The holidays are a good time to count our blessings, and especially those of friendship. Today was just one of those special times when Marcelle visited. Lebanese coffee, small tin pot, and cups in gear she busied over my oven preparing the dark fine grounds stirring the rich blend constantly to perfection while I photographed the beautiful dinner she had so graciously prepared as a special gift, Siniyeh Batata. Conversation is always lively and informative over Marcelle’s tray of steaming Lebanese coffee eagerly refilled when the little cup is barely half empty.
Now, this dish is prepared a variety of ways depending on regional tastes throughout Lebanon as Marcelle says, “Just like people in different states across the United States cook the same things in different ways.” Marcelle’s regional version of Siniyeh Batata made with ground beef and not lamb, is very plain, yet very flavorful and comforting. It is made of a few simple ingredients, potatoes (batata), and ground beef cooked in a bit of oil with onions, allspice, and pepper, then topped and smoothed over with breadcrumbs and some pieces of butter to melt through and flavor the crumbs while baking. The variety made by Marcelle looks like traditional Kibbe, and so I have always called it, Potato Kibbe.
We worked on the translated English word spelling Marcelle came up with ‘Siniyeht’. This word took a few tries for me to get a syntax understanding since it has always been my respect, eagerness, and patience in understanding accented and foreign words to English that has earned me friends from around the world, and not my natural knack for picking up on languages. A little extra research turned up a similar version of the dish we were looking for with no “t” at the end. It seems with some slight variation in spices and technique many cuisines throughout the world have some version of a potato and ground beef combination. Unlike many other of these type combination dishes however, since this preparation includes no additional seasoning sauces, gravies, vegetables, even cheese. It seems so much lighter. Hence, as I finish this Post, I have just snacked on yet another square, and it is a good thing for if I do not hide those final two squares remaining from that long glass dish delivered early evening, they shall not make it until tomorrow. As I finish this paragraph, the squares are now all gone. Thank you Marcelle, we love and greatly appreciate the food from your Lebanese American Kitchen!
- 3-4 pounds peeled potatoes
- milk added to moisten the potatoes a bit while mashing, approximately 1/4 cup
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1 1/2- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1-2 tablespoons oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan for cooking the ground beef
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 cup bread crumbs, approximately, enough to fully cover and spread across potatoes
- 4 tablespoons butter, approximately, cut into pieces and topped over the breadcrumbs
- Cook potatoes until tender, drain, then mash with a little milk just to moisten, add in salt, check seasoning. Carefully spread half of the potato mixture, about an inch thickness into a greased long glass dish. Cook ground beef in a little oil, add onions, sprinkle over allspice and pepper. Carefully spread the ground beef mixture on top of the mashed potatoes covering the length of the glass dish. Spread the additional half of the potatoes on top of the ground beef mixture. Sprinkle mashed potatoes with the breadcrumbs covering smoothly and evenly across. Top breadcrumbs with butter bits. Cover the Siniyeh Batata with aluminum foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for thirty-five to forty minutes until cooked through, do not overcook by browning the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Cool dish. Cut into small squares. Siniyeh Batata squares can be reheated in the microwave.