Saturday, May 18, 2013

Not Your Typical 'Native Tongue'

An Iraqi Sandwich

سندويج لسان
If you like what you see, read on:

Brace yourself for what I am going to say: 

This is a beef-tongue sandwich! 

If you are still there, you must either be a fan of the tongue sandwich, like myself, or a brave soul, hungry for the unknown. I know there are people who would be intimidated or even grossed out at the prospect of eating a tongue sandwich, but this shouldn't be. In fact, after cooking it, peeling off the thick skin, and trimming it, it looks as benign as a tender loin; an exquisite muscle meat, high in protein, and even tenderer and more flavorful and aromatic than any other pot roast you could ever lay your hands on to stuff your sandwiches with.

Growing up in Baghdad, cold tongue sandwiches were the kind of snack food you would usually buy from carry-out shops or the snack bars of movie theaters  Condiments were kept to the minimum, just a few olives and some slices of pickled cucumber. We were able to enjoy more of these sandwiches when my mother learnt the best way to cook the tongue. The secret she learnt from one of our neighbors was to tenderize the tongue before cooking it. How? By beating it hard several times, as I will show you in the recipe.

Sandaweech Lisan (Beef-tongue Sandwich) from my cookbook Delights from the Garden of Eden:
1 medium beef tongue (about 3 pounds)
Salt and flour
For Marinade:
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup vinegar
1 teaspoon za'tar, or thyme (available at Middle Eastern stores)
¼ teaspoon each black pepper, marjoram, caraway seeds, and ground ginger

1 onion studded with 6 to 8 whole cloves
2 t o 3 whole pods cardamom
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt

1. Beat the tongue on a hard surface several times until it looks limp and a little longer. This is done to break the muscles. Wash it very well, rub it with salt and flour, and wash it again. Mix marinade ingredients in a glass bowl, and let tongue stay in it, a few hours to overnight.
Beef tongue before beating it

Beef tongue after beating it

2. Put the tongue in a deep big pot (such as a stock pot) with marinade, and rest of ingredients except for salt. Add cold water enough to well cover it. Bring to a quick boil, skimming as needed. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until it feels tender when pierced with a fork, about 2 hours. Add salt about 10 minutes before it is done.   

5. Take the tongue out of the liquid, and let it cool completely. Peel off skin and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. With a thin sharp knife cut it into thin slices and make into sandwiches, with salad vegetables, pickles, and olives.


  1. My husbands talks about eating tongue sandwiches while in Russia. Not sure if I am brave enough to try this at home, but the sandwich does look delicious. I'm not even sure where to buy a tongue....


  2. Hi Shannon,
    I assure you the sandwich tastes as delicious and 'aromatic' as it looks. I usually purchase beef tongue from Walmart's meat department and BJ's (which is similar to Sam's Club). Try it, you will not be disappointed. Just do not think about it too much!