Preserved Spiced Mutton


Oawwrama is a heavily fatted, spiced preserved meat which is well known in the traditional Lebanese diet. Similar preservation of sheep or mutton is carried out in other Arab countries. It becomes very important for it will keep at least through one winter and often into a second season.

It forms the basis for winter stews, and can be combined with rice or burghul as stuffing for various kinds of mahshie or it can be boiled with kishk to make a robust winter porridge. Qawwrama adds flavor and nutrition to fried eggs and it is also relished by many as a spread for bread.

The day set aside each Fall in a Lebanese village for making qawwrama is one of community feasting and festivity. A sheep which has been force-fed and fattened all summer is slaughtered and the women set to work stripping the fat from the carcass and melting it down in a large copper pan called a dist. Next the lean meat is cubed, heavily seasoned with salt and pepper and then fried in the hot fat until well cooked. The fried meat is packed into jars and the fat is poured in around it before the jars are sealed. (The old method of sealing the jars with clay is still used in many places.)

The best meat goes into the qawwrama but much that is edihle and flavorful remains on the carcass to form the basis of the day's feasting. One dish that is particularly relished by all the friends and relatives who have been invited for this occasion is kroush mahshieh. It is prepared by stuffing the sheep's intestines with a well seasoned mixture of bits of meat, rice, chickpeas and onions.

A delicacy called ghameh is prepared from the sheep's stomach. The stomach is cleaned well with salt, soap and water. It is rinsed and finally rubbed with flour and rinsed again several times. The stomach is cut into small squares which are wrapped around a seasoned meat and rice mixture and cooked.

Fatteh. Another popular dish at this feast is put together in a deep dish. A layer of small pieces of toasted bread is spread in the bottom of the dish. Over that is laid the meat and broth mixed with crushed garlic, then laban, melted samneh, crushed dried mint and roasted pine nuts. This is a flavorful dish.

Hreesi. The sheep's bones lend their flavor to a famous Lebanese dish known as hreesi which is traditionally served at the feast marking Assumption Day ('Id es Saidi) in August, but which is enjoyed any time of year when a sheep is slaughtered. The bones are cooked with large pieces of meat to make a broth. Whole wheat which has been sprinkled with water and then crushed slightly in a mortar is boiled in the broth for many hours until the whole is the consistency of cooked oatmeal. Hreesi is aptly named, for the word means "well cooked".

(From Food from the Arab World Marie Karam Khayat and Margaret Clark Keatinge, Khayat's, Beirut 1959)