Walima January Challenge representing Omani cuisine
I was thrilled to explore Omani cuisine this month! Most Lebanese (and I am no exception) are naturally attracted by the West, probably because with the mediterranean on our border we just look out into the sea and want to explore what is beyond, like our Phoenician ancestors. This time, we are turning East, to the Sultanate of Oman, located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Saudi Arabia, Yemen and facing the Arabian sea.
Saveurs magazine (# 172, French edition) ran a story on Oman this month (from which these photos are taken); I wanted to share them, as well as some observations the author made on this exotic and mysterious country.
The author, Emmanuelle Jary, talks of a singular place where technology and ancient traditions coexist; of virgin landscapes, of a culture untouched, still authentic and permeated by a feeling of eternal permanence. Of men dressed in their traditional dishdasha (white robe), wearing a qumah (embroidered cap) on their head; of traditional wooden boats bringing back daily their seafood bounty, fish lined up on the floor and sold to men who, upon sundown, gather and play hwalis,( a board game). Of women garbed in black and rarely seen outside; however, once inside, revealing their fondness for long and flowery dresses and described as full of laughter and warmth.
On Omani cuisine, the author notes that in addition to dishes specific to the country, this cuisine is widely inspired by Iran, Pakistan and India as well as Lebanon (apparently Lebanese cuisine is very appreciated in Oman). Thus, Omanis eat the chapathi (Indian bread) as well as the traditional Arabic rukhal bread. Meals are eaten on the floor on a large tablecloth. A description of the dishes, such as this lamb Kabouli and a chicken Magbous, show an extensive use of spices such as clove, cardamom, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, saffron and especially rose water.
The author observes that these dishes reveal Oman’s past as a trading center for spices, which, way before oil was ever discovered, enriched countless sultans; the island of Zanzibar, for instance, famous for its clove production, used to belong to Oman in the 19th century.
INGREDIENTS: To cook the lamb (can be done a day ahead)
- 1 pound of lamb pieces (including bones)
- 6 cups of water
- 2 cinnamon sticks, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1/2 t. whole cloves, 1/2 t. black peppercorns.
Brown the lamb pieces in a large pot, cover with cold water and throw in all the spices. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours until cooked and the lamb falls off the bones. Place in the fridge and a couple hours later, remove the fat on the surface.
INGREDIENTS: To make the Omani spice paste ( can be done up to 10 days ahead)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 Tablespoon of cumin seeds (15 ml)
- 1 Tablespoon of coriander seeds
- 1 Tablespoon of cardamom
- 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
- 2 Tablespoons of distilled vinegar
Place all the spices in a blender and process until a thick paste is formed, adding more vinegar if needed. Store in a tight container in the fridge for two weeks.
INGREDIENTS: TO FINISH THE DISH.
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 3 tablespoons of ghee or clarified butter or olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, mashed in a mortar with a pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons raisins (can substitute dates, cut up)
- 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 Tablespoons Omani spice paste
- a pinch of saffron
- 1/4 cup of rose water (3 tablespoons)
- 2 cups of Basmati rice, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes
- Fry the onions in the ghee or oil until they turn golden; add a few tablespoons of water during the frying to help cook the onions; the water will evaporate in a few minutes. When the onions are changing color, add the mashed garlic and one tablespoon of Omani paste, the chick peas, the saffron and the rose water. Stir one minute and set aside.
- Cook the rice: Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a large pot. Add the drained rice, 3 tablespoons of the Omani paste; stir the rice mixture to coat it well with fat and spices.
- Add the lamb stock (about 3 1/2 cups, add more if needed later), bring to a boil and cover. Turn the heat down and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until the rice is cooked, adding more stock or water if needed.
- Add the lamb pieces and mix in with the rice. Add a portion of the chick peas and onions and mix in. Scoop the rice on a large platter, placing the rest of the chick peas on top of the rice.
NOTE: I was pressed for time and skipped making the spice paste, instead adding the spices directly into the onion and rice. It was fine.