Thursday, October 7, 2010

Homemade Basterma - a Labor of Love

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a Middle Eastern store nearby to purchase ready-to-eat favorites. 

Just ask reader Mario of Queensland, Australia. He requested a recipe for homemade basterma because there's no place for him to buy it, and his local butcher can't create this recipe for him. 
Mario, originally from Alexandria,Egypt, said the best basterma in Egypt was made by the Armenian community. In Australia, he was able to buy thinly sliced basterma in Melbourne and Sydney, but noted that no one in Queensland even knows what it is.

Depending on where you live, October and November are said to be the best months for making this favored delicacy. (Mario reminded me that Australia's seasons are opposite those of North America, so those months don't necessarily work for him.)

Making homemade basterma requires the patience of a saint. You’ve got to set aside plenty of time for curing the meat. Mario, I hope you're a patient guy!

Top-quality meat is the key to tender basterma, and having a favorable relationship with the local butcher is a must.

When you’re ready to tackle the job, tell the butcher what you are planning to make, then ask him to cut a 2 to 3 pound piece of boneless beef from the rib section about 1 to 1 ½ inches thick.

If, after reading the directions, you’re concerned about the food safety aspect of making basterma, don’t worry. According to Irina Petrossian, author of “Armenian Food - Fact, Fiction and Folklore”, bacterial growth (in basterma) is prevented because the meat is dry-cured with salt, and, because fenugreek is a key ingredient in the paste, it acts as a natural insect repellent.

Feel better? Roll up your sleeves, put on your apron, and give it a go...

Homemade Basterma

2 to 3 lbs. boneless beef (from rib section, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick)
½ cup Kosher salt
For the Paste:

1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup chaman (ground fenugreek seeds) - Found in specialty shops or well-stocked grocery or Middle Eastern stores
1 tablespoon allspice
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper
3 small cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced

1 cup (or more) cold water


Using a fork, pierce the meat all over. This will allow the salt to penetrate. Cut the meat in two equal pieces, then with a large needle, thread a heavy twine or string through one end of each piece of the meat and tie it into a loop. This will be used to hang the meat when curing.

Generously sprinkle each section of meat with Kosher salt on all sides. Lay meat on a pan and refrigerate for 3 days. Turn meat once a day to keep coated with salt.

On the fourth day, remove salt from the meat. Wash meat thoroughly, then soak in cold water for about an hour. Drain and pat meat dry using paper towels, making sure excess moisture is removed.

Create 2 bags out of cheesecloth to hold each section of meat. Place meat in bags, and hang from the loops in a cool dry place** - or the refrigerator - for about 2 weeks.

(**If you hang the meat in a cool dry place rather than the refrigerator, be sure to bring the meat inside if the weather becomes rainy or damp.)

After the 2 weeks are up, combine all of the ingredients for making the paste, stirring in water a little at a time. Stir until a smooth, thin paste is formed. (Note: the paste can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator until ready to use.)

Remove the meat from the cloth bags, saving them for later use.

Cover the dried meat completely with the paste; let stand for about 2 weeks in a pan. Turn the meat every couple of days to keep covered with the paste. At the end of the second week, remove meat from the paste and return each piece to the cloth bags. Hang outdoors for one more week of drying. Remember, if it’s damp outside, hang the basterma in a cool dry place inside.

After the second drying period, the basterma will be ready to serve.

To serve, slice into paper-thin pieces. Best eaten with lavash, olives and Armenian string cheese. (A little Arak wouldn't hurt either!)

To store, keep in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.
Now that Mario has the recipe, he understands why prepared basterma is so expensive. To make it at home is truly a labor of love.


  1. Eggs and Basturma cooked together in pan. You may want to add a little milk to the beaten egg great dish. Serve with bread and Hot Tea

  2. I've made it!!! This is my second try. I have 6 kg of great basturma now.The only problem, that the spice is very strong and the whole house smels like basturma. Taste is great!Shnorakalem.

    1. WOW, that's a lot of basturma... enjoy!

  3. I was wondering how in the world I am going to hang the meat in the fridge! I am trying to make basterma as we speak and I wanted to thank you, your post is informative and helpful! I am making it Iraqi-style but heavily inspired by the Armenian version, of course!

  4. Hi Joumana,
    I'm glad you find this posting helpful! But, I'm curious about the Iraqi-style version of basterma. Will you be posting it on your blog? If so, I'll check it.

    PS: I'm still having trouble finding a mantimatic in the USA? Any ideas how I can get one?

  5. Thank you so much for the tips. I'm going to make my own. I'll let you know how it turns out.

    Thanks again!

  6. Robyn,

    The Iraqi version uses a lot of garlic, like 2 heads! (at least one of the versions I have seen!); for the mantimatic in the US, no clue! Even in Lebanon, I have only seen it in scant places; I will look again in Bourj Hammoud and let you know if I find a reliable source willing to ship to the US; otherwise, how about getting a ravioli maker through an Italian source?

    1. I appreciate your offer to seek-out the elusive mantimatic. In the meantime, I'll look into ravioli makers at my local restaurant supply store; perhaps they'll have a suitable substitute.

  7. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I am Brazilian and I discovered basterma through an Armenian friend. I'll try to do, but here in Brazil we are in the rainy season, so I'll have to find a way to dry the meat more effectively.

  8. This video shows the detailed preparation of Basturma. Enjoy!

  9. I have the same recipe and ingredients as yours, but my only concern is why is my CHAMMEN cracks??? as I see on your foto yours is very smooth.. is there any way to stop mine from cracking??...
    many thanks

    1. Hi Stephen,
      Why does the chaman crack? I have 2 thoughts: 1. perhaps a bit more water is needed to create the paste -or- 2. perhaps you're coating is too thick once spread on the meat.
      I don't know if these are the answers, but next time, give either or both a try.

  10. thank you for your reply...
    the Chamen is nice and at the beginning and until it starts to dry that's when it cracks,if I keep it in the fridge it stays nice and moist.
    thank you