Sunday, 7 December 2014

O for Oman

Dee:  “After a couple of weeks away we’re back to sample the cuisine of Oman.  We’re well prepared this time, after having purchased a copy of ‘Arabian Delights’ by Amy Riolo, which includes a chapter dedicated to Omani cuisine.  In a previous blog entry I reviewed Amy’s book on Egyptian cuisine ‘Nile Style’ and there is much to say about this book too, so maybe another review will follow in a later blog entry but for now we’ll concentrate on the task in hand.
The cuisine of Oman turned out to be broadly similar to those of other regions in the Arabian Peninsula but with a particular emphasis on fish and a selection of spices that are characteristically Omani.

All recipes from ‘Arabian Delights’ by Amy Riolo.  The recipes we selected were from a menu which had been put together for an incense party, or Istakbal.  We didn’t buy any incense as it was the food that we were focussing on, but we did light a spiced orange scented candle to accompany the meal.

Omani Spice Mix (Bizaar)
Dee:  “I love to collect recipes for spice mixes, so was pleased to find one here.  This mixture has sweet elements in the form of cinnamon and cardamom, savoury elements in the form of cumin, coriander and black pepper and heat from chilli.  There was a footnote to the recipe indicating that the quantities listed were not hard and fast and that it was fine to adjust them to suit individual tastes, but I stuck to what was quoted in the book and was quite happy with how it turned out so will stick with it for next time.”

Parsley Salad (Salata Baqdounis)
Dee:  “We had to produce two versions of this salad as Jay can’t abide parsley, so the second version used kale which was quickly fried and then left to cool.  For my parsley salad I decided to separate the leaves from the stalks and add them to the salad bowl as they were.  The leaves are quite pretty so it seemed a shame to chop them up.  I didn’t throw the stalks away though; I chopped them up finely for use as a garnish.  This simple salad was quick to prepare, and provided a fresh tasting accompaniment to the heavier meat and rice dish.”

Dee: “Given the prominent place of fish in Omani cuisine, I wanted to include a fish dish.  There was a tasty sounding fish in coconut sauce recipe in the book but we wouldn’t have been able to eat two main courses and were keen to try the meat and rice.  However, I did have a tin of pilchards in tomato sauce which needed using up, so I decided to put something together with them.  I drained the tomato sauce away, rinsed the fish, removed the bones, and served them with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of lemon juice and a scattering of the chopped parsley stalks mentioned earlier.  It made for a very simple-but-effective side dish.  I still couldn’t convince Jay to try them though.”

Meat and Rice (Kabouli)
Dee:  “This dish was the Omani variant of Kabsah, from Saudi Arabia.  What we cooked and enjoyed was comfort food of the highest order.  The lamb was slow cooked with onion and spices in a stew, to which uncooked rice was later added.  Finally slices of lime and lightly sautéed raisins were added as a final touch to the finished dish.  We deviated slightly from the recipe, which called for the lamb to be removed from the cooking liquid and the onion and whole spices discarded, but we didn’t want to lose the onions so just removed the whole spices.  The finished dish was a merging together of the meat, its cooking liquid and the spices, with the rice taking on all of these flavours.  The addition of the lime slices and raisins to finish off the dish gave it another dimension, as the lime juice provided occasional bursts of sharpness through the rich textures of the rest of the dish, and similarly, the raisins were like small pearls of soft fruity sweetness.  Yes it was rich, yes it was heavy, no it wasn’t low-calorie, but above all, it was absolutely delicious.”

We were intending to make Sweet Mouthfuls with Spiced Syrup (Loquemat) for the sweet dish, but were quite full from the meat and rice dish, so instead of making it anyway and risking not enjoying all of it, we decided to leave it and move straight on to the coffee and dates.

Omani Coffee (Qahwa)
Dee:  “It was a shame that we didn’t have an ornately decorated pot from which to pour this coffee, or the authentic small beakers to drink it from, but we were able to make do with what we had to hand in the kitchen.  I was alarmed by the amount of cardamom quoted in the recipe, and didn’t expect to see saffron either, but stuck to it and rather quite enjoyed it.  It was a perfect accompaniment to the dates that we served with it.  The coffee had a different focus than either of us were used to, delivering sweet spice rather than acidity.  Neither the cardamom nor the saffron dominated the overall taste, rather they ebbed and flowed through each mouthful.  Next time I make it I will probably increase the amount of ground coffee beans but that’s only my personal preference.  It’s not going to replace our everyday morning coffee but we will certainly make it again to finish off our next Arabian themed meal.”

Soundtrack:  Salah Al Zadjali - Ayyar
Dee:  “This album was released in 2010 and merges traditional instruments with modern synthesizers to create a quite contemporary sound.  The rhythms are strong with plenty of percussion and the vocals are supported by backing singers on much of the album.  The shortest song is 3 minutes 52 seconds, with 5.22 for the longest, but the alternating vocal and instrumental passages in each song require these sorts of times to make sense.
With its modern slant, the album is reminiscent of an urban city scape rather than a tent in the desert.
Towards the end of the album the songs begin to mellow and the singer takes on the persona of a crooner, which he does very well.  I would imagine that the songs in this particular style would be the perfect musical accompaniment to a plate of dates and a supply of coffee watching the sun set over the sea.  However, as it’s winter as I write this, I’ll have to just rely on my imagination for that bit.  At least for another few months.”

Next Week:  P for Panama


  1. Seriously - next time I make it to the UK - I'm going to invite myself for dinner! A whole Omani themed meal, music and all. Totally melting when I hear about those soft pearl raisins and the lime in the lamb dish. Sigh ...