Monday, January 4, 2010


In our little realm, it just would not be the holiday season if we didn't have to travel near and far for various events and gatherings of kith and kin. Thus, this celebration of the food of Oman was actually done before the holidays, we apologize for the delay and hope you had many wondrous celebrations of your own.

Oman, despite having a lot of dependence on British political and military systems, was never actually a British colony. They have also been a loyal US ally apparently since the end of our Revolutionary War. Oman was one of only 3 Arab League states that stood behind Egypt after the signing of the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979 (the other two were Somalia and Sudan, if you were wondering). In other words, Oman is a good friend to have and this friend just happens to have some wonderfully exciting dishes.

Dill Hummus

What some of you may not know is that Tom is quite the hummus maker. He actually used to make it for a sandwich shop he worked at in college. It has since been his signature staple dish at parties. I mean, who doesn't enjoy a giant bowl of mashed beans and tahini? For Oman, we decided to jazz it up slightly by adding some fresh dill.

1/2 pound dried chickpeas soaked at least 8 hours (or use 32 oz canned, or better yet pressure cook the dried beans)
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup chopped dill
Salt to taste

1. In a large pot cover the chickpeas with lots of water and bring to a boil on the stove. Simmer the beans for 1.5 hours or until tender
2. Drain the beans in a colander and run under cold water until cool.
3. In a processor combine the dill, lemon juice, and garlic and process them into a paste.
4. Add the chickpeas, tahini, and salt. Process for five minutes. While the motor is running pour the olive oil into the mixture slowly.
5. Taste for salt and refrigerate for at least two hours to let the flavors mature.
6. Serve with any flat bread or crackers.

Shuwa: Spiced Lamb Braised in Banana Leaves

It's hard to imagine a Middle Eastern feast without a lamb dish. Our humble attempt at Shuwa gave us a wonderful opportunity to again use banana leaves. If you are wondering where to purchase banana leaves, we usually get ours from this lovely Mexican grocery in Wicker Park, however, if you do not have a Mexican grocery, Asian groceries usually carry them. It should also be mentioned that this dish would normally use palm leaves, but these are not available to us. If you can find them, go for it. If you live near Chicago and know where to get them, please do not hesitate to leave the location in the comments.

Traditionally this would be a whole lamb cooked for two days under the ground. Right now the ground is frozen, and I'm pretty sure it's not very safe to cook food in Chicago's dirt. We did our best to replicate the recipe on a smaller scale in our oven. Feel free to use other large cuts of lamb.

Shoulder of lamb (5-7 lbs) cut into several large pieces
1 tbsp cumin
6 cardamon pods
1 tsp coriander
1.5 tsp red pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp vinegar
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons ginger
Banana leaves soaked in warm water for two hours

1. Bring meat to room temp and rub with ground spices.
2. In a large cast iron pot, layer the bottom with several pieces of banana leaf. Put the lamb on top of this layer of leaves and rest another layer of leaves on top and cover everything with a lid.
3. Set the oven at 250. Put the pot in the oven and walk away for the day. Allow the meat at least 7 hours to cook. Don't worry about drying it out it will only taste better with time.
4. When the time is finally up and you've finished doing whatever it is you did during all this time (we had lunch in Chinatown and cooked the rest of this meal), take the meat from the oven, uncover and let cool for a good while.
5. When the meat is cool enough to handle separate the stringy meat from the bones with your hands. Discard the bones and pour off most of the fat. The fat can be reserved for other things, but make sure to leave enough to keep the meat juicy.
6. Reheat the meat gently in the oven at 320 before serving. Serve with flat bread and tahini sauce.

Tahini Sauce

1/2 cup tahini
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped mint

Combine everything in a food processer adding just enough water to form a thin paste of a sauce. Serve drizzled over lamb.

Red Lentil Salad

Being winter and all, and being honest, we threw this dish together using what we already had in our pantry. Lucky for us, Omanis like bean dishes and our pantry is always fulls of them.

2 cups red lentils
4 cups stock
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 red bell pepper sliced into strips
1 large red onion diced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped mint
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste

1. Combine lentils with stock, cumin, and pepper in a saucepan set over medium high. Raise to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender.
2. In a large strainer, drain and rinse the lentils under cold water until they are cooled. Set aside over the sink for five minutes to drain.
3. Combine the cooled and drained lentils in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients and serve.

Eggplant with Date Sauce

I almost feel like we need to defend ourselves here, because if you are a regular reader then you know we often make a dish of eggplant. This one is way different though, I promise. It has dates. And if you've never experienced the combination of eggplant and dried fruit, you are in for quite a treat.

1 large eggplant peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
3 onions sliced thinly
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
stock to cover
1/4 pound dates
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Salt the eggplant cubes and set aside for 20 minutes.
2. In the meantime, heat the sliced onions gently with the oil until they are browned (about 15 minutes)
3. Add the eggplant pieces and cook gently for another 20 minutes until they are browned and tender on all sides.
4. Add the spices and enough stock to barely cover the vegetables. Cover and cook over medium low heat for another 20 minutes.
5. In a blender combine the dates and garlic with enough water to make a smooth paste.
6. Uncover the saucepan and add the date sauce to the eggplant. Raise the heat to high and reduce the sauce to a thick consistency.
7. Garnish with cilantro and lemon. Serve.

Za'atar Bread

Za'atar is the name for a spice mix of thyme, sage, sesame and other various things that we're not quite sure about. You actually buy it mixed together at your local Middle Eastern grocery. If you can't find it, just grind up these and other spices to make your own.

1 tbp. dried yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. za'tar
2 tsp. sea salt

1.Mix yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup warm water together until it is dissolved and let it stand for 10 minutes. The mix should appear frothy, if it doesn't, you have bad yeast. Throw it away and try again.
2. Mixer with kneading attachment: Place flour, 1/2 tsp of salt and yeast mixture in the mixer and add 1 1/4 cups warm water. Turn on a lower setting and "knead" for about 5 minutes. Gradually add the olive oil during this time. Cover and set aside for about an hour

Without a mixer: Combine the same as about but knead by hand for about 15 minutes.

3. Punch down the dough and either throw it back in the mixer, or knead by hand for a little longer. Let it stand again for about a half an hour.
4. Knead again shortly and divide dough into about 10 pieces. Roll out each piece into a circle.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and put the dough onto greased cookie sheets. Press your finger into the dough to make little dimples. Brush each piece with the remaining oil and sprinkle the za'atar and sea salt on top. Bake for about 12-15 minutes and serve them right out of the oven.

Oman: Conclusions

Oman was a success for many reasons. First off, it was the first Middle Eastern country we have had the pleasure of cooking for this blog. In our everyday lives and meals, we have been trying to cook more Middle Eastern food and I have a hunch that a few of these dishes will be repeated again.

Second, we had a lot of rotating guests throughout the night and had more than enough to feed them all. I think in the end we had about 8 dinner guest and we finished all but a fist full of lamb. This made for a long exquisite feasting experience and a few empty wine bottles.

Last but not least, we found a few great Omani radio stations. The first of which played a lot of Supertramp, which neither Tom nor myself minded at all. The second was a more traditional station that we did not have the knowledge to translate, but we do know they wished us a Happy Channukah (which just gives away how long ago we actually did Oman).

The Namibia post should be up in the next few days. Until next time, shucram!!!

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