Dawood Basha: Lebanese Meatballs in Tomato and Onion Sauce

Lebanon has been ruled by the Ottomans for 400 years, same as many surrounding countries. While countries were considered Turkish provinces, Lebanon (known as Mount-Lebanon then) enjoyed a semi-autonomous condition, till fights erupted and the nation was placed under a new system called Mutassarifiyah.  Then Turkish rulers were assigned to Lebanon to stabilize it, in a declining Ottoman Empire. The ruler had the nobility title of Pasha, and was called Mutassarref which literally means executor. Daoud Pasha was the first assigned to the job and rumor has it that this dish was a favorite of his and was called after him. I don’t know how true that last part is, but the preceding mini History lesson is.

Dawood Basha (Arabization of Pasha, since the P is non-existent in the Arabic alphabet) is a very uncomplicated dish. It is meatballs -plain and simple- in tomato sauce and spices.

It is easy to prepare and it is one of those foods that you would enjoy anytime and any season. It is perfect on a cold day, served hot with a side of rice. On less cold days it can be eaten warm due to how light it is despite its heartiness.

If you don’t like onions, stay away from this dish, for they are with the meatballs the base of the dish.

Also it is great for families because it can virtually be prepared in one pot and does not need much attention or preparation time.

Dawood Basha

Ingredients:

  • 250g (1/2 lb) finely ground beef
  • 2 tomatoes cut in small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 medium onions
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • Salt, pepper
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts

Preparation:

  1.  Mix the meat with salt and pepper (keep in mind that you will need a minimal amount, for you will season the sauce too).
  2. Make 1 inch (~2.5 cm) diameter balls, place them on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, and bake in a 350°F (~177°C) preheated oven, till lightly brown. (They don’t need to be fully cooked, they will continue cooking later.)
  3. Chop the onions lengthwise (julienned is the more fancy term), and sauté them in the oil, on medium heat, till soft and translucent.
  4. Add the browned meatballs and the spices.
  5. Add the cut tomatoes, the tomato paste and keep sautéing for about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the water and bring to a boil. Keep simmering over medium heat till the meat is cooked and the sauce is thickened. Adjust seasoning.
  7. Serve over rice (we ate it with mixed rice) and top with the toasted pine nuts.

 You can omit the tomatoes, replace them with 1 Tbsp of tomato paste, and to get the sauce to thicken you can add a sprinkle of flour to the sautéing onions.

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