Signature Dish of Leila

Kafta in a Tray with Potatoes

My Lebanese Aunt Amal's kafta with potatoes is a wonderful, homey, easy-to-make alternative to meatloaf. It is not much more work than a simple meatloaf, and since it features potatoes and tomatoes as well as meat, you don't have to make anything else for dinner but a nice green salad.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds extra lean ground beef (you may use ground lamb for a truly Middle Eastern flavor)
2 1/2 pounds potatoes (I used 5 russet)
1/2 bunch parsley
1 onion
1 28oz can Italian plum tomatoes
salt, pepper

Cut the potatoes into large, even chunks about 1x2 inches, and steam them until not quite done (you may boil them but I don't like how they crumble apart). It is traditional to peel the potatoes first; I think the peels are healthy and it's less work to leave them on. Looks messier, however. Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit (mine is slow so I dialed up to 375°)

While potatoes are cooking, chop the onion fine (don't use the food processor, says Aunt Amal, makes the onion too watery). Chop the parsley as fine as possible (I did use the FP for this). Mix into the ground beef with your hands, season with salt, pepper and cinnamon. Press into a lightly oiled large baking pan (I used 2: a large oval and a small oval. A lasagne pan would work). The meat was about an inch deep.

Bake the meat for a good 15 minutes, until it is half cooked and releases fat and liquid. Remove pan from oven and pour liquid off. Slice meat into squares or diagonally into diamonds, about two inches across. Layer cooked potatoes, followed by sliced tomatoes, over meat. You may use fresh tomatoes, but only if they're in season! Salt and pepper vegetables lightly, and pour some of the juice from canned tomatoes over all. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

Return the pan to the oven and bake another 45 minutes or until meat is done and tomatoes are "roasty" looking on top.

Aunt Amal says you should always serve pickles with this dish: she used yellow banana peppers she bought in bulk at Sam's, dill pickles, and quartered white onions served raw.

This dish could be easily multiplied for a crowd, and can be served at room temperature.

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