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.
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.