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Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Asheh of Tartous - Stuffed Sheep Intestines & Stomachs

Although I was born in Tartous, I was raised on Damascene home cooking since my late mother was from Damascus. It has always been my personal opinion that their cooking is the best in Syria. I know that many would disagree and say Aleppo, Homs or Hama. Of course cooking and enjoying food is an absolutely subjective experience. So basically, there is no right and wrong. There is diversity and controversy which could only result in a better Syrian cuisine due to the silent competition that exists between the proud cooks of these great cities.
But step aside all of you. In addition to obviously all types of seafood, there are certain plates, a very few indeed, which are best made by the Tartoussis. Even my mother, rest her soul, knew that it would be better to imitate the “locals” than to continue with her Chami (Damascene) way. One of these plates and certainly on the top of my culinary list is: Asheh (also known in other Syrian cities as Abawat, Fawaregh & Saja2at).
The intestines and stomachs of a sheep and other animals are cooked and stuffed one way or another in many cultures and countries around the world. I am familiar with at least two: the Cajun Boudin of southwestern Louisiana and the Scottish Haggies. I’ve tried and tremendously liked both. Then remember that after all this is what the world famous sausage is made of. So no need at all to panic. You've had it before, may be differently. Here is how it looks like and how it is done in Tartous. Hope you enjoy it.

Ingredients:

1. The complete intestines and stomachs of one sheep
2. 3 1/2 cups of white short rice
3. 500 g of minced lamb meat
4. 1 cup shortening or butter
5. 1 teaspoon black spice
6. 1 table spoon salt (or more as per preference)
7. 1 teaspoon of cardamom
8. 2 sticks of cinnamon
9. 1 leaf of laurus + 1 lemon
10. 1 cup of Salt and 1 cup of all-purpose flour - to further clean the intestines and stomachs by rubbing them with the mixture
11. A large needle and thread

Preparation & Cooking:

1. Order the intestines (at least one day before the big day in Tartous) thoroughly cleaned. By the way, the penis is added as a bonus from the butcher. It’s treated exactly as a one of the finest intestines in all the following steps, except no. 3 (turning inside out). So clean it by letting a stream of warm water pass through it until you are fully satisfied. Oops, I didn’t mean it in a bad way (the satisfaction part)!
2. Start by cleaning with unscented soap and water, wash and repeat again. Then remove excess fat while paying special attention not to tear the intestines and the stomachs. You can use the dull side of a knife to clean the excess fat from the inside of stomachs.
3. Turn the intestines and the stomachs inside out and rub them completely yet delicately with the salt and flour. Wash with warm water then repeat again and again until fully satisfied they are the cleanest they can get. (How to turn the intestines inside out? Stick your finger in one side and… well, you know how we take off our socks, use the same method. As for the stomachs, sew them where they are torn open and leave only enough space to stuff them with the rice mixture. You would completely close them later.
4. Mix the above ingredients from 2 to 7 after separately washing the rice and draining excess water.
5. Stuff the mixture by gently filling in one end of the intestine and stomachs and pushing it inside with your favorite finger. Then you would hold the intestines with one hand and use the other to squeeze down the mixture. Well you get it, stuff the damn things until full but not too stuffed. Remember rice expands when cooked.
6. With the needle and thread, sew together the loose ends to keep the stuffing inside.
7. Place the stuffed intestines and stomachs in a large enough pot (the largest and thickest stomacks at the bottom). Add between 8 to 10 cups of water. Add the sticks of cinnamon,the leaf of laurus and the juice of the 1 lemon.
8. Boil, cover then reduce heat and cook for between 1 ½ to 2 hours over low to medium heat. I tell you what. I never looked at my watch while cooking. Take out a small piece of intestines and taste it. If the rice is to your liking, then it’s done. Some people prefer stiff rice while others prefer it very well cooked. It’s up to you.
9. Remove from heat. Place in appropriate pottery for presentation at the table without the sauce. Pour the sauce in a separate bowl and present along side. Some people also like salted plain yogurt on the side. I love the sauce and I drink it along while eating. Add more lemon juice and Tabasco. Don't use a spoon, drink it (trust me on this one)
10. Enjoy your fabulous meal. Use a fork and knife, a spoon, your hands… your imagination, and think of me.

17 comments:

Ghalia said...

I've never seen it before, never heard of it! never sounds yummy! but thanx anyway!
Did u cook it urself?

I love Munich said...

Now THAT sounds like a REAL YUMMY recipe and my stomach tells me in no uncertain terms, he'd love to try that! It is a lot of work though I understand ... is there any special occasion for which it is prepared? How long is such an intestine of a sheep? Can you get that everywhere? I mean in each butcher store?? YOU cooked this?

I am laughing ... would I go to a butcher shop here in Munich and ask for a sheep's stomach, intestine and penis, they'd have their eyes pop out of the sockets and ask me to leave the shop without attracting even more attention!

I love your humorous way of writing - it always paints a big smile on my face! GREAT POST Abufares, I enjoy it a LOT!! :)

abufares said...

Ghalia

Please ask somebody home about it. What do you mean you've never heard of it! I tried it before in Damascus. May be it's cooked slightly different. But it's part of our folklore.

abufares said...

