Macarona Bil Laban Recipe & Story | A Guest Post
What makes today’s food story and recipe way more of a treat than usual is that it is a beautifully written guest post infused with wit, spirit, and a genuine love of food by my lovely friend Samira. You can find Samira on Instagram and also on the Memory Box Mom blog.
Let’s first find out a bit more about our fab guest post writer & her eloquent food philosophy & the charming story of how she came by this recipe, and then, let’s scroll down to learn how Samira makes Macarona bil Laban (also called Macaroni bil Laban) which means spaghetti with yogurt sauce in Arabic. A very interesting dish that is a popular comfort-food in almost all the Arab countries.
About Samira, Our Habibi Guest Post Writer 🙂
Samira Shakib-Bregeth is an Iranian American native Chicagoan (born and raised) who is now a Georgia peach. She was veering towards a career as a lawyer but her father, in a remarkable contradiction of the Iranian family stereotype, steered her away from law school and encouraged her to become a teacher instead. Now, fifteen years after earning her graduate degree in literary studies, Samira continues to teach literature and creative writing to high school students and she loves it!
Samira’s childhood best friends were all Asian-American transplants not unlike her own family and her earliest food memories include things like white Corningware bowls of spicy kimchi and hot noodles from crinkly packages; lunches with warm Sri Lankan shrimp curry and cabbage and noodles; and sleepovers with containers of tabbouleh and sour cream dip with zaatar. Samira learned she had food to give, too, as her friends delighted over her mom’s zereshk polo and chicken.
In Atlanta, where she discovered that she could dip just about anything in ranch dressing and that casual meals are just as good as fancy ones, she has been fortunate to make friends who value each other through comfort food, over potluck meals, and with drop-by surprises. Pepper jelly, fried green tomato sandwiches, sweet potato souffle, and greens are home to her now, too.
In short, Samira believes food has the cadence of sharing, as though each effort to learn, prepare, and serve is the most comprehensive, loving communication bar none.
Now let’s go and devour Samira’s intriguing and delicious tale of food, love, and discovery.
Samira’s Tale of Spaghetti with Yogurt Sauce | A Story of Love, Roots & Discovery
I was totally under the influence of my open-hearted, early 20s when I fell for Arabic cuisine. I met my husband who is Palestinian-Jordanian, and I became instantly fascinated with Arabic food and pop culture, so much so that I suffered from temporary insanity as though I’d forgotten I ever tasted my mom’s eggplant stew or my aunt’s shirin polo.
While part of my affection wore rose-colored glasses and belly dancing skirts, dancing to Amr Diab songs during multicultural happy hour at restaurants and saying “habibi” like it was just invented, another part of it was equally true: my mother-in-law is an insanely fantastic cook. So much so that like so many 20-somethings do, I became infatuated with something else that wasn’t quite my own. And like many late-blooming Iranian-American students in college, I found out about my own a-la-carte Persian-ness when comparing songs, words, mannerisms, and—of course—meals. Seems like with each “yum” came an, “oh, we have something like that, too, but it’s [insert X here].” This language of discovery is food.
One year before my MiL finished her visit in Georgia, I sat with her in the living room while she spoke out her recipes, a narrative of anecdotal measurements, a process stirred up in memory-recollection order. I thanked my high school typing class as I feverishly typed them down. Looking over them now, I notice most of the recipes start with either of the following practical words: cut, clean, or boil; notes from a woman who had seven kids and fed at least twice that daily. I relied on her notes, phone calls, and trial and error for some time until slowly, they became my own. Akin to her generation’s conversational recipe advice, I often share recipes—to a fault—with no precise measurements. Just tons of faith in common sense and salt. (Editor’s note: I LOVE this sentence!]
One of the first dishes I learned to make was so easy it never made it onto the list. By the time I wrote her notes down, I’d already learned this simple, layered dish. The truth is that making macarona bi laban is hardly a tribute to her recipes, and it is not a reveal of her trademark methods which would feel almost treacherous sharing. There are so many fascinating and “guesty” dishes made for company, but the truth is that middle eastern cuisine can be labor intensive though usually worth every chop and simmer. But I’m a full-time working mom who is consistently distracted with creative efforts and family-world management, so I wanted to share one of the easiest recipes of them all for two reasons: a) it’s easy and season friendly, and b) it that has a crossover to Iranian cooking.
