Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Steamed Pasta with Pine Nuts, Raisins, Almonds, and Liver: Makaruna Imbaukha bil Khalta مكرونة مبوخة بالخلطة

This pasta dish is a famous Shargawi recipe, and is often served at Weddings in Eastern Libya. Thin pasta is lightly grilled until golden then steamed over chicken stock. It is then fragrantly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cardamom. The topping is a mixture of fried liver, almonds, pine nuts, and  raisins. The raisins are traditional and add sweetness to the dish, but I had to omit them for a guest. With slight variations this mix is served over rice in many Arab countries, including Libya.
This is the original recipe for Makaruna Imbaukha bil Khalta, but nowadays most Libyans cut the amount of oil and samn used - unless it is made for a Wedding feast!

Serves 4

1/2 kg pasta capellini or other thin wheat pasta
4 pieces of skinned chicken (thigh/wings)
4 tablespoons corn oil in 1/2 cup of warm water
1/2 cup samn (clarified butter also known as ghee)
1 medium onion chopped
1 medium tomato chopped
4 bay leaves
2/3 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon cardamom pods, crushed
1/2 tablespoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
salt, pepper
Ground spices:
2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground dried ginger
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon black pepper
Khalta Topping: 
1/2 kg lamb liver
1/2 cup samn (to fry the nuts and raisins)
1/2 cup blanched almonds 
1/2cup  pine nuts
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Ideally steamed dishes or Imbawakh (an important category in Libyan cuisine) should be cooked in a kaskas, but any pot with a fitted steamer is fine, especially for steamed rice and pasta.

In the bottom pot of a steamer (kaskas), add about 1 litre boiling water to the chicken, along with the chopped onion, chopped tomato, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, spices and salt. 

Break the pasta up and put it in tray under the the grill, until the top layer becomes golden. When it's mixed it will be two-coloured.

When the pasta has cooled down, sprinkle with 1 tb spoon oil mixed with 1/2 cup warm water.

When you can see steam  rising, place the pasta in the steamer.

Meanwhile melt a 1/2 cup of clarified butter (ghee) in a pan.

Fry the pine nuts first as they are the most sensitive to heat, then the almonds. If you like raisins with the khalta, fry the raisins next, taking them off the heat once they plump up. Set aside the left over samn (clarified butter).

Cube the liver and put in deep casserole. Pour boiling water on top leave about one minute then  strain well.
        This helps the liver cubes keep their shape.

Heat the samn used to fry the almonds and raisins. Add the liver and half the amount of ground spices. Stir constantly, make sure you don't overcook it or the liver will be rubbery. 

Drain the liver from the excess fat.

Set aside the fried liver, raisins and nuts to use as a topping later.

After about 45 minutes, remove the cooked chicken pieces and leave the stock in the bottom of the steamer. Remove the pasta from the steamer and put it in a deep bowl. Using a ladle, take about 3 cups of the stock from the bottom of the steamer, especially the oily top layer. Mix it into the pasta and return the pasta to the steamer. How long the pasta takes to cook depends on the pasta type. If the pasta is still not cooked , moisten it with another 1 or 2 cups of stock, and continue steaming.

Once the pasta is done place it in a heatproof bowl. Place the cooked chicken pieces under the grill or brown in a frying pan. Meanwhile add the remaining ground spices to the pasta. Heat up the  1/2 cup of samn until it just starts to smoke, then pour on top of the spices. It should be hot enough for a sizzling sound and bubbling. This  method of infusing flavour by 'burning' spices with hot samn is called the kawi, and is used in a lot of Shargawi recipes.

 Mix the spices and samn (clarified butter) through the pasta. 

Plate the pasta and cover it with the fried khalta of  liver, nuts and raisins then top with the browned chicken. Serve with Mseyer pickles.

16th Mediterranean cooking event - Libya - tobias cooks! - 10.01.2011-10.02.2011


  1. Hello thank you for the great recipe but I could tell you are Gherbawi since in the East especially in festivities rice is used more often than angel hair pasta . Also where are the CARAMELIZED ONIONS ? I will try to add this to my favourites , and I hope you keep updating !

  2. Actually we're from both east and west, and we also do this recipe with rice, the pasta was just for a change! We've had ruz bel khalta requested as well as a few other rice recipes, so we'll be putting some new main dishes out soon :)

  3. Love this site .. keep it up guys!