It couldn’t get any more home-cooking than this. Zahra Bi Laban is something you won’t find being served in any restaurants. This is something I grew up eating and is one of my favorite dishes. Zahra meaning cauliflower and bi laban means in yogurt. Its a traditional dish that can be found in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
Traditionally there are two ways of cooking cauliflower with lamb. One is with coriander, lemon and garlic. While the other is this one. Cauliflower is also used in many other dishes, but its the star in these two.
Zahra Bi Laban might sound a little complicating to make, as it contains many preparation steps, but trust me its not as hard as it looks and you won’t regret trying it. After all its one of my favorites, as I mentioned earlier.
While making this recipe, the cauliflower is first boiled then fried. This will help cook it better and allow it to retain its shape.
The remaining lamb stock can be used to cook the rice. You can serve the Zahra Bi Laban with white rice, but in my opinion it tastes way better with rice cooked in lamb stock.
You will need:
- 1 lb lamb meat, about 500 grams, cut into about 2 inch pieces
- 2 lb cauliflower, about 1 kg, cut into florets
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 liter yogurt
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch, heaped
- 4 big garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon samneh, ghee or butter*
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- salt, to taste
* Usually in the Middle East we use ghee or samneh. Its basically clarified butter, so it has higher burning point. In case you don’t have it available then replace it with a butter and oil mix (equal parts of both).
In a big pot bring some water to a boil, then add the cauliflower. Let boil for about 15 mins.
Strain the cauliflower and set it aside.
Heat some oil in a deep fryer. Then deep fry the boiled cauliflower until golden in color.
Now for cooking the lamb.
Using a pressure cooker, place the onion, lamb meat, white pepper, cardamom, and salt. Don’t add any oil. Cook over low heat uncovered for 15 minutes. During the 15 minutes, the lamb meat will release some of its liquids and then they will reduce. Keep an eye on it. If the liquids dry out fast then add 1/4 of a cup of water to it.
After 15 minutes, add about 1.5 liters of water. Cover the pressure cooker and let it boil for 30 minutes, until the lamb is done and tender. The amount of stock should be enough for the recipe and more for cooking the rice.
If you are not using a pressure cooker, then simply double the cooking time.
In another pot, strain the yogurt. This step is done so the yogurt doesn’t split while cooking. By splitting I mean, the yogurt wont become grainy and separate from its liquids.
Mix the cornstarch with a little water (enough to dissolve it), then add it to the yogurt. Also add about 1 1/2 cup water. If the yogurt type you are using is too thick, you might need to add more water.
Put the yogurt mixture on low heat, and season it with a little salt. Using a whisk, keep mixing until it slightly thickens. Don’t over boil it or the sauce might burn, just keep an eye on it. You will simply see tiny bubbles on the side of the pot.
The sauce shouldn’t thicken like a pudding. It will have more of a thin gravy texture.
Once the yogurt sauce is cooked, add the meat pieces to it.
Strain some of the stock, about 4 cups (1 liter).
Keeping the heat on low, add the stock to the yogurt mixture and stir well.
Then add the fried cauliflower. Be careful when you stir it or the cauliflower will break. Stir it all gently.
In a small frying pan, melt the one tablespoon of samneh, ghee or butter. Then add the minced garlic and fry until golden. This step is similar to what we did in the Bamya recipe.
Add the cooked garlic to the yogurt sauce and stir everything gently. Then bring the pot back to a boil and cook for 15 minutes over low heat.
Cook the rice with the remaining lamb stock. Then serve it with the Zahra Bi Laban.
Happy cooking, and as we say in Arabic “Sahha Wi Afia”