions till very fine. Soak the bread slices in some milk (use water instead if you wish) and add to the onion. Process further till you get a smooth paste. Add the onion mixture, salt and spices (you need to add soft butter at this stage if you are using lean meat). Work the meat mixture with your hands till well combined.
Spread the meat mixture into a medium roasting tin and press into 1.5 - 2 cm thick layer. Slice the tomato into thick(ish) slices and arrange on top. Sprinkle the tomato with salt and cracked black pepper for a nice rustic look.
Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes. Check the meat 10 minutes before the end. At this stage the meat would have shrunk and pulled away from the edges of the tin. Most of the fat and some of the meat juices would have melted. Drain all of the fat and the excess meat juices. Return to the oven for the last tin minutes to finish cooking and brown on top.
While the meat is cooking, whisk together the yoghurt and tahini. Add salt and lemon to taste. If the sauce is too thick, loosen with some water.
When the meat is ready, serve a slice of meat with a big dollop of the tahini sauce. Eat with Arabic bread and some salad on the side.