Fattet Batinjan--The 5 Layer Casserole of the Arab World
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
In the Arab world, home cooks waste nothing and have devised a myriad of recipes that do miraculous things with stale bread. Fattet Batinjan is one of those dishes that some say dates all the way back to the Islamic period back in the eighth century. “Fattet” in Arabic means bits of something (like the bread) and “Batinjan” means eggplant.
Now before I scare away people that don’t like this vegetable, I truly think once you try this recipe you will change your mind. Crispy pita chips add a bold and crunchy texture to this 5 layer casserole, which you can add to your entertaining or brunch table. From the savory lamb, tender eggplant, crunchy pita chips, toasted pine nuts, and herbed yogurt, this dish surprises your tastebuds with harmonious flavors and textures. Little additions like sumac and pomegranate molasses add a rich complexity that enhances the lamb.
Traditionally both the eggplant and the bread were fried in oil, which can add a tremendous amount of fat and calories. However, I have lightened this dish by drizzling the pita croutons and eggplant with olive oil and baking in the oven, which doesn’t seem to sacrifice the flavor. This recipe can be served as an appetizer or main entree, and you can leave out the lamb and add extra eggplant if you prefer a hearty vegetarian dish.
To see the technique, click on the video below:
Ingredients: Fattet Batinjan–The 5 Layer Casserole of the Middle East
2 loaves pita bread, cut into ½ inch cubes
5 tbsp Olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 pound ground lamb
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp ground coriander
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 small sized eggplants, peeled and diced into cubes
3 cloves minced garlic (divided)
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses (optional)
1 8 ounces cup Greek Yogurt
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Sumac (for sprinkling)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted in a pan until browned
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle 2 tbsp olive oil onto the pita bread in a bowl, and season with salt to taste. In another bowl, add salt to the diced eggplant and combine. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow the eggplant to “sweat.” Then squeeze the eggplant with paper towels to get rid of excess moisture. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to the eggplant and combine, before laying on a cookie sheet and baking for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Meanwhile, heat another 2 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet, and add the onions. Saute until soft then add 2 cloves minced garlic and saute one minute more. Add the ground lamb, allspice, coriander, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute until the meat is lightly browned. Add the pomegranate molasses and mix, set aside. Now it is time to create the yogurt topping. To a bowl of Greek yogurt, mix in 1 clove minced garlic, salt to taste, and chopped fresh mint. Once the eggplant and pita chips have finished baking, now is the time to assemble. In a 9 by 9-inch casserole dish, add the lamb. Top with the eggplant. Next, sprinkle on the pita chips. Gently spread the yogurt topping on everything. Then sprinkle on the sumac, parsley, and pine nuts. Drizzle with more olive oil if desired and serve immediately.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East, and soon to be cookbook author. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/