I was introduced to this dish (Blehat Lahma bi Beid) by Lebanese friends when I was living in West Africa. There are many, many variations of it, with or without the eggs.

The secret is that the ground or minced meat used be of a perfectly smooth texture. While hard-boiled eggs in a meat casing are known in Anglo-Saxon cultures, notably as "Scotch Eggs", the use of meat in this way - be it beef, lamb or veal - is more common in the Middle East.

The most memorable version I ever made was in Nigeria. My husband, Jean-Alfred, and I were living in Port Harcourt when the Nigerian government decided that too much of the national revenue was being used to buy imported items such as champagne, lace, and other luxury goods. The solution was a total ban on all imported products.

The immediate reaction of the local expatriate community was to stock up on everything possible. The CEO of Jean-Alfred's firm, a French transport company, cornered the market on deep freezers, buying one for each expatriate on his staff.

Ours was delivered one morning, a chest type freezer that I could have used as a coffin to bury a Clydesdale. Jean-Alfred came home at lunchtime with a wad of Nigerian currency thick enough to choke the horse itself.

"Go out and buy whatever you can find", he told me. "Buy entire beef fillets, sausages, butter, dog food, anything you can find that is not produced in this country. Buy as much wine as you can find for dinner parties, and don't forget pasta and flour."

There were no European-style restaurants in Port Harcourt at the time and visitors from the main office in Paris had to be entertained at home. I could serve African dishes such as Jollaf Rice on occasion, but only occasionally. I needed such things as wine and pasta.

I started filling the deep freezer. As other European wives searched the shops and the one supermarket in Port Harcourt, supplies became more and more scarce. One day, checking what was available in a little butcher shop, I found that they had a supply of veal. I was astonished.

"Is that really veal?" I asked.

"Yes, Madame. This be veal for true."

"But I haven't seen veal since the ban. How did you get it?"

"This be veal from the north, from Kano."

Kano is a city in northern Nigeria. All I knew about it was that Jean-Alfred had worked in that area once, long before we were married. Something to do with checking ground nut depots when the crop was being bagged for shipment overseas. No matter. Here was veal. I knew women who had started serving roast goat when they had to entertain a large number of guests.

I bought ten kilos. When I proudly told Jean-Alfred what I had found that day, he looked at me sadly and said,

"You idiot. Kano is in the middle of the desert. What you probably bought was donkey."

I tried cooking some of the veal/donkey. Even after stewing it for a long time, it was not very tender. But I had ten kilos of it, worth quite a few naira. Surely there was some way I could use it.

The opportunity came when we hosted party for about 40 people. There was a long buffet, and the centerpiece of the buffet was a huge platter of cold slices of delicious meat with centers of hard-boiled eggs.

The "veal from Kano" had been cut into tiny pieces and then pounded in the same wooden mortar we used for crushing palm nuts for oil. The neighborhood had resounded all day with the sound of the pestle as the servants took turns pounding the fibrous meat into a jelly-like paste.

I overheard one British man telling my husband, "This meat and egg thing is wonderful. What is it made of?"

Jean-Alfred was truthful. "Actually, I think it's donkey".

"Always joking, aren't you, old chap. Seriously, it is delicious. So tender. My compliments to your wife."

"I'll tell her, but I believe the houseboys did most of the work."


Today this can be made with an electric blender. I suggest you use beef, veal or lamb with as little fat as possible. Two pounds will produce enough for six to eight people as a main dish.

Before you start, hard-boil, cool, and then shell four eggs. Remove the crusts from two slices of white bread and soak them in water.

Start by liquefying one large onion, finely chopped, in the blender. Then add the meat, also finely chopped. Once it has a paste-like consistency turn it into a mixing bowl. Add two egg whites. Squeeze the bread dry and crumble it into the bowl with the meat and onion.

Add salt and black pepper to taste, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon or allspice, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg or 3/4 teaspoon of ground cumin. Toss in some finely chopped parsley if you wish. Knead the whole thing into a smooth paste.

Divide this into four equal parts and shape each around one of the eggs. Flour these and brown in hot butter or oil.

While these are cooling slightly, make a sauce with one small can of tomato concentrate, a few cups of water, a bay leaf and maybe a celery stalk with its leaves. Bring this to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. Drop in the meat rolls and simmer gently until you think they are well done and the sauce has reduced to a thick consistency. Lift the rolls out carefully.

They can be served hot, with the sauce, on rice or mashed potatoes, or cold either in their sauce or thinly sliced.

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