Allayeh is a homely, slow cooked lamb dish, similar to a bolognese or ragu but a little chunkier. It is unique to the Palestinian home kitchen and a family favourite.
Finely diced lamb (boneless neck, shoulder or leg all work well) is slowly cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, ground pimentos (all spice) berries and toasted pine nuts and is usually served with fluffy, fat grained white rice. Easy to prepare, fragrant and warming, it is a perfect one pot meal for sharing with friends and family.
I was invited for Iftar (the evening breaking of the fast) at a family friends house in Jerusalem some years back and my Dad called me to ask what we had eaten. I told him it was a very good allayeh but that the small and delicious cubes of potato that we include at home were missing. He laughed and told me that these were not part of the classic recipe but an addition that my parents had added when they moved to the UK and couldn’t afford much meat. They would add a small amount of meat for flavour and then pad out the dish with small cubes of potato.
I like the little pieces of potato so much that I have kept them in the recipe. In a time where we are ever more aware of the importance of eating good quality meat and reducing our consumption, dishes like this are great; a little goes a long way.
My Dad also made this with butterbeans and spinach yesterday for my sister’s birthday, which is a great vegan alternative. Brown lentils and diced carrot would also compliment these spices well.
This like all saucy things tastes better the next day and freezes really well.
Serves 4 – 6
Time – 30 minutes prep and 2 hours cooking time
Large casserole dish or lidded saucepan
Small frying pan
Grater if using fresh tomatoes
500g boneless lamb neck, shoulder or leg finely diced
2 large potatoes (a waxy variety like yukon golds or red potatoes work best) cut into small cubes
2 cans of good quality canned plum tomatoes or 1 kg fresh tomatoes grated
1 tbsp tomato concentrate
1 large white onion finely diced
2 cloves of garlic finely diced
100g pine nuts
4 level tsp of ground pimentos berries
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp of sugar
3 tsp sea salt
125ml olive oil
200 ml water
1 red chilli (optional)
1/2 lemon juiced (optional)
To serve – fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander and dill finely chopped / pomegranate seeds (optional)
Add 50 ml of olive oil to your pan, warm on a low temperature and add the lamb. Fry on a moderate heat until the meat is browned.
Turn down the heat to low and then add the garlic and onion. Gently cook all together until the onion is soft and translucent (approximately 8 minutes)
Add a little more oil, followed by the potato cubes and combine well with the lamb, onion and garlic mix
Add all the spices, the salt and sugar and combine everything well.
Let everything cook together on a low heat for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes and the water
Bring the pan to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer and place the lid on the pan
Cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours approximately. Check a few times during the cooking time for liquid levels and if it looks a little dry add a bit more water
Whilst it is cooking, add 75ml of oil to a small frying pan and gently fry the pine nuts until they are lightly toasted and golden. Drain off the oil and dry the pine nuts on a plate with some paper towels on it.
Check that the meat is very tender and carry on cooking for longer if it is not (dependent on the cut / age of the meat the time will vary!) Once you are happy, check the sauce, which should be rich and thick. Reduce the stew without the lid on to get to this consistency if it is not thick enough. Check for salt add more to taste if required.
Before serving, stir half of the pine nuts into the Allayeh, reserving the other half and add the lemon juice if using and stir in. Another option for a more subtle lemony tang would be a sprinkle of sumac.
Serve the Allayeh in large bowls with white rice, a sprinkle of the reserved pine nuts and some fresh herbs.