I’ll get it out of the way up front; Aladdin is my favorite Disney animated film. It was my favorite as a kid, it’s my favorite now, and I only haven’t had kids because I don’t know how to make it their favorite too. I love the songs, and I love Robin Williams, and what kid doesn’t like the idea of some powerless, downtrodden youngster having a grand destiny? Even the moral of the story is pretty good; be yourself and a good person and things will work out. Sure, there are an elaborate con job to pull off, an assassination-attempt to survive, and a power-hungry wizard to stop along the way but in the end it turns out that all Aladdin had to do to win Jasmine was be his daring, earnest, humble self.
However, this is the part where I acknowledge that there are loads of problematic themes, scenes, jokes, and characters throughout the film. Yes, yes, yes, and yes; there are. It came up at the time of release, and it shouldn’t be ignored now. If you show this movie to your kids, it would probably be educational to give them an age appropriate explanation of why some things are “just for movies.”
Alright, I’m off that soapbox.
Right about now, you may be wondering what this has to do with food. Let me explain; now that I’m older and love a good heist flick, the con job is my favorite part. Aladdin gets the Genie to dress him up all fancy-like, give him a “spectacular coterie,” and some other regal accoutrements in an attempt to pass him off as a prince and it is pretty successful. However, all the time Aladdin is still the same guy, just dressed up in a prince’s clothing.
Great, now it’s stuck in my head. Behold, and it will be stuck in your head too.
Now, back to the food.
Kefta, a spiced mixture of ground meat is just the same. If you’re “Street Rat Aladdin,” you’ll find it cooked over open coals and served out stalls and carts in streets all over world, usually swaddled in a Lavash with cucumber salad and yogurt sauce. If so inclined, one could call it a “Middle Eastern Burrito,” but I think that does a disservice to both. Prince Ali would find it served to him on a huge platter of rice pilaf, piled high with the same sides and condiments.
Both are equally delicious.
I’ve detailed the “Prince Ali Presentation” to accompany the film. It serves great family style so everyone can include as much of each dish as they like, and if you manage to save any leftovers they can be wrapped up as conveniently as Aladdin would have found them on the streets of Agrabah. Kefta spice blends are one of those cases where everyone’s grandmother had a recipe and that recipe is the best/only true Kefta Seasoning Recipe ™ ® ©, so mine is clearly just that…right? It IS a great blend, but no. I’ve selected a pretty even amount of many of the common ingredients and aimed for a fairly mild spice level which should serve as a good introduction and provide you with enough extra of ingredients to experiment.
With rose-tinted nostalgia for my favorite Disney movie, here are my recipes for Beef and Lamb Kefta with Rice Pilaf, Middle Eastern Salad, and Yogurt Sauce (a.k.a. Tzatziki). So, as usual, hit the market, grab the ingredients, your old VHS copy of Aladdin, and have some people you love enjoy them with you. Depending on the diversity of the “ethnic” section at your local mega-mart, you may need to find a nearby Middle Eastern or Asian grocery to get the sumac from (or just click here!) Bonus, they’ll probably also have awesome fresh-made Lavash at a very good price. If you’d like to make you own Lavash, I recommend Alton Brown’s recipe from Good Eats. It has never failed me.
Beef and Lamb Kefta with Rice Pilaf
- 2tsp Allspice
- 2tsp Cumin
- 2tsp Fennel
- 2tsp Coriander
- 2tsp Paprika
- 2tsp Sumac
- 1tsp Cayenne (or Aleppo) Pepper
- 2tsp Black Pepper
- 2tsp Salt
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ medium white onion, minced
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 2TBS Chopped Parsley
- 1TBS Chopped Mint
- 1 pound ground beef (not too lean, 80/20 would be good)
- 1 pound ground lamb (available many places, or replace with lean ground beef)
- 1 large egg
- Rice Pilaf:
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- ½ medium white onion, chopped
- 10-15 cherry tomatoes
- 1 ½ cups Jasmine rice
- 3 cups total stock and/or water
- 1TBS sumac
- Fresh parsley, mint, lemon, and sliced raw onion for garnish/condiments
Let me be the umpteenth recipe writer to say that freshly toasted and ground spices taste better. Do that, if it is convenient.
Combine the kefta ingredients up in a large bowl and mix gently until they are thoroughly combined.
Cover, and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours while you prep the rest of the meal, or up to two days. If storing overnight or longer, move the mixture to an airtight container (like a zip top bag).
Remove from the meat from the fridge and form into 8 equal sized cylinders, while you heat the oil in a large skillet. You’ll need enough oil to have about 1/4-1/2 inch in the pan. Preheat your oven to 350F (you could also cook these on skewers over coals, but that’s a different article)
Once the oil is very hot and just beginning to smoke, gently add the kebabs and sear on all sides.
Remove the kebabs from the pan to drain on paper towels and lower the heat to medium before adding the onion and garlic and tomatoes.
Fry the aromatics until golden, then add the rice and stir until the rice is coated in oil and begins to smell toasty.
Add the sumac and liquid and bring to a simmer before adding the meat, covering and placing in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven CAREFULLY and check the rice for doneness. If it is slightly under done, return to the over uncovered for 5 -10 more minutes.
Once the rice is cooked, stir in more chopped parsley and a heavy squeeze of lemon juice.
Middle Eastern Salad
- ½ medium red onion, chopped
- 1 large cucumber, trimmed, seeded, and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 8-12 cherry tomatoes or 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 1TBS chopped parsley
- 2tsp chopped mint
- ½ lemon of juice
- 1oz vinegar (red wine, champagne, cider)
- 3oz extra virgin olive oil
- Salt, pepper, and sumac to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix thoroughly, and chill to let the flavors come together.
Check the seasoning and stir in additional fresh herbs and lemon juice as needed.
Yogurt Sauce (a.k.a. Tzatziki)
- 8oz plain Greek-style yogurt
- 3oz cucumber, chopped very fine (you could snag this from the salad and chop it finer)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1TBS sumac
- 1/2tsp paprika
- 1 TBS chopped parsley
- 1/2TBS chopped mint
- Salt, pepper, lemon juice, oil to adjust taste and consistency
Combine the ingredients in a bowl and adjust the flavor and consistency to your preference. This sauce can be served very thin as a dressing, left quite thick with a guacamole consistency, and everything in between. Add a little of each ingredient at a time and make small adjustments until you find a sauce you’re happy with.
And the money shot:
Then enjoy! And while some of these ingredients and dishes may seem a little unusual to you at first, I guarantee that after you take that first, warm, delicious, savory spiced bite, you’ll feel like you’re living in…
::puts on sunglasses::
A Whole New World.
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