Thursday, February 26, 2015

Munching on Machboos

Bahrain is a Middle Eastern island nation near Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It's actually joined to Saudi Arabia by a 16 mile long bridge called the King Fahd Causeway. It was one of the first areas to convert to Islam way back in 682. Over 70% of the population is Muslim. You would expect it to be higher, but since more than half of the people living in Bahrain are immigrants, many other religions have been brought to the island. Hinduism followed closely by Catholicism are the next two most prevalent religions.

As the first post-oil economy in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain has set up the freest economy in the Middle East and was the fastest growing one back in 2006. Due to the limit of their oil and water resources, Bahrain has a lot of long term instability. Unemployment is on the rise, causing the country to also be the fist Arab country to implement unemployment. Hopefully a fast growing tourist industry will help to curve this and make the Bahraini's future a little more hopeful.

The culinary scene is Bahrain is similar to other Persian Gulf cuisines. Since it's an island with not too many resources, Bahrain imports most of its food. Like most islands, fish plays a big role in the local diet. Either fish or chicken are the traditional meats cooked in the national dish called machboos.
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Can I interest you in any machboos? Match who? No machboos, the DELICIOUS Bahraini dish. It's made using a combination of a ton of different spices that make up the blend called baharat. These are added to a pot of sautéed onions, tomatoes, and chicken that is boiled down. The chicken is then broiled or grilled to a golden crisp and rice is cooked in the remaining broth. You can find machboos' counterpart in Saudi Arabia and Jordan where it is called kabsa. Machboos ala dajaj literally means 'spiced chicken and rice' which is what it is. Loomi, or dried limes, are often added along with rose water to make the meal even more flavorful. I had to sub the loomi with lime zest and leave the rose water out, but my machboos was far from lacking in flavor.

Machboos ala Dajaj
1 ½ onions, chopped
2 tbsp ghee or oil
1 green chili, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp coriander
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp lime zest (or 2 dried limes, loomi)
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 cups water
3 chicken leg quarters
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp rose water (optional)
1 cup basmati rice

Heat the ghee over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onions and sauté until golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chili, and spices. Cook for about 2 minutes until the spices are aromatic. Add the tomatoes, lime zest, water, and chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered for an hour, or until the chicken is done. Meanwhile, soak your rice in water for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot, and stir in the rice, rose water, and cilantro. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes, adding a little extra water if needed. Remove the pot from the heat and leave covered for 10 minutes. Preheat your broiler over high and arrange the chicken skin-side-up on a pan. Broil for a minute or two until the skin is golden. Serve the chicken over the rice.
 
 
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Khubz is the staple bread of the Middle East. It means 'bread' in Arabic, and can be found from the Arabian Peninsula to Morocco and then up to Israel. I made it for my Jordanian breakfast and decided to revisit it to go along with my machboos.
 
 
Khubz
makes 4
1 ½ cups flour
¾ tsp active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (110 degrees)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes. Stir in the flour, salt, and oil until a soft dough forms. Knead for 10 minutes, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place for 90 minutes. Once the dough has doubled, divide it into 4 balls and roll them out into ¼” thick spheres. Let them sit for 15 minutes. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cook the khubz for 10 minutes. Increase the oven’s heat to 500 and cook for another minute or two until golden.

 

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I was looking forward to trying Bahrain's food. Middle Eastern food is my cup of tea, and the pictures online of machboos looked delicious. I was not disappointed. The long spice list may seem a little intimidating, but trust me, it all melds together to make a deliciously flavored dish. I was surprised that the chicken actually wasn't a little more flavorful.
 

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