One of the simplest meals in Middle Eastern cuisine, this is a pasta dish with a chilled yogurt garlic sauce made simply with 3 ingredients, topped with Middle Eastern spiced meat, pine nuts, and chopped parsley. Macarona billaban is so good, and ridiculously simple.
Macarona Billaban- a meal of convenience
Macarona Billaban literally translates to yogurt macaroni. It’s probably the Middle Eastern equivalent of macaroni and cheese, but sorry to say it-SO MUCH BETTER. This is coming from a big mac and cheese fan, but macarona billaban is so much lighter you can eat a lot more of it. It’s way healthier too!
It’s the dinner of a busy mom who had no time in the kitchen that day, or one with really picky kids who barely eat anything. A meal I ate so many times growing up, but it remained special each and every time. It’s also one of the meals my dad (who wasn’t usually in the kitchen) made us, when we’d be whining that we were hungry and there was no time to think about a more elaborate meal. It’s kind of a peasant dish, but one that is universally loved.
So what is macarona billaban? A very simple dish of cooked pasta that’s tossed with yogurt sauce with a good hint of garlic, usually topped with spiced minced meat. To finish it off, I find toasted pine nuts to be essential, as well as a big handful of fresh chopped parsley.
Breaking it down:
The sauce: Simply stir together yogurt, crushed garlic and salt. Go for less garlic if you like a milder flavor or more if you are a garlic lover like me. Mix it all up and taste. Add more or less salt and garlic as per your preference! You can also add dried mint if you prefer, I never do.
The pasta: Typically I like elbow macaroni. Brings back all those childhood memories. I’ve grown up a little since then and I use whole wheat elbow macaroni pasta, but have tried this with spaghetti and penne- it’s all good!
The meat: I nearly always make this with cooked spiced ground beef that I’ve frozen. It’s such a good use of leftover meat. I included the recipe I use for most of my Middle Eastern ground meat dishes. You can use beef or lamb, and you can also completely leave it out for a lighter vegetarian dish.
The garnishes: For me, the toasted nuts mandatory, and the more the better. Especially pine nuts. They give so much depth and flavor. I always pile mine on! You can also add toasted almonds. Some people use parsley on top, some coriander/cilantro, I grew up with parsley so that’s what I do!
Toasting the pine nuts:
They toast really quickly, so the important thing is to keep an eye on them and stir constantly so they don’t burn. I heat some olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat, then add the pine nuts and stir stir stir till they turn golden brown. At this point, immediately remove them from the heat into a separate small bowl until ready to use, otherwise they’ll continue cooking in the residual heat of the pan even if it’s off the stove.
Assembling the macarona billaban:
To assemble, you toss however much pasta you’ll eat immediately with your desired amount of yogurt sauce-based on the sauciness you like. Top with the minced meat, toasted pine nuts and chopped fresh parsley. It will basically be room temperature, which is the way I like to eat this dish.
Storing your leftovers
I do not like leftover macarona billaban one bit- at least not when the pasta has been combined with the yogurt sauce THEN stored in the fridge. The yogurt turns clumpy and cold and basically stops being a sauce and starts being dry flecks of yogurt. Not appealing. I usually have leftover pasta though and I needed to find a hack, so this is what I do. I store the leftover pasta without any sauce in a container in the fridge, and the leftover yogurt sauce in a separate container. Any extra meat also gets stored in it’s own container. Leftover pine nuts go on the counter.
When I want to eat, I pour some hot water over the cooked pasta to freshen it up a little, drain it, then mix it with my desired amount of yogurt sauce, top with some more meat and some pine nuts and parsley. Sometimes I heat the extra meat separately, sometimes I eat it cold. Either way it’s delicious, and solves all my leftover problems.
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 500 g ground beef or lamb
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 heaped tsp seven spices or all spice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
For the yogurt sauce:
- 500 g yogurt
- 4-5 cloves garlic, crushed (I used 6, I like super garlicky!)
- 1/4 tsp salt plus more to taste
- 500 g cooked and drained pasta of choice, I like whole wheat elbow macaroni
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts see notes for toasting instructions
- handful chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Make the yogurt sauce:
- Mix together the yogurt, crushed garlic and salt until well combined. Taste for seasoning, add more salt or garlic if desired. Place it in the fridge to chill until meat and pasta are ready.
For the meat:
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the diced onion and saute for a few minutes or until beginning to soften. Add the garlic, and continue to cook until onions are translucent.
- Add the minced meat. If you are going to drain the cooked meat of it's fat after it browns, then don't add the salt, pepper and spices until after you drain it. If you won't drain the meat, you can add the salt, pepper, seven spices or allspice, and cinnamon and continue to cook the meat, breaking up any clumps with a wooden spoon until browned and well cooked through. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
- Cook and drain pasta according to package instructions. Immediately before eating, toss pasta with yogurt sauce until well coated, then top with the spiced meat mixture, toasted pine nuts and parsley.*
If you liked this recipe, try:
Did you make this? Tag @everylittlecrumb or hashtag #everylittlecrumb and I’ll share your images!