Monthly Archives: August 2012

lamb and vegetable stew with arabic flatbread – thareed

Stewing is an age-old method of cooking and history suggests that these types of dishes have been around since the advent of clay pottery. From gumbo to Irish stew many cultures from around the globe have some type of stew recorded in their culinary repertoire. Coming from an Irish upbringing stews play close to my taste buds heart as Irish Stew (also lamb and vegetables) is a national favourite!

Thareed is a stew consisting of lamb and vegetables that have been slowly simmered in a spiced tomato based broth. Once cooked, torn pieces of thin flatbread (khoubz) are added, soaking into the flavorsome broth, making the dish a complete meal in itself! Thareed is a popular dish eaten during Ramadan and served for Iftar, the first meal eaten after fasting.

Dried black lime (loomi aswad) added to the simmering broth of thareed imparts a delicious sweet-tangy flavour which is quite unique! Piercing with a knife beforehand allows the broth to permeate the dried lime, releasing its wonderful flavour, that I believe cannot be substituted in the same way using fresh lime or lemon zest!

These small limes are boiled for a short time in salted water and left to dry out in the sun or in a dehydrator, turning them tan or black in colour depending on the length of time spent drying. Throughout the middle east dried limes are used as a souring agent in cooking and are also ground and used in spice mixes and marinades! Sometimes these dried limes are called whole black lemons or lemon powder… somehow the name may have got lost in the translation… but dried limes they are!

Long and slowly simmered stews deserve the best cooking pots  and my preference is a heavy gauge pot with a tight-fitting lid (also called a Dutch oven), which can be used either on the stove top or in an oven. The food can also be served straight from the pot itself, making washing-up a breeze!

Slow simmering stews with wafting aromas are usually associated with cold blustery winter days, however living in Bahrain with a 45 celsius summer heat  leaves me with the only suggestion… turn your air-conditioning to full blast and tuck in!

Thareed

Ingredients:

  • 1kg lamb shoulder chops
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Baharat (Arabic spices, see note below)  or your favourite mixed spices
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • 4 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4  heaped tablespoons of tomato purée
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 small whole dried limes, pierced with a knife
  • 2 inch piece of cassia bark or cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole green chilli
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 baby courgettes, cut into chunks
  • 1 or 2 piece (approximately) of thin flatbread (khoubz)

 How to make: With a sharp knife, remove the meat from the bone, trim excess fat and cut into cubes, do not discard the bones as they will be used for flavour.

In a flame-proof casserole dish or heavy based saucepan placed over high heat, heat the oil until hot. Add the lamb and bones in batches and brown on all sides, transfer each batch to a plate when browned. Set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, cook until soft and golden. While cooking the onion you may notice the bottom of the pan getting brown, adding a little water will help loosen the brown bits from the bottom while stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic and ginger, cook for about 30 seconds stirring continuously, next add in the mixed spices and coriander seeds, cook for a further 30 seconds. Add in the tomatoes, tomato purée, fresh coriander, lamb and bones, stir all together.

Pour in the water, add the dried lime, cassia bark or cinnamon stick,  green chilli and salt.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer very gently for 1 hour.

Add the potatoes and carrots into the stew cover and continue to gently simmer for another 40 minutes. Add the courgettes, cover and simmer for another 15 minutes or until tender.

Once the stew is finished cooking and meat and vegetables are tender, taste  and add more salt if necessary. Tear the bread into 3 or 4 inch pieces and gently mix into the dish, the bread will soak into the broth, no dry bits of bread should be visible. Serve straight from the cooking pot or place into a large serving bowl. Serves 4 to 5 people.

Baharat is the Arabic word for spice mix which may consist of a mix of ground black pepper, cinnamon sticks or cassia bark, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, chilies, turmeric and nutmeg in various quantities. The souks in Bahrain have a wonderful variety of whole and ground spices.

What is your favourite stew?

fresh dates and pollination

Emerging female flowers of the date palm

The arrival of date season brings an abundance of fresh dates and many varieties of this delicious fruit are available in shops, markets and stalls across the Island. Being a bit of a food stalker, these photographs were taken at different times throughout the year and like the lemon tree,  I wanted to share the incredible magic of mother nature.

February: Having date palms in the garden makes date season magical…  witnessing the first cluster of flowers emerge (shown above) among the fronds of the female date palm… to the growing and ripening stages of this sweet-sticky delectable fruit.

