Shishbarak (meat dumplings in yogurt sauce)
These dumplings stuffed with ground meat and onions enrobed in a soft dough and cooked in yogurt sauce are the ultimate Levantine comfort food. There is a lot of debate about the where this dish has originated from. One thing for sure, it has survived for centuries in the region and that says a lot about how good it tastes. Countries in the region have various names and methods to cook this dish, but this is the Levantine version of it, which also varies slightly in different countries.
It has been increasingly popular for people to buy pre-frozen shishbarak, which I think is a shame. There has been this misconception about this dish being hard to prepare, but this can’t be further from the truth. It is definitely not a 30-minute dish and can be a little bit time consuming but making it from scratch is so rewarding.
Personally, I find working with dough therapeutic and this dough recipe is very easy, you just can’t mess it up. Also, I love repetitive tasks, like making a big batch of these dumplings, there is something about it that makes me wind down.
Let’s get the shishbarak ready!
The dough is a basic flour, water and salt dough, nothing fancy. To make this recipe, I use ¾ cup of water. This turns out perfect for me every time, but I live in a hot dry climate, so adjust the amount of water based on humidity where you live. Also, adding a little vegetable oil towards the end of the kneading, keeps the dough moist and prevents it from sticking when rolled out.
The dough has to be rolled out thin, but not too thin, around 2 mm. A dough that is too thick will taste chewy, and a dough that is too thin will tear up during shaping.
Some people use raw meat for the filling, which tastes good. My paternal grandmother did. However, this is the recipe from mom’s side, in which the filling is cooked. I personally prefer it this way, and I think is the more common way of cooking shishbarak.
Start by cooking the filling as it needs to be completely cool before filling the dough, otherwise the dumplings will tear up.
Size of shishbarak varies widely, I use a 5 cm cookie cutter and consider this a large cutter. Some people make them way smaller and others make them way larger. I personally think this is the perfect size to get the right meat to dough ratio.
The shaped shishbarak dumplings are baked in the oven to harden slightly. Some people cook them until they are lightly browned, but we don’t.
This is a great dish to prepare ahead. We sometimes double or even triple the recipe, as you can freeze the dumplings after baking them slightly. They will keep in the freezer for 3 months. If you decide to freeze them, lay them on a sheet in the freezer until they harden and then transfer them to a freezer bag. This will ensure the dumplings won’t stick to each other.
Some people think cooking the yogurt is tricky. There are all sorts of tricks out there, using a blender, an egg, way too much corn starch, etc. However, I’ve followed this recipe for too long and it works every single time. A chef who worked at my uncle’s restaurant in Damascus taught me this, and his secret is to add a little cooking cream.
It is very important that you continue to stir the yogurt with a whisk until it starts simmering. Otherwise, it will split. Finally, don’t skip the fresh coriander and garlic that are added at the end. Some people call it garnish, but it is not. It is essential to make the yogurt sauce taste authentic. The mixture of lightly sautéed garlic and fresh coriander is called ti’layeh and is added to many middle eastern dishes.
Shishbarak (meat dumplings in yohurt sauce)
- 5 cm cookie cutter
For the filling
- 300 g ground beef
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- ½ tsp Salma’s spice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil for cooking
For the dough
- 2 cups flour
- ¾ cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
For the yogurt sauce
- 1 kg yogurt
- 2 tbsp corn starch dissolved in 100 ml water
- ¼ cup cooking cream
- 1 tbsp ghee can also be replaced with butter or vegetable oil
- 3 tbsp chopped coriander
- 2 cloves garlic finely minced
- To make the filling, heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onions until soft.
- Add the meat, salt and spice and continue stirring until it cooks fully. Make sure the liquid has evaporated. If there is too much liquid, strain the filling. Leave to cool completely.
- Place flour and salt in a bowl. Start by adding ½ cup of water and keep adding the rest of the water gradually until it is no longer sticky.
- Add oil towards the end of the kneading and knead until soft and smooth.
- Cover and leave to rest for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Roll out the dough to make it 2 mm thick and use a 5 cm cookie dough to cut out the circles. Try to minimize the waste and cut the circles as close to each other as possible.
- Add ½ tsp of filling or so to the center of each circle. Fold the circle over to make a crescent shape and makes sure the edges are sealed properly.
- Fold the right side over the left side and pinch them together to create a little tortellini shaped dumpling. The recipe makes around 90 pieces.
- Arrange dumplings in a sheet pan and bake in pre-heated 180°C oven for 7 minutes.
- At this point the dumplings can be frozen if desired to be used later.
- Dissolve the corn starch in water.
- Add yogurt and corn starch mixture to a pan. Whisk until very smooth and shiny (2 minand then cook on medium heat.
- Keep whisking until it simmers, otherwise the yogurt sauce will split.
- Add the cooking cream and whisk for 1 min until fully incorporated.
- Add dumplings and cook for 10 – 12 minutes. Taste to make sure they are cooked through.
- In a saucepan, heat ghee and add garlic and cilantro. Sauté slightly, for a min or so and add on shishbarak right before serving.
- Serve with vermicelli rice.