Dee: “Qatar was the only choice for tonight’s menu, so we were expecting a similar meal to that of Oman, which we covered a couple of weeks ago. As with our sampling of Omani cuisine, we were able to source tonight’s food choices from our recently purchased ‘Arabian Delights’ cook book by Amy Riolo. We took most of dishes from a chapter headed ‘date harvest’, and were thus introduced to the sweet tastes which are as common in savoury dishes as they are in the desserts of gulf state cuisine. Nothing we cooked was complicated but the flavours produced by the fresh fruits, fruit extracts and spices were in equal measure bold and exotic.”
All recipes from ‘Arabian Delights’ by Amy Riolo
Chicken Breast glazed with Date Molasses
Dee: “Although the recipe on the book was for Cornish Hens, we opted instead for chicken breasts, as each is of sufficient size to feed two people. I liked the simple way of preparing and cooking the meat, which was stuffed with crushed dried limes, then spread with date molasses and a spice mixture, then covered and cooked in the oven. The result was beautifully moist meat, with an occasional sour bite from the dried lime, and a sweet tasting sauce produced by a combination of the date molasses and cooking juices from the meat.”
Basmati Rice with Dates and Apricots
Dee: “The rice was an excellent accompaniment to the chicken. Again with a sweetness coming from the fruits which were cooked in the same pot as the rice, and subtle spicing from the tiny portions of cardamom and clove. The saffron lent a more earthy flavour to the rice, and also its characteristic yellow colouring.”
Orange and Date Salad
Dee: “Of all the elements to tonight’s meal, it was the salad that took the longest to prepare. Lettuce needed to be shredded, carrots grated, oranges peeled and separated and dates to be pitted and halved, and then the whole lot to be neatly assembled, only for the preparation to be ruined in an instant as we served it. Not to worry though, it was worth it as the salad was a great palate cleanser at the end of the main course, again with sweetness coming from the oranges and dates, freshness from the lettuce and carrot and finally a fairly sharp citrusy dressing to finish.”
Sweet Orchid Dessert
Dee: “This was a bit of an odd one. It was described as a drink in the book, but the commentary preceding the recipe said that it was particularly filling and could be substituted for a dessert. One of the ingredients was sahlab, which we were unable to source in time for the meal, so we opted instead for egg whites, which we had left over from another recipe. Cornflour, our initial choice, was not recommended. We knew we wouldn't be able to replicate the recipe exactly but pushed on and hoped for the best. We ended up with something that looked the part and decided to serve it in small bowls and ate it using spoons, rather than drinking it. Not authentic but we did spot one or two pictures on line of it being served in what appeared to be small bowls, and our finished product didn’t look out of place so we were satisfied with it.
Ironically, once completed, the dessert was the least sweet part of the meal, but the flavours of rose water, cinnamon and pistachio and the thick milky texture marked it out as a dessert rather than a savoury course. I think if we were to make it again we would seek out the correct ingredients rather than taking risks by approximating them.”
Soundtrack: Various Artists – Music of Qatar
Dee: “Initially I thought that this compilation album would be showcasing a number of diverse music styles in existence in modern day Qatar, but it was actually an album that was split into two; the first half being more traditional, with the second being a fusion of the old and the ‘new’.
The first half of the album was mostly quite slow and more rhythmic than I was expecting, with most tracks featuring a haunting female vocal. I liked these, and they proved to be ideal music to enjoy our meal to.
From track 5 onwards, the fusing of this traditional music with other styles began. ‘Qatar rock’ for example, included an electric guitar and keyboard that sounded quite retro, considering that the album was made in 2013. Track 6, ‘country music from Qatar’ didn’t really work for me as the styles of music that were too distinct to create coherent sound. The final four tracks were a fusion of the traditional sounds from the earlier tracks with techno and dance beats and were a bit too hectic to be listened to alongside a meal. I didn’t mind them though.”
Next Week we’re in the heart of Africa: R for Rwanda