Did you miss the book review last month? Or you haven’t? If it’s the second case, then you haven’t been reading the blog properly. 😛 Jokes apart, last month, I gave this segment a miss since the Blogging Marathon post collided with the last Saturday. Since I had to choose BM over the book review, I let it go for the month. Here I am this month, making sure that I don’t miss it. 🙂
I am pretty much excited about the post I am doing today. As you know, I am on a mission to collect as much as local cuisine as possible. Having resided in the UAE my whole life, I feel ashamed that I haven’t been accustomed to local cuisine as much as I would have wanted to. But those who have come here would agree to me that local food is not readily available, even though now the scene is changing and there are some restaurants coming up around.
During some casual browsing, I came across this post of The Custard Pie, which happens to be one of the best blogs in the UAE. She had suggested a few books to know more about local cooking. After looking around up and down, finally I found second hand versions of a couple of book on Amazon. There were just one copy of each so I didn’t think twice. I placed the order immediately so that the books won’t go into anybody’s hands. 😉 Both of them arrived within 15 days and I couldn’t start exploring them. I kept flipping through them getting excited to try all of them, but knowing myself, it didn’t happen due to many reasons. We can’t cook too many meals in the same day, right? 😀
When my parents were around, umma wanted me to make majboos. I don’t know why but I had never tried majboos before. Majboos is a pilaf like rice, but mildly spiced and highly flavorful. Each GCC country has their own variation, in fact which even changes from family to family but the basic essence of the dish is the same – of cooking the rice in the spiced chicken stock till done. At first, I did get boggled a bit and then I suddenly remembered “A Taste of Arabia” by Jessie Kirkness Parker, which was one of the books I had purchased second hand from Amazon, as mentioned above.
The book was first published in 2006 by Turath Publishing, with repeat publishing in 2008. I am not sure if there are more editions of this book, since on checking, I could only find used copies on Amazon. The book was honoured by the Gourmand World Book Awards, winning the gold medal for the Best Arab Cuisine Book in 2006. The book starts with a little history of the flavors of the region, moves on to how to make a bezaar spice blend, which is slightly different from how I make it and then moves on to the important spices used in a Gulf kitchen and some traditional recipes.
After the basics, the book moves into sections – rice, mezze, lentils, fish, poulty, lamb and finally desserts. While going through the book, I understand that it doesn’t fully concentrate on UAE cuisine, but has a mix of recipes from the whole of Gulf region. So I was a little disappointed by my expectation from the book. The mezze section included more of Levant dishes like tabbouleh, stuffed vine leaves, falafels, etc. which are not exclusive to this country, but are a part of the cuisine due to influences. I was even more upset with the dessert section, which had katayef, muhallabieh and umm ali, which are essentially Lebanese dessert. The book does have a lot about the history of UAE and some old pictures that evoke nostalgia. But I wish the food covered would be more in sync. Moreover, most of the food did not have their local names, making it difficult to know what belongs where. To cover up for the shortcomings, the tone of the book is very subtle and warm and has some pretty pictures of the final dish.
So coming back to the story of umma wanting majboos, I got to the book and started following her recipe. The first time I was making it, a couple of my cousins called in for lunch and I had to make some extra quantity. I was a bit worried too since I wasn’t sure of the outcome. But from the time the onions were caramelising to the time the rice was being done, the aroma in the kitchen was amazing. Umma was really excited and we couldn’t wait for lunch time. I had cooked double the quantity mentioned in the recipe and the whole saucepan was wiped clean. 😀 My cousins commented that it was the best majboos that they had ever eaten. And believe me, I wouldn’t want to try any other recipe than stick to this one forever.
I made it again for the blog and after these clicks, made it again one more time. Each time, the deliciousness is amazing. The best part is you can adjust the seasoning of your marinade the way you would like it. But do not skimp on the bezaar – that is where the flavors come from. If you are keen on trying these recipes, make a small batch handy in the fridge for your experiments. 🙂 Also, don’t skip the loomi or dry lemon, find it from wherever you can. The aroma and the flavor it imparts is amazing, and makes up the crux of almost every savory recipe cooked in this country.
Wouldn’t you want to try the recipe? I implore you, you should! 🙂
- Updated the recipe with clearer steps on May 8,2017…
- 1 kg chicken, cut into medium pieces
- FOR MARINADE:
- ¾ tsp cumin powder
- ¼ tsp clove powder
- 2 tsp bezaar spice mix
- 1½ tsp turmeric powder
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
- Juice of one lime
- Salt and pepper to taste
- FOR REST:
- 2½ cup basmati rice
- ¼ cup olive oil + more if needed
- 3 large onions, sliced
- 3 large tomatoes, chopped
- 2 large loomi (dried lemon), holes made
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 6 bruised cardamom
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp black peppercorn
- 4 cups water
- 2 chicken stock cubes
- 1 bunch coriander leaves, washed and chopped (leaves and stems included)
- A fat pinch saffron, soaked in 3 tbsp boiling water
- 2 tbsp ghee
- Combine all the ingredients under "for marinade" into a bowl and give it a good whisk.
- Add the chicken in and coat well. Set aside till use.
- Wash the rice well. Soak in water for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and fry them on medium-high flame till golden brown, caramelised. Drain and set aside.
- Add more oil if required. Add in the marinated chicken and fry both the sides till golden brown, it is not necessary that the chicken is cooked.
- Add in the tomatoes, whole spices, loomi and half the fried onions. Sprinkle in salt and pepper. Toss up the mixture to coat the chicken.
- Allow the mixture to cook for around a couple of minutes.
- Add in the water and stock cubes, close the lid and allow it to come to a boil. Adjust the seasoning and cook till the chicken is 70% cooked.
- Add in the rice and give a soft stir. Allow the water to boil with the rice.
- Reduce the flame to the lowest and cook till the rice absorbs the liquid and is almost cooked.
- Sprinkle in the remaining half of the fried onions, coriander leaves, saffron water and ghee, cover the lid with a kitchen towel and keep it tightly closed for another 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can cover up the pan with aluminium foil and close the lid.
- Switch off the flame and keep the rice undisturbed for 10 minutes. Open the lid, give a good mix and serve hot!
Keep the quantity of water between 1½ cups to 1¾ cups for 1 cup of rice. The former quantity will give you dry and long looking grains while the latter will give you well cooked rice, just like mine.