Karin

It's yummy indeed. True, it is prepared on special occasions in Tartous. We have it in our house, on the average, once a month, because I always request it. I've never measured the intestines of a sheep, but I would say the whole package is enough to feed 6 normal people. Over here we can get it at every butcher shop. We usually order it a day or 2 before. And, finally, I didn't cook this one. It's the great doing of Om Fares.
I'm almost certain that there are a few butcher shops in Munich where they would sell such a thing. You have to ask in a Turkish neighborhood or where there are people from the Middle East.
Thank you so much for dropping by.

Ascribo said...

Although I have always been a Tartoussi, but I enjoyed the different cuisines of my 2 grandmothers: of Damascus, and of Tripoli...

In spite of all that, I have tried Asheh only two years ago or so. I really regret every single occasion there's been an Asheh available and I didn't fill my own stomach. I'm afraid I'll never be able to fix that mistake. Anyway, I should try! At least when I come back to Tartous...I am longing for that, for the sake of Family, friends, food, and of course, our lovely sea...

Cheers

I love Munich said...

Ascribo and Abufares ... if Abufares' wonderful description made me drool already - yours only emphazised that and my stomach starts to behave very unkind to me! This wonderful dish ... together with friends, smelling the sea, feeling the wind around the nose, having fun ... I do long for that!

abufares said...

Hi Ascribo & Karin

This is what I think we should do really.
We should all be together in Tartous one day. Have a real nice Asheh in front of us, then get at it with our hands and drink the sauce as one would drink a cup of tea. We should continue to do so until there's no Asheh left. Then we would consider the inevtable side-effects of such a huge and delicious meal.
Hopefully, ONE DAY!

I love Munich said...

Insha'allah - sounds GREAT to ME!!! :) I won't have any problem using my hands - I am very easy going! I'm really looking foreward!!
About the inevitable side effect ... ha-ha - I know what you're refering to! It's ALL nature, let's just look at it from this side!

abu abdo said...

Ah Abufares ... this IS one of the best meals, if not the best !! My heart is pounding so quickly, I really want it now!! But, I enjoyed it best when prepared by my dear Mum !! Last time I had it was about three months ago, prepared by my lovely wife. It was the first time she cooks it, and did it really well. Last time I ate it from my mum was, believe it or not, almost exactly 18 years ago, I remember because it was around the time I got married !!
One thing though, you did not mention the "Kaware3" (legs) of the sheep, and most importantly the head?? This is the best ever, honest. Those of you reading and finding this to be a bit "intimidating", it is really so nice. You can eat (almost) every single piece of meat on the head, and then enjoy "opening" the head to get to the brain. Honestly, cooked in the right way, this would be my all time favorite. Ahhhhh, I can taste it now as I describe it and my fingers and mind are fighting so that I can "really" express how good this meal can be !!
One last thing, I can't understand how come Ghalia never heard of it??!!
Abu Abdo

abufares said...

abu abdo
great to hear from you. i also thank you for your morale boosting phone call of this morning.
let's hope we can have asheh somtime soon, in tripoli or tartous. it doesn't really matter.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God now i was going for afghani chicken which are dipped in almond paste and roasted but when i remember kaware3 the stuffed sheep guts, I dont want to eat chicken any more..I am not in delhi damn i dont know where to find sheeps guts..I guess i will manage with the chicken untill i go back to Lebanon one day..in tripoli i heard they even eat the testicles of a sheep hahaha that way it wont be satisfied..also we eat raw liver with black pepper and chilli but fresh ones..and i have eaten many times its lovely for meat lovers..salt chilly and black pepper fresh liver from a sheep and bread..hmmm any ways abul forous thanks bas wala 7aran batni is painin

abufares said...

@anonymous
Inshalah you return Bil Salameh to Trablus and get your fill of kaware3 and other great Trabelsi food. I'm going there in a couple of weeks to meet a friend whom I haven't seen in years.
Sa77a Wa Hana and happy homecoming.

Piscean Rubble said...

Hmmm. St. Andrew's Day is coming up, so I may have to try a different kind of "Haggis". I think it will be minus the penis though...I have a hard enough time with the thought of working with intestines. (Ok that just sounds weird) Usually I buy my haggis pre-made. Thanks for pointing me to a great recipe!! Om Anastasio

abufares said...

@Om Anastasio
I would love to hear that you've actually cooked the Asheh the Tartoussi way.
It might not be the easiest of recipes but I have the feeling that you know what you're doing.
Please let me know if you ever do, along with some pictures of course.

Piscean Rubble said...

You're darn right!! If I actually manage to make this I WILL be taking pictures!! ;) By the way, what is "black spice"? Do I get to take another trip to the Mid-East food centre (please say yes!!) Om Anastasio

abufares said...

@Om Anastasio
I should've probably written Black Pepper. However, we do have a black spice here which is basically black pepper + mystery spices as per vendor. The best spices in Syria are found in Bzourieh in Damascus. However, my sister who lives in Canada often brings us wonderful stuff from all the little international and exotic places you have there.

Amr said...

My mom (a palestinian from Yafa) cooks this in the exact same way (down to the letter).

I know for certain fawarigh, abawat, and kurash are also cooked here in Beirut (I've had them once).

For those of you who are sceptical, this is in fact one of the best tasting dishes on the planet. It's refreshing to see somebody who still bothers to make them.

As far as penises are concerned, I have never heard of them being eaten, but goat testicles (eggs...) are a delicacy, here in beirut, the lebanese south I guess, and certainly all over palestine.