A cut branch of male flowers containing pollen

Hand pollination of a date palm

Male date palms do not produce any fruit, however their flowers contain pollen which enable the female date palm to produce fruit when pollinated.
March: In the photograph above hand-pollination is taking place… smearing male flowers (containing pollen) over the female flowers. Also tying a few strands of male flowers among the female flowers.

Pollinated fruit beginning to grow

Pruning a date palm

March: A couple of weeks after pollination fruit starts to form and will continue to grow, mature and ripen over a period of months!
Date palms and the growing fruit need pruning and tidying and the meager garden sheers will definitely not be up for the job…  some special tools are definitely required. With his knowledge and years of experience with palm trees… Bu Ahmed arrives with his climbing harness and scythe… and this is where my gardening skills truly end!

Climbing harness for palm trees

 Bare-foot and attached by a harness, Bu Ahmed climbs the palm tree, quickly pruning away sharp thorny spikes from the lower fronds and tidying its trunk… making it all look so effortless!

Tying cluster of un-ripe dates

May:  Pulling and tying down the heavy laden branches with un-ripened fruit makes the fruit easier to reach when ripe and at the same time beautifying the tree.

Some thinning of the fruit clusters had been necessary and cutting away parts of the clusters encourage dates to reach maximum growth, also ensures better air-flow around the fruit. Thankfully nothing every goes to waste with a palm tree and the wheelbarrow full of cuttings with un-ripened fruit is used for cattle feed!

June: Different varieties of dates  (mentioned in an earlier post) develop their own characteristic colours while ripening, shown in the photographs above and below.

July – August: Some dates have ripened (very quickly) and this is where all the sweetness begins… ! Most will be shared among family and friends, some enjoyed simply as they are, others used with cake and dessert recipes and some frozen for later use.

What is your favourite date recipe?

marshmallow top hats and gergaoun

Gergaoun falls on the 14th night of Ramadan and when my children were small they loved to celebrate the occasion! Dressed in their traditional clothes (jalabiya and thobe), they would excitedly head out to their Grandfathers home during the evening… with their empty Gergaoun bags clutched tightly in-hand.

Together with their cousins, the children would visit the many houses around the neighborhood, receiving gifts of nuts and sweets which filled their empty Gergaoun bags. When all the houses had been visited, the children would return to their Grandfathers home proudly displaying overflowing Gergaoun bags and bursting to tell a few stories on some naughty older cousins that would partake in a dare called ding-dong-dash… leaving the younger children red-faced to do all the explaining!  Older children would also parade around the neighborhood, entertaining children and adults with the popular mascot “Frasya” the horse-man, while beating drums and singing traditional songs.

As there was always quite a gathering of children and adults I usually contributed by making lots of little goodies for the occasion, cupcakes, small cakes, rice krispie buns, cookies and Marshmallow Top Hats! These sweet treats were always well received and my customary trays of goodies became a yearly tradition until… the children grew-up!

Marshmallow Top Hats are an old childhood sweet treat that my mother would make for our birthday parties, the squishy marshmallow with its chocolate chunk base and Smartie on top, always went down a treat! Making them for my own children’s parties and celebrations always proved popular. However, I did notice that some things never change... there is always that one kid who would make an attempt to pick all the colourful sweets from the top of the marshmallows…  usually having their attempts thwarted by some of the other party goers!

The recipe is super easy to make and young children will eagerly help with placing the marshmallows into the melted chocolate and sticking the colourful Smarties on top… usually avoiding the brown coloured ones!  When packed individually into pretty little colourful gift boxes for Gergaoun or other celebrations, these Marshmallow Top Hats make a delightful sweet treat for children!

Marshmallow Top Hats

 Ingredients:

  • milk chocolate (your favourite brand), melted
  • marshmallows
  • colourful sweets of your choice

You will need small colourful paper cases for sweets

How to make: Place a teaspoon of melted chocolate into each paper case ( however many you are using) and place a marshmallow on top, gently pushing the marshmallow down into the chocolate.

Place a small dot of melted chocolate on the top of each marshmallow, then place a colourful sweet on top. Store in the fridge (covered) or in a cool place until the chocolate has set before serving.

Enjoy your kids when they are small… they quickly grow-up!   Have you got any Marshmallow memories?

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