Basterma vs Pastrami
I recently purchased basterma and am not sure how to use it. I understand there are different varieties of basterma. I got mine from a Lebanese grocery store. I was told I could use it just like pastrami. However, it looks to be sliced thicker and also has a much darker color than pastrami. Oddly, the ingredients include red food coloring. I have never tasted pastrami before, so I don't know if this basterma is similar in terms of flavor. The brand is AL SHABRAWNY. Ingredients read as follows:
CURED & DRIED BEEF WITH SPICES
Coated with water, paprika, garlic powder, fenugreek powder, red #40, salt,
Cured with salt, sodium nitrite.
What do you think? Can I use it as a substitute for pastrami in recipes?
I am in Egypt, and I have noticed basterma as an ingredient in some dishes that we would normally put bacon in. For example, there is a pasta carbonara served by a restaurant that i lists basterma in lieu of bacon or pancetta. I have never been tempted to try it, so I can't really comment on how it would taste as an ingredient.
Bastirma comes to Egypt via the ottoman empire and beyond sounding phonetically similar to Pastrami, they have very little in common.
Bastirma is the tenderloin, hung and dried in a casing of fenugreek and garlic, among other spices. Pastrami, however, is made from corned beef Brisket. I've made my own homemade Pastrami, which involved brining the brisket for a week, then slow raosting it in a smoky oven. As a final step, I let it cool, and thinly sliced off what i needed for a sandwich. Pastrami has a higher fat content than Bastirma, and since the cooking technique is different, you can expect very different flavor profiles. I find that Pastrami is generally milder in flavor compared to the salty+garlicky Pastirma. Be forewarned: the addition of fenugreek may be a great source of vitamin B, but if you eat Bastirma regularly, your friends will be able to smell you coming.
I've found that dry roasting bastirma, and crumbling them ala bacon-bits is a great addition and substitute for the aforementioned pork product. While it doens't have the same flavor profile as smoked bacon, it still provides a beefy saltiness to foods like poached eggs or baked potatoes. Some brands tend to be on the garliky side; for a milder flavor, I recommend the almarai brand, which also has a texture that lends itself to being thinly sliced at the deli. If sliced properly, it will not be as chewy as jtimouri pointed out.
I've experimented with Pastirma as a substitute for bacon when making a Chateaubriand steak; there were a number of problems:
#1 Bastirma is not a fatty meat, so it dried up quite fast.
#2 while it did impart some flavor to the steak, it was not a flavor that I found desireable.
#3 Getting it to stay in place around the fillet was a real chore, and in the end, not worth the effort.
A much better substitute for Bacon would be Turkey Bacon, but I have yet to find a grocer here in Cairo that sells it. For Shame.
i had Basterma = egyptian pastrami for the first time yesterday at a new "Mediterranean" restaurant in Lynnwood, Wa called King Tut. this restaurant has egyptian food as well as the standard gyros, kebabs, etc. etc. this is the first time i have had egyptian cuisine. the basterma was in Egyptian Pastrami With Eggs. scrambled eggs with "bacon bit" sizes of the basterma stuffed into a pita. the basterma was salty, chewy and tasty. not even close to pastrami flavor. i liked it.
i also had a soup called molokheya. it was very delicious with a unique flavor, a bit bitter. also a bit slimey/syrupy that was not unpleasant for me. i saw on the menu Egyptian Okra, so it seems egyptian cuisine likes the slippery textures.
I think you will find basterma a little too chewy to use as a sandwich meat. As someone pointed out it can be served on a chacuterie plate with other slices of meats or sausage. It should be thinly sliced, but if it is all presliced it will dry out faster, the thinner it is. If you cut it up into small pieces you can add it to scrambled eggs. It also might work as an ingredient in an egg salad sandwich if cut up. I have never tried to use it as a pizza topping, but it should work there too, but again cut it into small pieces. My father used to make it and never used any dye, that is there of course for decoration or customer appeal.
Basturma (and all kinds of other spellings) is typically (I believe) eaten on it's own, the way one would find sliced salamies or s=cured meats on a charcuterie plate. Don't be surprised by the food coloring; lots of cured meats include them. (Look at a package of hot dogs some time.) Though I recommend trying to avoid those kids of additives whenever possible.
To me, pastrami is a sandwich meat, so I'm not sure how to answer the substitution question.