Having finally found gainful employment the blog's been sadly neglected of late. There's a huge gap since my last post, one might even say a Gulf, which brings us to the next country on my list, Bahrain.
The prosperous island kingdom with a population of 791,000 lies off the west coast of Saudi Arabia linked by the King Fahd causeway. Bahrain is the fastest growing economy in the Arab world, encouraged not only by it's oil reserves but by it's role as a major financial centre for Islamic banking. It's also viewed as one of the most liberal arab countries with relative political freedom and a thriving publishing industry printing arabic language books by authors or on topics banned elsewhere.
Unlike neighbouring Saudi, Bahrain affords a higher level of religious tolerance which allows the consumption of alcohol in non-muslim establishments. As a result the island has become a playground for male tourists from other arab countries (a Muslim Malia if you will) in search of sex and booze.
Sadly finding a Bahraini restaurant in London proved impossible, the embassy didn't know of anywhere and could only suggest that one of the Lebanese places on the Edgware road might do something similar to 'Machboos', Bahrain's preferred dish of rice and meat. Strolling from Marble Arch to Maida Vale with a 'Bahraini?' sandwich board crossed my mind but I had a bad ankle. A post on a Bahraini blog about the Rendezvous Casino in Mayfair, advertised as the 'Gulf Nation's Favourite Casino' with an Arab restaurant got my hopes up too, but the Lebanese chef was bemused by my enquiry. Once again I was self-catering.
'Machboos' which is similar to biryani and is usually made with chicken, lamb or fish, is a favourite across the Gulf States in its various guises and is flavoured with an aromatic blend of spices 'bharat' and dried black limes which impart a concentrated, slightly fermented, citrus flavour.
I followed a recipe for Chicken Machboos which I adapted from amsdat's Bahraini food group on GroupRecipes
- 4 1/2 cups water650g (3 cups)
- Basmati rice
- 3 tomatoes, quartered
- 1.5 - 2 kg chicken
- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup coriander leaves, chopped
- 1 hot green pepper
- 2 black dried limes
- 4 tsp. Buharat ( 1 tbsp red pepper, 1 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp black pepper, 1tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground black lime) Can be bought ready made though!
- 3 tsp. turmeric powder
- 2 tsp. cumin powder
- 4 tsp. cinnamon powder
- 2 tsp. cardamom powder
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 slice of ginger, cut into small pieces
- 3 Tbls.. butter
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3 Tbls. Rose water
- 3 Tbls. oil
- 2 Tbls. salt
Quarter the chicken. Heat the water and leave aside. In a small bowl, mix the spices (garam masala, turmeric, cumin, and cardamom) together and add one tablespoon of salt to the mixture. Rub half the spice mixture into the chicken pieces.
Heat oil in a large cooking pan, fry the onions till golden brown, then add the pepper and the black limes, making sure to make a hole in the limes. Add the chicken to the onion mixture and turn it over a few times in the pan. Sprinkle a teaspoon of cinnamon and the rest of the mixed spices on the chicken. Turn the contents so the chicken gets coated with the spices, cover the pan and let it cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.
Add the garlic, chopped ginger, and tomatoes to the pan and turn the ingredients in the pan a few times. Cover again for 3 minutes on a medium heat. Sprinkle with the rest of the salt and pour in the water. Cover the pan and let it cook for about 45min, or until the chicken is cooked. Add the coriander 5 minutes before you remove the chicken from the stock in the pan. While the chicken is cooking, wash the rice and soak for 10 minutes in cold water, then drain.
Remove the chicken from the pan and put on an oven tray, brush with some oil and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon powder and grill in the oven untill the chicken is golden brown. Add the rice to the chicken stock, stir, then let it cook on low heat until the rice has absorbed the stock and is almost done. Sprinkle the rice with rose water and lemon juice, and place the butter pieces on the top. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 10 minutes.
Fluff the rice and serve on a large communal serving plate with the grilled chicken pieces on the top. Eat with your right hand!
Despite the long list of ingredients it's actually a very simple dish to make, although a little time consuming. The buttery rice is beautiful, absorbing all of the rich flavour of the spices which is complemented perfectly by the tang of the black limes and the fragrant rosewater.