M’battan – small, deep-fried balls of potato stuffed with a seasoned minced meat – might just be your next finger food favorite. Compact, tasty and portable, this Libyan specialty makes a great snack, party platter or picnic item.
Kept for special occasions in its home country, m’battan – also known as mubatan – is pretty unique to Libya and especially popular around Ramadan.
Like deep-fried kofte with a potato twist, to us these little nuggets resemble mini-burgers. Since meat and potatoes go so well together, what better idea than to combine them into a mouth-watering melee that could revolutionize the slider industry?
If you’ve not experienced the hot sandy plains of Libya first hand, you only need to look at a map of the country to see quite how much of it is just desert. There is an agricultural oasis around Tripolitania, which houses the nation’s capital and puts out produce such as wheat and barley, olives, fruit like dates, watermelons, citrus and tomatoes, as well as peanuts and soybeans.
It’s also damn hot. El Aziziya, a town just south of Tripoli, was thought to have recorded the highest temperature on earth (136.4ºF) in 1922, until a meteorological investigation in 2012 proved the figure invalid. Which is not to say that it’s not still blazing there, with temperatures usually soaring over 120º in the summer.
This kind of heat lead to much innovation, especially where cooking was concerned. Sand ovens are still used by the country’s Tuareg people, who bury dough, eggs and potatoes in the hot dust to cook them the way nature intended.
Libya’s kitchens have long been under the influence of the various cultures and populations that have dominated the region, from the original Berber tribes who inhabited the territory to the Pheonicians, Greeks and Ottomans who ruled the country at various times. As such, Libya’s cuisine is steeped in a mixture of Mediterranean and Arabic influences, as well as leftovers from the legacy of the Ottoman cookbooks.
There’s not much literature on the origin of M’battan to would satisfy our lust for knowing exactly how they originated, but we can take an educated guess that the Ottomans probably had something to do with it, given their propensity for stuffing pretty much any vegetable that could be filled with herbs and mince.
ABOUT THE RECIPE
One of the keys to making good m’battan will be your knife skills. The little pouches that hold the meat mixture are made from thick slices of potato with a slit through the middle that doesn’t go all the way through. Make sure you have a good sharp blade before you start that will allow you precision cutting through the pieces of potato. Don’t be put off if your first few attempts don’t pan out and your pieces of potato break up – it’s a learning curve for sure, and if you have a large bag of Russet potatoes at your disposal, you should wind up with enough successful pieces for a hearty plate of m’battan.
PREPARE THE INGREDIENTS
M’battan is a very quick dish to prepare once you have everything ready, so lay out your ingredients to begin with. We recommend using waxy, russet potatoes as they are likely to be creamier and hold a better shape.
Put the potatoes in a bowl of water to soak while you prepare the meat mixture. This will help to soften them for the stuffing.
Prepare the meat – mix together the ground meat with the scallions, garlic, ginger, all the dry spices, the chillies, herbs, breadcrumbs and tomato paste.
Now you can take the potatoes out of the water and peel them.
Cut them into slices thick enough that you can cut an additional slice through the middle, and so create your m’battan pocket. The second slice should only go about 3/4 of the way through the potato slice.
Make a little potato and meat sandwich by stuffing your potato pouch with the meat mixture.
Dip in a beaten egg then douse in the flour and breadcrumbs mixture.
Heat up a pan of oil to 330ºF and deep fry the potatoes. When frying the potatoes, keep the oil at a medium heat. This will give the potatoes time to cook through without darkening the breading too much.
Take your m’battan out of the oil when they are a nicely brown colour. Leave them to dry and cool on some paper towels, and they will become more solid after a few minutes. Serve on a platter garnished with parsley or cilantro.
Bel hana wel shefa!
OUR TAKE ON THE RECIPE
It’s an impressive on-the-go snack that’s complete with a protein component. The meat filling was really aromatic from the mixture of all the herbs we put in, and it was also perfectly seasoned going by the exact measurements in the source recipe. The potatoes also turned out really moist with a slight crunch from the breading.
The one thing we changed from the source recipe, is we didn’t put our m’battan in the oven after frying them. By keeping them on a medium heat through the fry, the potatoes were able to soften sufficiently not to need any time in the oven. We think this also helped max out the crispiness factor.Print