Or so I thought.
It wasn’t until recently that I understood that what makes famous ghorhmeh sabzi lasts for days on your fingertips is actually called fenugreek And like that experience, it wasn’t until I had to really think about macarona bil laban that I decided I made a funny situational mistake: the laban, or yogurt, mixture—a simple side-dish crossover—that is essential to this dish is not, in fact, mast-o-mooseer as I so often described it. So typical of us American-Iranian/Iranian-American (seriously, which one in this case comes first?) who were born in the United States, never lived in California, or even visited Iran to be confused about the ingredients that have risen out of our parents’ kitchen for years. I assumed that this word just meant that it had “seer” (garlic) in it. Turns out mast-o-mooseer is made with a type of carefully-cultivated Persian shallot called “mooseer.” I always made it with straight-up grocery-store garlic and never thought otherwise. As a woman who can’t read a lick of Farsi, relies on conversational Farsi, and loves old Persian songs, little nooks and crannies of words get lost.
This is what second-generation food life is like. We are constantly figuring it out, our identities, and our substitutes. Sometimes the Persian substitutes come from the Indian store; sometimes we figure out the meaning of an Arabic word by knowing the Persian one. We feel excited albeit a tiny bit awkward walking into a middle eastern grocery store because to the clerk it may appear we know what everything is, but we may be internally perplexed; we overbuy anything we recognize because it’s exciting and nostalgic; we barely check prices because it still feels like you’re at your uncle’s house and it would be rude to ask, and we buy extra bread from underneath the stack for the freezer because that’s what our mothers do.
Without further ado, I’d love to share with you this pivot from weeknight spaghetti. My Lebanese friends don’t add meat; most online recipes don’t either. My husband said he only remembers his mom cooking macarona bil laban as a side dish, not the star of the guest table. He couldn’t remember seeing it anywhere else but his own home. She remembers the dish as one of the recipes her friends taught her to make when she lived briefly in Emirates. “I didn’t know how to cook many dishes,” she said; she gathered her recipes among regions and curiosity. She was young and learning her ways by feeding her family.
I’m pairing this with a salad because that’s what eastern food does. We love to pair a hot with a cold, a green with a brown, a “gherti,” flirtatious color with a dark stew. I used any veggies I have at home now and will share with you that the main glue between these ingredients lies in the speedy salad dressing, one that need not be spun around in a container, but one that is splashed in circles over the salad bowl like the bohemian woman she is, slowly rocking her neck to the music. I even let some of the seeds drop in like tiny pearls.
I wish I could share measurements not by how much you can fit in a spoon but by how many times you swoosh an ingredient over a bowl. Alas, I tried to break it down for you here in its simplest form. I swear writing it out makes it seem way more than it is. Rest assured that if you want to spice it up, salt it more, take the garlic down a notch, you can. Like all recipes, it is the foundation of an incomplete story.
Just play with it, and it will have its own novelty.
Recipe: Macarona Bil Laban (مكرونة باللبن)| Arabic Spaghetti with Yogurt Sauce
Yields- 4 people & zero leftovers
Prep + Cook time – about 30 minutes
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 16 oz of whatever meat you like, I prefer lean organic ground beef
- An onion, yellow or red is fine
- A pack (or lb) of thin spaghetti (or have fun with anything…like cavatappi!)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts (or slivered almonds)
- 32 oz whole milk yogurt (1 pack)
- 12 oz Greek yogurt (1/2 a pack)
- ‘bout 6 cloves of garlic give or take, mashed or chopped
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons mixed spices or 7-spices
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 3 tablespoons of salt (just put the salt shaker by you)
Salad Ingredients for 4
Whatever veggie or salad-like thing you have in the house (case in point my random assortment.) I used:
- 1 artisan romaine
- a handful of arugulas
- 8 radishes (so much more flavor than a cucumber!)
- Little baby tomato assortment, about 8
- ½ English cucumber
- 1 avocado
- A few basil leaves from the backyard
- 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1+ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Step one: The Laban Yogurt Sauce (that I thought was mast-o-moosir but really wasn’t)
Mix all yogurt packs, the mashed garlic, and the tablespoon of salt. Taste it. It should be on the saltier side, but you be the judge. Set that bowl aside.
