Muhammar is a popular rice dish within the gulf and usually eaten with grilled or fried fish. Caramelized sugar syrup gives the rice its colour and sweetness and is a favorite with my in-laws and hubby. During Ramadan they sometimes like to serve Muhammar with fish at the meal (Ghabga) before fasting begins.
When caramelizing the sugar be careful it doesn’t burn or it will taste bitter. The caramel should look a darkish golden brown… your nose will let you know if you have gone too far. Once the caramel has reached the desired color, carefully add the water in small amounts… it will splutter, so best to wear some oven gloves to protect you hands, sugar burns are very painful. The sweetened rice is also flavored with cardamom and depending on your taste, add more if you like.
There are other recipes for Muhammar which use date syrup or honey and rose-water, giving the rice a different flavor, but caramelizing the sugar is my in-laws preferred method. And like all traditional recipes, you favor the recipes you grew up with. You could also experiment with the amount of sugar added or enjoy a smaller portion when eating. When eaten with fish seasoned with spices you have plenty of flavors to enjoy along with the sweetness of the rice.
The most popular local fish served with Muhammar are Safi, Chanad, Rabeeb (pictured above) and Yanam during the cooler months. The fish is usually rubbed with a local spice mix for fish (maybe some lemon juice and garlic) and seasoned with salt before grilling or shallow frying. The spices in a ground spice mix for fish may contain ground coriander, ginger, turmeric, red chili, fenugreek, onion, garlic, clove and black pepper. When serving Muhammar with fish, some leafy greens like local rocket are usually served on the side and of course… a generous squeeze of lemon juice.
Muhammar – Sweet Rice
400g basmati long grained rice
275g caster sugar
4 tablespoons of water
10 whole cardamom pods, cracked
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
fresh coriander, chopped (optional)
How to make:
Clean the rice and soak for about 10 to 15 minutes, then strain. Meanwhile, in a heavy based saucepan add the sugar and water. Dissolve the sugar over low heat, stirring continuously. Brush down the insides of the saucepan with a wet pasty brush if you see any sugar crystals on the sides. Increase the heat and bring the sugar syrup to a boil. Without stirring, boil until the mixture become a dark golden brown. Immediately remove from heat and gradually (the mixture will splutter and start to harden) add 1 cup of water. Return to the heat, add the cardamom pods and continue stirring until the mixture become liquid.
Place the rice, caramelized sugar syrup with cardamom pods into a saucepan, pour in extra water to cover the rice and add the salt. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook the rice for about 15 minutes or until the rice is almost done. Drain the rice.
Place the drained rice back into the saucepan and place over low heat. Drizzle over the sunflower oil, cover with a tight-fitting lid and let the rice steam for a further 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Place the rice into a serving dish and garnish with coriander. Serve with your choice of grilled or fried fish. Serves 4 to 6
Other traditional recipes you might like to try: