Rice is not my main staple. The potato, in all its many forms satisfies most of the time. The other day though, I had a real craving for fatta (or fette, fetté, fatteh or fattah). The slight sour taste of the rice doused in vinegar, combined with the crunch of flatbreads elevates rice from the relatively bland soaker-up of sauces to a completely different level. In Egypt, it has been long regarded as a festive dish and is considered to have originated in Nubia (Upper Egypt/Northern Sudan). There are however many regional variations of dishes being mixed with flatbread in the Levant, Iraq and Yemen. Fattoush is a favourite Levantine salad that combines raw vegetables with toasted bread. Tharîd, a dish of stewed meat mixed with bread was a favourite of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and survives to this day in Xinjiang province of China. The quest for ultra-thin flatbreads to create particularly elegant tharîds was the obsession of the medieval Moors of Spain and North Africa and led to the development of puff pastry and warqa, a strudel-like Moroccan pastry.
So to the fusion. The inspiration was less the fatût of Yemen an anything you wish for flatbread, meat, egg etc. combo, but more of wanting to create a hot spicy dish to combine with a packet of Mexican Machaca, that a kind friend had brought me from Mexico as a gift. You need not worry, gentle reader if you have no kind friend from Mexico, pulled beef not only works well, but machaca is traditionally dried and spiced meat of the region that is rehydrated for the pot. The only real difference is that I was using the fatta as a slightly sharp and sour foil for the spicy creation, rather than tortillas, which is the traditional Mexican solution, sometimes combined with an egg. This is hearty peasant, rather than Grande cuisine!
Both the fatta and muchaca are made separately, so nobody is under any obligation to combine them as I have done here – they may be eaten quite independently and indeed, more traditionally. From the research conducted so far, even in Egypt there would seem to be variations on my wife’s recipe and that is before we consider muchacha and the countless kitchens in Mexico. For sure, my wife’s version is post-Columbian Egyptian as tomatoes are New World, even though the general concept is quite ancient. Also, note that while we ate the machaca over 2 days (3 + 3 servings = 6), fatta as in the recipe below does not benefit from reheating. Stews on the other, be they meat and/or legume/vegetable benefit from reheating. Refried beans, (frijoles refritos) being a particular case in point and possible future recipe to explore.
Recipe: (3 – 4 servings)
2 flatbreads (Lebanese Pitta)
1 cup rice (Egyptian e.g. Sunwhite)
2 tbs tomato paste
3 cloves garlic
1 tbs malt vinegar
4 tbs oil or 150 g butter
2 cups stock
1 cup water
For the bread, cut or tear into rough cubes or strips, put in a baking tray, cover with one tablespoon of oil and toast in a pre-heated oven until crisp. Set aside.
For the ‘sauce’ in a glass, dissolve the tomato paste with enough water to have a working, but dense liquid (1/2 cup). Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan and sweat the garlic and before the garlic browns add the vinegar, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Boil for 7 minutes and set aside.
After washing the rice and releasing the water, heat 1 tbs oil and add the rice in a pan. Stir for about 5 minutes on medium heat and then add 1 cup of stock and 1/2 cup of water plus seasoning, wait until the rice absorbs the liquid and then put the heat low for 15 to 20 minutes.
Arrange the crisp bread in or on the serving dish, a little depth is advisable and ½ cup of stock over the bread plus 1-2 spoons of the tomato/garlic. Place the rice when cooked and add the remaining stock and tomato garlic mixture.
Recipe (6 portions):
500g pulled beef
Butter or sunflower oil
1 medium onion
Garlic – 6 cloves
1 can 400g kidney beans
1 can 400g black beans
1 can 400g finely chopped tinned tomatoes
1 handful frozen sweetcorn
1 tbs chilli pesto (see previous recipe) or fresh chilli of your choice
1 dash Worcestershire sauce (Lee & Perrins)
*Note. To make a vegetarian version, leave out the beef and add more beans and tomato. For a vegan version, do as above and use sunflower oil instead of butter. In this version I have left out the dry beef strips as in Q8 it is probably easier to make the pulled beef than obtain the dried version. Dried (and soaked) beans may be substituted. Essentially, the above is a New World stew, made from store cupboard staples. The sweetcorn was pressed into service to add contrast to the softer beans and the ‘handful’ was a way of using up the remains of a once full packet, so proved a practical solution to using some small remains, while adding to the dish. The amount of chilli, depends on individual tolerance and taste, so adjustments can and should be made to suit.
Fry the finely chopped onion until translucent and add all the ingredients together, season, and bring to the boil. Once everything is working fine, lower the heat to above a simmer. Cook for about 40 minutes. 30 minutes in check seasoning to see if adjustments need be made. Serve.