Tip: I like to make it in the AM before I serve in the PM so the garlic can work its magic. Do I always have the foresight for this? Of course not! If I do this, though, I take it out of the fridge an hour before cooking. Also, for some time I’d mash the garlic in a mortar and pestle; then I switched to fast hand-chopping. I prefer the mash if you’ve got a deep enough mortar and pestle.
Step two: Garnishes
Chop your parsley and set aside. Fry your pine nuts in a teaspoon of olive oil. Keep it on low heat and keep stirring them up as they cook. This could take 5+ minutes of slow agony as you wait for them to get golden-brown. Put on your air pods and finish that podcast as you slide the nuts around. Careful not to raise the heat in haste; just let them slowly shine. When golden, transfer them to a side dish and set aside. They will still cook some while off the heat.
Tip: A seasoned cook would do this step at the very end. But your noodles and sauce are not going to be hot, so you need your protein to be. Since you want the meat to be hot when you serve this dish, just get the garnishes over with now. Also, don’t skip the nuts if you can help it. They tie the flavors together; it ain’t just for show. I promise!
Step three: Salad
If you are going to serve this with a salad, chop it up it now (but don’t put the vinaigrette on it yet). No time for a salad? Serve with it with green-pepper slices, a tray of radishes and cucumbers, or something else to crunch and cool down the meal.
Tip: chop the tomatoes first and put them at the bottom of the salad dish; keeps the tomato from dripping all over your lettuce just yet. You’ll toss them all together soon enough.
Step Four A: The Protein
Heat the pan; pour 1 tbsp olive oil; fry the chopped onions for a few minutes (I add a splash of turmeric, mixed spices, and salt just to prep them and add color for the big show). Add the ground beef and remaining mixed spices, turmeric, and a teaspoon or so of salt, and fry until done well. I’m crazy and love crispy meat, so I’ll tend to leave it longer; most people like it normal and juicy.
Tip: be sure you press down and separate the meat so you have little crumbles instead of hasty chunks. You can totally cook this with ANY protein, even chickpeas.
Step Four B (simultaneous): Macarona
Make your pasta when you start the sauté process. Don’t overcook it. Toss it all in the colander to drain and leave it there. Once the steam is out, spread it evenly in your serving dish and leave it alone. If it’s too-too sticky, toss a tiny bit of olive oil on it and shake it up.
Step Five: Assemble
(bottom to top)
Pour ¾ of the laban mixture on top of the spaghetti and spread it around, mixing it evenly so all the noodles are coated. Save the other ¼ for tomorrow or extra mixing. It’ll always come in handy. You can store the yogurt mix for up to a week and eat it with pita chips.
Spread the protein evenly on top.
Spread the pine-nuts medley evenly on top.
Drop fluffy-fresh parsley on top. I love this step.
Step six: Salad (this time for real)
Get that bowl out and put on some music; you’re about to eat!
Get that salt, lemon, dried mint, and extra-virgin olive oil in front of you. Slice your lemon in half. Put half the ingredients on the salad. Start with this half and work up based on how “torsh” or sour you like things. Keep amping it up, adding the rest based on how you like it. Toss and taste; toss and taste. I love these salads to pop, so I am pretty generous with these 4 ingredients.
Tip: If you like a sweeter salad, add a teaspoon or so of pomegranate molasses.
I learned this the hard way: This spaghetti-in-yogurt-sauce dish is fool-proof because it’s just layering. There are only two things you want to avoid:
- not making enough laban for tomorrow’s leftovers or for selfish pasta that may suck up your sauce too fast AND
- not letting the spaghetti cool down enough before you mix the two together because the heat steams up the fat of the yogurt and makes for an uneventful, flimsy sauce.
My plate: My favorite way to eat this is with a cursive curl of Sriracha on the top of my pasta heap, the salad up against its side on the same plate (like a lazy afternoon on the couch), and a little spoon of extra yogurt to fill the gap in the plate. Tomorrow, I’ll eat it cold as I wonder if I should warm it up or not, sometimes yes sometimes no.
Like many dishes I make, this one is flexible and forgiving. Though it’s not a dish I grew up with, it’s part of my story. Best of all, it captures the pleasure of simply learning by feeding.
♥ Thank you Samira joon for a wonderful story & recipe! ♥