Before my husband and I got married, I lived with him, two of his older brothers, and his sister-in-law in a small Japanese apartment for 6 months.
Why there are so many Kurds in Japan and how I ended up moving in with them is a story for another day. The story for today is my husband’s sister-in-law, Suzan, and the first meal she ever made for me.
After a long day of suitcase dragging and stair climbing, I sat down at the sofra (a table cloth, but spread on the floor) with my new family/roommates and enjoyed my first Kurdish meal. It was a mouthwatering mixture of ground lamb and vegetables, slow cooked on an electric hot plate and topped with thinly sliced potatoes to trap the moisture and flavor. Delicious and comfortingly filling, this dish of Suzan’s became my favorite.
So much so, that the first time I had to cook in Suzan’s kitchen without her there, I decided to make it myself.
Despite the fact that only me and my fiance were at home, I got out a big old thing of lamb meat and a bunch of potatoes, pulled out the 15″ electric hot plate and got to work on enough food to feed a vollyball team. When it was all finished, I plugged in the hot plate, put on the lid and never checked it again. I then threw random quantities of rice and water into the rice cooker, since Suzan had nothing resembling a measuring cup in her kitchen.
When my husband came home, he had to eat the horrific result- the alarmingly large quantity of meat that I’d burned black in the electric plate, and the watery rice that I’d neglected to season with oil and salt (not flavoring rice is practically a Kurdish sin).
Keeping in mind my first disastrous foray into Kurdish Cuisine, the recipeI’m sharing with you today is a foolproof version of Suzan’s dish that you can make on your stovetop. All you need is a large frying pan with a lid and the following fresh ingredients:
Note: Like Suzan, I rarely measure what I put into my food. The great thing about this recipe is that it will work fine with less meat or more meat, and any amount of potatoes. You can also substitute the Turkish pepper paste with more tomato paste and a generous shake of red pepper flakes. But if you live near a halal market I would highly recommend going out of your way to purchase it.
3/4 pound ground beef or lamb- lamb is tastier
2-3 potatoes, peeled
1 large or 1 1/2 medium juicy, ripe tomatoes, finely chopped and use the juice!
1 small, or 1/2 large bell pepper, finely chopped
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic
1 spoonful tomato paste
1 spoonful of turkish pepper paste
1 handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, olive oil
1) This couldn’t be easier. Just throw all of your finely-chopped ingredients and throw them in a bowl. Start with the meat, onions, garlic, and bell pepper, and mix. Then add the oil, red pepper paste, tomato paste, tomatoes and mix. Sorry to do this to the squeamish, but you must mix with your bare hand. The magic of this dish is the moisture in the meat, and that moisture comes from the olive oil and the tomatoes getting infused into the meat mixture. So get in there and really mush, squeeze, and knead the ingredients together!
2) This part is harder for people who aren’t used to not measuring things. Add generous amounts of the salt, pepper, parsley, and red pepper. The potatoes don’t get flavored, so it’s important that the meat really pops. Since you can’t taste as you go along, mix in the spices and then smell the mixture. You should be able to smell the onion, salt, garlic, pepper, and parsley. If you can’t, add more of whatever is missing. You’ll get better at this over time. Make sure you’ve added enough oil so that the mixture feels soft and juicy.
3) Slice the potatoes into coin-slices- but very thin. They should be translucent.
4) Oil your frying pan and spread the meat mixture over it evenly. Then layer the potato slices over the top, evenly as well. You shouldn’t be able to see the meat anymore.
5) Sprinkle a few drops of water on top of the potatoes. This will turn into steam and help cook the potato slices. Put on the lid and then turn on your stove to medium heat. Then you can forget about it for about 20 minutes. Just make sure the heat is low enough so that it doesn’t burn the meat.
6) Stick a fork in one of your thicker potato slices to see if they are soft. Also check the liquid level in your pan. If you’re like me and you used really juicy tomatoes, you might have a lot of liquid in your pan. If this is the case, continue cooking on low heat, but take off the lid.
7) When the liquid has reduced a little- not too much! you don’t want dry meat- turn off the stove.
8) Serve over rice- olive oiled and salted rice, of course!