Sometime last year, I heard through the food buzz that there was a new Emirati cookbook released and I attempted to get my hands on a copy. I know I have been a real slacker in regards to my Emirati Cooking Experiments and I had hoped that obtaining a new cookbook would breathe some life into my little project.
Sarareed by Chef Khulood Atiq is a cookbook of “Emirati cuisine from the sea to the desert” which refers to the inclusion of both coastal as well as desert (in-land) recipes. This bilingual cookbook contains over 80 recipes in English and Arabic.
The book reads from right to left like most Arabic texts and has stunning photos of Emirati life and scenery as well as the food. The foreword explains a bit about Emirati hospitality including the important role that cardamon-infused coffee plays in that ritual.
An excerpt from the book:
The book bears the name “Sarareed,” an authentic Emirati word, the singular form of which, “Sarroud” is used to describe the big, traditional Emirati mat, made of woven palm leaves, around which people gather to eat and on which food is placed.
For those who are not familiar with Emirati cuisine, the head notes to many of the recipes includes beautiful descriptions of the dish and sometimes includes information about the origins, traditions, and history.
I felt mild disappointment in the fact that not all the recipes included an informative head note – for example, the recipe for Khabees. It’s obvious that it is a dessert because it’s in the dessert section but then the last part of the recipe says to serve for breakfast. Hmm…
One place where I felt a distinct void from the lack of any description was the recipe for Bzar (also spelled Bezar). Now I am no expert in Emirati cuisine but it seems to me that Bzar is an essential spice mix that defines many Emirati dishes and I would have expected and loved to have seen a thorough description with historical notes on it.
Things I liked about the book besides the recipes and photographs: dishes popular during Ramadan were noted; the section at the end about Emirati traditions of hospitality (“recieiving and honouring a guest with enormous generosity is considered a crucial part of Emirati heritage”); the section on Emirati cuisine terms and colloquial cuisine terms (i.e. dried limes = loumi, date essence = Marees al Tamer); and the section on cooking utensil names (i.e. Dalla = a coffe pot; Tanour = an oven used for cooking or grilling). I just wish the lists were alphabetized for easier referencing.
I would like to thank my friend Sally at My Custard Pie for lending me her copy of Sarareed – Thanks Sally!
Sadly, I still don’t have my own copy
as the cookbook can only be purchased in-person at Al Fanr restaurant in Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. I’m in Abu Dhabi only once in a blue moon so I was quite saddened to relinquish the book back to Sally but I think “borrowing” it for 6+ months was long enough.
[Edited Feb 14, 2013: I have purchased a copy of Sarareed at Kinokuniya bookstore in the Dubai Mall. I had to ask customer service to check the Arabic section. There are still plenty of copies (100, I was told) but for some reason they were not displayed and had to be brought from the stock room.]
And now moving on to the recipe…
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I wanted to try a recipe that I hadn’t tried before although I was seriously tempted to making Chicken Machboos again. I settled on Moadam Rubyan (Soaked Prawns) from the coastal section (versus desert) because I just love seafood – especially prawns.
Emirati recipes are created with the idea of feeding a large host of people, not a two-adult household like Scotch and mine. So I had to cut this recipe by one third as the original called for 1 kg of rice which is just too much for us as a cup of uncooked rice (~1/4 kg) lasts us for many days!
Other modifications I made to the original recipe from Chef Khulood:
- Used cherry tomatoes instead of larger ones as that’s what I had in my fridge.
- I was short on time so did not use the fish Bzar recipe as specified in the cookbook but a commercial one instead (the red “urban coastal” one from this post).
In addition to the coastal bzar mixture, this recipe also called for loumi (dried small limes), fresh garlic, fresh green chilli, fresh coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, and coriander powder. I didn’t quite understand the recipe directions of leaving the marinated shrimp “to dry in a pot” which I assumed was “to drain in a pot” so I used a colander over a bowl.
The other issue I ran into was the cooking of the rice – the instructions said to “pour in some water until it covers the rice by 1 cm. Cover the pot, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat until the rice is cooked.” I was using basmati rice which normally I cook like Jasmine rice (1 part rice, 2 part water) and the results were always great so the 1 cm reference in this recipe threw me off a little as it didn’t include cooking time and the proportions of water to rice didn’t seem right.
I followed the directions anyway but also decided to get an idea of how to properly cook basmati rice by throwing the question out via twitter and thanks so much to Neelu @nielouphar and to Bob @BobMarchese for their input. Anyway, I covered the rice with 1 cm of water and cooked for 10 min but the rice was very under-cooked so I added more water and cooked for a further 5 minutes but still not right so cooked another 5 minutes. Since the shrimp were embedded in the rice, I was really worried that they would be totally overcooked.
The final result?
I can’t say I was wowed by the flavors from the first taste but after a few spoonfuls of rice, I began to appreciate the flavors of the spice mixture and I just love the citrus notes from the loumi / loomi. While the shrimp wasn’t too severely overcooked, it was still a little dry but tender.
I look forward to one day obtaining my own copy of this cookbook and trying out more recipes.
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Previous Emirati recipe: Samboosa (fried savory triangles)
Note: This post is part of my Cooking Local project.
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