Egyptian Fattah

published Jan 5, 2023
Fattah Recipe

A staple dish in Egyptian celebratory settings, fattah is a dish built on layers of of toasted pita bread, rice, broth, and different types of meat.

Serves4 to 6

Prep15 minutes

Cook1 hour 15 minutes

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Fattah plated.
Credit: Photo: Murray Hall; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

On one of the most important days of the Coptic/Egyptian Orthodox calendar, fattah — a dish of bread and rice soaked in a garlic- and vinegar-infused lamb broth — is the foundation of the Christmas table. This dish is usually topped or served alongside pieces of lamb or beef, and perhaps (more trendily) a little bit of tomato sauce. After a long day of fasting, culminating in the midnight mass on the 6th of January, many in the Egyptian Orthodox community salivate for the rich, meaty, garlicky flavor cut with a generous amount of vinegar. What makes the craving even stronger is that this comes as the final point of a strictly vegan fast that occurs during the 40-something days prior to, and in spiritual preparation for, Christmas. 

Following mass, feasting can go until 2 or 3 a.m. And although you may also find turkey on the table, fattah is always the centerpiece. It’s even common to mention it in Christmas greetings that people exchange. I’ve received many texts along the lines of “Merry Christmas and enjoy the fattah.”

A Celebratory Dish, Not Just for Christmas

Fattah is also a popular celebratory dish during Eid al-Adha or even at iftar during Ramadan. It’s a special dish that you may find at a wedding, or to celebrate a mother after giving birth. It’s also just as important for Orthodox Easter. 

Variations of Fattah

Fattah is built with layers of toasted pita bread, rice, broth, and meat, and relative to how impressive and satisfying it is, is easy to make. While this way of cooking fattah is traditional to Egypt, the dish (better known as fatteh) has different variants in the Levant, according to the region — some may include chickpeas and yoghurt, while others would be more similar to this one.

If you stick to a basic recipe, you’ll only need about five ingredients: lamb, rice, bread, garlic, and vinegar. And if you want to be extra traditional, add mastic, a tree resin popular in the Middle East to flavor meat or fish dishes. If you want to make it more elaborate, you can add more flavor elements to your broth like carrots, celery, bay leaves. Whatever route you go, take note: You must be a lover of garlic and vinegar because these are the most important components to this dish.  

Fattah Recipe

A staple dish in Egyptian celebratory settings, fattah is a dish built on layers of of toasted pita bread, rice, broth, and different types of meat.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 4

    bone-in hind lamb shanks (about 4 pounds total)

  • 3

    whole green cardamom pods

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt, plus more as as needed

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 6 cloves


  • 4

    (about 5-inch) pita breads with pockets

  • 2 tablespoons

    plus 1 teaspoon ghee, olive oil, or unsalted butter, divided

  • 1 1/2 cups

    distilled white vinegar

  • 1 (6-ounce) can

    tomato paste

  • 3 cups

    warm cooked white rice, preferably jasmine


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Peel 1 medium yellow onion and place in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add 4 lamb shanks, 3 green cardamom pods, and 1 tablespoon of the kosher salt. Add enough cold water so the lamb shanks are completely submerged.

  2. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium heat and simmer for 40 minutes, skimming off any scum on the surface with a spoon. Meanwhile, finely chop 6 garlic cloves (about 2 tablespoons). Split 4 pita breads in half horizontally. Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until golden brown and mostly crispy (a little bit of softness in the middle is fine), 10 to 14 minutes. (This is also a good time to cook the rice if you need to do so.)

  3. After 40 minutes, the lamb should be well-cooked but still firm and not falling off the bone (the inside can be slightly pink). Transfer the lamb to a plate (reserve the cooking liquid) and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly season with kosher salt and black pepper.

  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the ghee in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and fry, turning occasionally, until browned all over. Return to the plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

  5. Heat 1 tablespoon of the ghee in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 2/3 of the garlic and sauté until light golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar and 3 cups of the reserved lamb broth (avoid the onion and cardamom). Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season with kosher salt as needed - the broth should be well salted.

  6. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon ghee in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic and 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste and sauté until starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add 1 cup of the garlic and vinegar broth (reserve the remaining) and stir to combine. Simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Taste and season with kosher salt as needed.

  7. Break the pita into tortilla chip-sized pieces and place in an even layer in a 9-inch square baking dish. Evenly pour 1 cup of the garlic and vinegar broth over the pita. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and let sit for 5 minutes for the broth to absorb.

  8. Uncover and top evenly with 3 cups warm cooked white rice. Make sure the remaining garlic and vinegar broth is still hot and evenly pour enough of it over the rice until moistened. Spoon the tomato sauce mixture evenly over the rice. Serve with the lamb: It is commonly served with pieces of the lamb placed on top of the rice, but keeping them separate is fine too. Serve with the remaining lamb broth if desired.

Recipe Notes

Lamb shank substitutions: You can use lamb neck or shoulder if you can’t find shanks. You can also substitute lamb with beef shin. For either, bones are not required, but do make the broth tastier.

Make ahead: The pita breads can be toasted and the rice cooked up to 1 day ahead. Store the pita in an airtight container at room temperature and the rice in the refrigerator. Rewarm the rice before assembling.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.