Unique Flavours of Saudi Arabia
The meeting resulted in my being invited to cook for a week at the prestigious Globe Summit Series - and what an occasion that was. I was aware this trip to Saudi Arabia was going to be a learning curve on so many levels and it was - even more than I would ever have imagined. Every day I presented a private cooking class as well as an eight-course lunch menu and dinner menu, available to the public. It was a busy time. Chef Ilias Doulamis and his team, however, offered me fantastic support which allowed us to pull this off. The cooking courses gave me the opportunity to meet Princes, local women and expats based in Saudi, and by asking questions I learnt a great deal about the place and its people. I was intrigued with the differing views on what living in Saudi Arabia meant.
One of the cooking classes involved many young Saudi girls who spoke very passionately about their home towns. They were relaxed and happy which meant by the end of the session we were exchanging recipes. They wrote down a few names for me but, having been unable to find them on the Internet, I gather they have been lost in translation. The two dishes they waxed lyrical about were Harissa and Kabsa. I regret that time did not allow me the privilege to eat locally so all the recipes here were researched and given my own take. Should you know better, or more unique combinations, please share them with me via email or post below
I couldn't leave Saudi Arabia without it's unique flavours tucked safely in my memory bank. The recipes I have highlighted here promise to tantalise your taste buds as they did mine.
Harissa is a Maghrebian hot chili pepper paste. The main ingredients are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers and other hot chili peppers; spices and herbs such as garlic paste; coriander seed, or caraway as well as some vegetable or olive oil that act as a preservative. Harissa paste can also be used as a rub for meat or eggplants. The Saudi girls mentioned Harissa and meat so I suggest you give it a try.
Kabsa is a family of mixed rice dishes that are served mostly in Jordan, and in Saudi Arabia where it is commonly regarded as a national dish. As a rule the meals are made from a mixture of spices, rice (usually long-grain, mostly basmati), meat and vegetables. There are many variations of Kabsa and each has its own unique quality. My Saudi pupils commented on how their respective families had their own particular take on this dish. They also boasted how their respective mothers were the best at making Kabsa This created a warm debate! The spices used in Kabsa include black pepper, cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, black lime, bay leaves and nutmeg. I got the impression that the quantities of spices used where top, family secrets. The main ingredient that accompanies the spices is meat - chicken, goat, lamb or camel; sometimes beef, fish or shrimp. The spices, rice and meat may be served with almonds, pine nuts, onions and sultanas. The dish can be garnished with ḥashū and served hot with daqqūs. I have included these recipes too.
Hashū is a meat stuffing with rice. It can be served as is, or can be added to other dishes as meatballs. Soaked rice is mixed with meat and spices. It can also be stuffed into almost any vegetable, which is called mehshi (pronounced meche-she). Sounds scrumptious but then I am a sucker for stuffed vegetables, even if it is a very old-fashioned dish!
Dakkous or daqqus, is a Middle-Eastern tomato sauce that is eaten with rice. I am not too fond of rice and I was amused to see how this revelation shocked the Saudi girls. I wonder whether the sauce will change my mind?
Jreesh, which is ground wheat, is commonly used in Saudi Arabia and when including it in a dish it is called: Jarish. This recipe involves a whole chicken with - would you believe - rice! They do love their rice... it's served with chopped, fried onions and is certainly worth a try.
My first lesson was for a Prince. What a lovely man. He gifted me with a few treasured books and DVD's on Saudi Arabia. The true treat, however, was an elegantly-packaged box filled with Bateel, gourmet Arabian dates, each filled with interesting combinations. Think a ginger date, a pecan-nut date and a candied-orange date - each as delicious as the other. On returning home I was aware that I had bought no gifts for the team at work - stupidly so because I, as yet don't have a team! However, I shared some world-class dates with the labourers on site at Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine and enjoyed their appreciative comments. It was a new experience for me and certainly a new experience for them. I thought it appropriate to add a delicious date cake recipe for you to enjoy.
No alcohol in Saudi Arabia - and this is no joke! Not even in the hotel room mini-bar. Saudi Champagne, which was on offer, was enjoyable but had no kick! I drank many freshly-squeezed juices - some with unique combinations - and I came home feeling revitalised and healthy. Just goes to show...
Here's to your good health and happy times and please cast a thought my way - I'm hard at work getting the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine ready for its first intake. 2015 is going to be a fabulous year - and an historical one for me!
Find out more about my Women's Chef Range here - Men's Chef Range to come shortly; grab yourself a copy of JACKIE CAMERON COOKS AT HOME and all my foodie adventures. I always look forward to hearing from you via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackie Cameron, soon-to-be owner of Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine situated in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal - email for enquires. For the latest on local foodie news add me as a friend on Facebook. Find me on Twitter - @jackie_cameron and Instagram: jackiecameronincolour.