Yemeni Aseeda, Aseed, عصيدة
Asida/Aseeda is an arab-style, extra-large, high energy (read: high carbohydrate) dumpling which is eaten with the hands in a communal style. It can be eaten sweet or savory and can be made with a variety of flours. Asida sticks to your stomach and is traditionally eaten throughout the arab world including the gulf countries and the sahel region in Africa. Its simple preparation and filling quality would have been essential to the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouins which required filling meals ‘on the go.’
Researching for this post got me interested in other dumpling type dishes eaten throughout the world and sure enough, the asida is not so unique to the Arab world. Its closest relative I would say is fufu, a dough ball made from the boiled starch of potato and cassava which is eaten in western and southern Africa and also the Caribbean. It is also eaten with the hands and with an accompanying sauce. Porridge, of northern Europe and Russia, is a boiled oat dish eaten with a spoon and was very common before the advent of bread. Congee is a type of boiled rice porridge eaten in China and other East Asian countries. More research proved that this type of boiled starch dish was eaten by almost everyone since the beginning of time. So you will have much company when you make and eat your aseeda!
The dough is not difficult to make and it has simple ingredients, the trick is when you add the flour to the boiling water you need to stir it quickly so you don’t get lumps. Sifting the dough also helps to prevent lumps. It also requires a lot of arm strength to knead the dough. You can do this by hand using a large wooden stick/paddle. You can also make use of a stand mixer and a bread hook which takes all of the work out of making aseed dough.
How to make the Asida Dough
1. Bring to boil 3 1/3 cups water, salt and butter in a large saucepan.
2. When the water is boiling and bubbling, add the flours while stirring.
3. Turn off the heat and keep stirring the flours until they are all combined.
4. Remove from stove and knead the dough until smooth. This can be done by hand using a large wooden spoon and holding the pot steady on the ground, anchored by a wall or with your knees or feet. Pull the dough toward you with the stick in a strong quick motion pushing it against the side of the pot so it becomes smooth. Alternatively, and much less work, you can use a dough hook and a mixer to knead the dough smooth. This takes about 10-15 minutes of kneading. There should be no lumps.
5. Bring to boil 1 ½ cups flour in the same large pot and break the dough into small-ish pieces. Boil on medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes. Water should be evaporated and the dough still thick.
6. Return to kneading the dough as in step four, either by hand or with the mixer for about 10-15 minutes. It should become smooth again, more so than the first time and it will be very sticky and hot.
7. When the dough is smooth, oil a plate and your hands (or wear gloves as the dough is hot and hard to handle) and form a ball with the dough. Place it on the plate. Begin to fold over the dough with your hands from the outside to the inside, thus smoothing the dough. Turn and fold around all sides. Then flip the dough over and it should be smooth on top with no lumps. Make an indent in the center by using a large ladle or by pressing your thumb in the center of the dough and your other fingers holding steady on the side of the dough, turn the plate. This will make an even circle in the middle.
8. The aseeda can be eaten sweet with ¼ cup melted butter or ghee and ½ cup honey. Also the aseeda can be eaten savory with meat, chicken, or lamb broth. See broth recipe below.
How to make the broth
9. To make the meat broth, cook in oil the onion, garlic, and chili until slightly browned.
10. Add the spices, salt, and tomato sauce and meat. Brown the meat on both sides for about 5-10 minutes.
11. Add the water and cook for about 1 hour or until the meat is tender and soft. Alternatively, cook in a pressure cooker for 20-40 minutes. The meat is done when it is almost breaking apart. There should be about 8 – 10 ounces of liquid broth remaining. If there is less than this, add some water. If there is more, continue boiling until the broth reduces.
12. Separate the broth from the meat and onions, and whole spices by running through a strainer. Set the meat aside with a little broth for use in fahsa or to be eaten by itself.
13. You can leave the broth thin as it is, or you can thicken it up by adding 1 tbsp. or more of white flour. In order to thicken the broth with flour, first add the broth to the flour, a spoonful at a time until you have a paste first, continue adding the broth slowly until it becomes a thin liquid. Then cook on medium low heat until it slightly thickens. If you do the opposite and add the flour directly to the whole broth, you will end up with lumps. If this happens, don’t worry, just strain out the lumps with a colander/sieve/strainer.
14. Add the broth to the center well of the aseed and maybe on the outside at the edge of the plate as well. Add a couple of tablespoons of melted butter around the edge if you like.
15. This is a communal type dish where the dough is eaten with the hands and dipped in the center sauce. This recipe gives 3-4 servings, depending on how much you like to eat aseeda and if you are eating other dishes with it as well.