I first heard about Kuwait when I was a wee lad during the first war with Iraq after Saddam's invasion and annexation of the country. George H.W. Bush was president, I was learning my shapes and colors, and I vaguely remember seeing Desert Storm trading cards on sale at some point. It was a strange time for me. That was the first war I got the chance to watch on T.V.
That war (much like the current one) was primarily fought over oil. Kuwait has a lot of it, their economy is based on it, and the whole world wants it. This has been the case since oil was discovered there in the 1930's. But if you look at the food of Kuwait, you can see that it's history has certainly not always been about oil. Long before oil was discovered, Kuwait served as an important port of trade located along the Indian ocean. The most important commodities of this trade were spices. And the food is absolutely filled with strong flavors and scents from these spices.
Kuwaiti food is a great mix of Persian, Indian, and Arabic influences. I imagine Kuwait City constantly smells like pepper, rosewater, and hookah. My apartment smelled like this meal for about a week. It was great!
There's a beautiful simplicity to this method of preparing dates. A lot of people in my life apparently hate eating dates, but when served these stuffed ones they happily consume them. I generally just buy a tub of dates and eat them plain over the course of two weeks. Amy seems disgusted by this, but I'm glad to see she'll eat these.
1 lb large pitted dates.
1/2 lb blanched almonds
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 tbsp rosewater
1. In a food processor combine the almonds, sugar, rosewater, and just enough water to make a thick and smooth paste.
2. Cut a slit into each date to expose the cavity where the pit once resided. Fill this cavity with the almond paste.
3. Serve slightly chilled.
Pitas are great, but they go stale really fast. But stale pitas can taste great, too. With some random vegetables and a sauce they can become this salad. We actually didn't have pita on hand, but that's ok because any good quality stale bread works great as well. We used some day old white rye from our local Ukrainian bakery. Just make sure to pour on a lot of dressing because the stale bread soaks it up quite efficiently.
For the salad
4 large romaine leaves chopped
3 stale toasted pitas cut into bite sized pieces
4 roma tomatoes chopped
1 red bell pepper sedded and thinly sliced
1/2 red onion thinly sliced
1 cucumber peeled and chopped
1 bunch of parsley finely chopped
1/4 cup mint chopped
1 cup crumbled feta
For the dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp ground pepper
2 cloves garlic chopped
Salt to taste
1. First combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and whisk them together.
2. Toast the bread in the oven for ten minutes at 400 degrees or until slightly browned. Set aside to cool
3. Prep and chop all the ingredients for the salad and combine them in a large bowl.
4. When ready to serve pour on the dressing and taste for seasoning.
Chicken Machboos (Chicken and Rice)
Every country has some version of chicken and rice. In Kuwait it happens to be considered the national dish. This dish has a lot in common with the pilau and biryani dishes of Persia and India with it's use of large amounts of spices and chilis. The yogurt sauce helps cool down any overly spicy bites of the dish.
1 chicken cut into serving portions
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups basmati rice
1 large red onion minced
2 whole green chiles
1 garlic clove minced
1 large tomato roughly chopped
1 large pinch of saffron soaked in a tbsp of water
2 tbsp rosewater
1 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground pepper
2 tbsp lime juice
4 cups stock
Salt to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 375. Grind the spices (except the saffron) and rub them into the chicken. Set the chicken aside to marinate in the fridge at least two hours.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven and brown the chicken in two batches over medium heat for about five minutes per side. Remove the chicken and set aside.
3. In the same pot saute the onion, garlic, and tomato for five minutes. Add the rice and saute another minute stirring frequently for one minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
4. Cut the heat, add the lime, saffron, rosewater and reserved chicken to the pot. Cover the pot and place it into the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
5. Remove the top and continue cooking another 15 minutes until the chicken is browned and the rice is fully cooked. You may have to add a bit more water if the rice is too dry. When everything is cooked serve with the yogurt sauce.
Chickpea and Eggplant Stew
It may be time consuming to make, but very little effort is involved with this dish. Chop some vegetables, combine everything, and wait 3 hours while it bakes. It was so easy I nearly forgot I made it and pulled it out of the oven just before serving. For many guests this was their favorite part of the meal.
2 cloves garlic minced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion minced
1.5 cups dried chickpeas soaked overnight
2 green bell peppers seeded and chopped
1 eggplant cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 cups water
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 325 f. Heat the olive oil in a deep heavy three quart pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté for several minutes.
2. Now add the eggplant and brown the pieces on all side for about 8 minutes.
3. Add everything else but the parsley and bring to a boil.
4. Cut the heat and put the pan into the oven and cook for 2.5-3 hours or until the chickpeas are tender. If you only have canned chickpeas throw them in for the last half hour.
5. Taste for salt, garnish with parsley, and serve.
This was our first feast in the new apartment (sorry for the delay). Judging by the photos of this post we have some work to do with the light in the dining room. All the pictures look like bad food shots of the 60's. It may finally be time to break down and buy a real camera. But what a joy it was to actually have a meal in our home on a huge dining room table! It was a great feeling to be able to sit down with all the food and people at the same table. As usual we made way too much food and nobody left with an empty belly. Cuba is next!