Kabab Hala or onion-beef braise conjures the memories of Easter eve with my family. I grew up in an orthodox Christian family that observes lent. To end our self-imposed vegan fasting, my mom would cover the dining table with copious meat dishes. This onion-beef braise was and remains my favorite one.
In spite of being a celebratory dish, it is a simple one that needs just a few ingredients. Made of inexpensive meat cut “chuck roast”, this dish is an economic crowd pleaser.
For a hands-down cooking experience, I prefer BIG TIME cooking this dish in a slow cooker. Slow cooking yields to the velvety sauce, rich texture, and heavenly aromas. Kabab Hala cooks equally well in a dutch oven or heavy bottom pan, yet the downside is that you need to check it every 20 to 30 minutes to make sure the water level is enough, so the meat doesn’t dry out or burn. I advise against cooking it in a presto” or an “Instant Pot”. They both render the braised meat collapsed with an unpleasant stringy texture.
Asking the butcher to chop the meat (of course against the grain) will reduce the prep time by half. Dredging the meat cubes in quality kosher salt and freshly ground coarse black pepper makes a beautiful crust that seals the meat juices inside. To have the best of the two worlds: the lightness and richness, I prefer to use both canola oil and butter for browning the meat. Thinly sliced onions, melt nicer and faster in the slow cooker. I fancy studding the braise with several bay leaves, ground allspice, cumin, coriander and a stick of cinnamon.
For company, I tend to serve this dish with vermicelli rice to give my guests a taste of a feast dinner in my parents’ house.
Egyptian Kabab Hala: Beef-Onion Braise
Serves 8-10 people
- 1 kg beef chuck roast, cubed
- 1 big onion or 2 medium ones, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, grated or chopped finely in a food processor
- Freshly ground ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 of ground all spice or nutmeg
- Salt to taste
- Sprinkle the pepper over the beef cubes. Press with your hands so the salt and pepper stick to the surface of the meat.
- Heat the canola and the butter in a heavy-bottom pan or a dutch oven until very hot but not smoky.
- Add the meat cubes in batches to the pan and brown all sides of the meat. Avoid crowding the pan.
- Remove the beef cubes and set aside.
- Brown the onion and garlic slices in the same pan, until they wilt. Avoid burning the garlic so it doesn’t get bitter.
- In case you are using a slow cooker, add the meat, garlic, onions, the spices and 1/2 cup of water. Water should be barely enough to cook the meat. Set the cooker on low and let the braise cook for 6 to 8 hours. If you are using a regular pan, add the browned meat, garlic, onions, spices and 1 cup of water. Cover the pot and let it simmer on a low heat for 3 to 4 hours until meat is fork tender. Keep checking every 20 to 30 minutes to make sure the water is enough to avoid overcooking the meat.
- Serve the braise hot with either vermicelli rice, noodles, mashed or baked potatoes.
- A braise is different from stew. In a braise, the quantity of liquid shouldn’t cover the meat, yet It has to be barely enough to properly cook the meat.