Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the Menu: Saudi Arabian Food

A Taste of the Exotic.

My kitchen smells so good :)  I'm not sure exactly which spice I like the smell of the most- the allspice, the cardamom, the cloves or the cinnamon- they all smell so good!  They tasted pretty good too.The people of Saudi Arabia are descended from tribes of nomadic sheep and goat herders and many of their traditional foods still reflect this- flat breads (fatir) and dates are some of the easily transportable foods that are still common today. These days most Saudis live in cities but they still enjoy the traditional foods.  The staples of their diet have stayed pretty constant over the years- fava beans, wheat, rice, yogurt, dates, chicken and spices.  The spices of Saudi Arabian food are abundant.  It's a little intimidating at first but the combination of all the exotic spices is what make the flavor of the food so interesting and, well, Middle Eastern. 

When eating food in Saudi Arabia, there are a few things you will NEVER see on the menu - pork and alcohol.  No ribs and beer, no bloody mary with your bacon for breakfast, both these items are against the laws of Islam and therefore forbidden.  Bummer for them but I imagine they have their own good reasons.  So we will follow the rules and make a traditional dish- Al Kabsa.  A combination of rice, raisins, spices, nuts and meat, which is the most common dish you will see in Saudi Arabia.  Everybody has their own recipe and combination of spices that go into it.  We found a few different ones at and kinda mushed them all together to make our own version.  I hope you like it.

Al Kabsa (a la Jenny)
For the recipe you will need:
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken pieces or breasts
  • 1/2 onion - chopped finely
  • 4 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter (or olive oil)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 carrots - finely chopped or grated
  • chicken bouillon cube or packet
  • 1 heaping cup basmati rice
  • handful of raisins
  • slivered almonds
  • 1 whole clove
  •  pinch of nutmeg
  •  pinch of ground cumin
  •  pinch of ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp of saffron
  • 1/4 tsp of ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp of ground allspice
  • salt and pepper
1. In large heavy pan, melt butter and add chicken, onion and garlic.  Let the onions become tender and then add tomato paste and let that all cook for a minute or two.
2.  Add tomatoes (undrained), carrots. clove and all the spices.  Cook for a couple of minutes until the spices become fragrant and then add 2 1/2 cups of hot water and the bouillon.
3.  Bring this all to a boil and cover and reduce the heat.  If you are using bone in pieces of chicken let it simmer over low heat for 30 mins.  I used cut up chicken breast and so I only cooked it 15 minutes.
4. After the chicken has simmered for desired time, you can remove it from pan and finish it in the oven, or keep it in the pan, add the rice and cook, covered, for another 35-40 minutes until the rice is tender. Add more water or chicken broth if needed.  Add raisins the last 10 minutes.
5.  Heap your delicious tender rice and chicken on a serving platter and sprinkle with the slivered almonds.

I really thought this smelled and tasted wonderful. The chicken wasn't as flavorful as I'd have liked.  I was a little skimpy with the spices but I added a little more to the recipe above so it will be even better. 
I know there are A LOT of spices but use what you have and ask your friends for a pinch of some you might be missing.  A great place to look for inexpensive spices is the International section at the store, or better yet, International markets if you have some around.  Cumin will be about $4 in the regular spice aisle but the little cellophane baggies of "cumino" in the Hispanic food aisle might be 99 cents.  The cardamom at Lucky's was $13 (!) but I checked at the Middle Eastern market and found it for $2.50!!  Plus the lady behind the counter told me all kinds of other uses for it!  I haven't tried it yet ,but she said it's good mixed with coffee- you just add some to your grounds and brew as normal. 

There are so many new tastes that we are experiencing all because of this adventure, so many new things we are learning and places we are discovering. I hope you are trying some of them along with us!  I'd love to hear about your adventures too!

No comments:

Post a Comment