I spent almost half my lifetime in Oman but my experience with Arabic food is very limited. Hardly surprising, because Salalah, the town I lived in was more or less like Kerala. It was surprisingly green for a desert, got the occasional rainfall that the Arabs loved to watch and most importantly, the place was infested with malayalees. I know, I know, the gulf is teeming with our kind but if it hadn’t been for the Arab’s blatant disregard for family planning, we would have surely outnumbered them in Salalah.
The interaction with locals was minimal – the only one I can recall as of now is being chased by a Arab boy till I fell off my cycle. Indians had a separate school, shops and offices were managed by Indians mostly and even the hospital and clinics had Indian staff; thereby cultural influence was minimal. So, like all other malayalees, we went to Indian and Indianized Chinese restaurants; places serving Arabic food (if there were any at the time) were totally ignored.
Not to say I haven’t eaten any Arabic food at all.
We had the Khubz or Arabic pita bread once in a while.
Then there were several delicious _shawarma _sandwiches that met their end at my hands. Funnily enough, it was not until I came back to India and my college friend excitedly told me about a new shawarma place that had opened up in Cochin that I came to know that a shawarma was called a, em, shawarma. The sandwich is very commonly available here now, but they all say that it nowhere as good as the original one from the Arab world. Ah, how I would like a bite of it now.
There was the whole grilled chicken available throughout the length and breadth of the town. It was minimally spiced, had crispy brown skin and was mind blowing tender and delicious. Different families gave different names to the grilled chicken. My favourite one was circus kozhi – circus chicken – because of the way the chicken went round and round as it slowly cooked on the rotisserie.
Then there were beautiful lamb kababs that was served with a green salad and khubz. I have no idea what these kababs were called, but I remember fighting tooth and nail for the last one left with my brother. Believe me, they were good enough to die for (or kill for, as almost happened in my family several times).
Sadly, I have not had the famed hummus, kibbeh or tasaly. I can only wonder if the Saudi kabsa is in any similar to our own Hyderabadi biryani and if the parippuvada is an offspring of falalef. But wait, with all those blogs out there, I should be able to create at least a few of these dishes at home!
Tahini is ground sesame seed paste. It is used in many middle Eastern dishes like hummus and also makes a great base for healthy dressings. To make tahini, toast 4 cups of sesame seeds over low flame, tossing the seeds frequently. It should take about 8 minutes. Once the seeds have cooled down, blend the toasted seeds with 8 tablespoons olive oil. Refrigerate in airtight container.
I spent almost half my lifetime in Oman but my experience with Arabic food is very limited. Hardly surprising, because Salalah, the town I lived in was more or less like Kerala. It was surprisingly green for a desert, got the occasional rainfall that the Arabs loved to watch and most importantly, th
Tahini Sauce with yoghurt
- For the Pita Bread, whisk together sugar, yeast and 1/2 cup warm water. Cover and stand in a warm place for 10 minutes or until frothy.
- In a large bowl, mix wheat flour, plain flour, salt, olive oil and yeast mixture. Pour in remaining water little by little and mix well.
- Knead on a lightly floured surface for about 10 minutes till smooth.
- Keep in an oiled bowl, cover with a moist tea cloth and let the dough rise in a warm place till double in size.
- Divide the dough into 13 balls and let it rise for another 15 minutes.
- Shape each dough ball into a cylinder, roll it up and flatten into a round disc. Roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 15 cm round.
- Heat a pan over medium high.
- When the pan is hot, cook the pita bread on one side for a minute. Flip over and cook the other side. The bread should puff up while cooking.
- You can simply apply some olive oil on the hot pita and sprinkle over some dried herbs like parsley, oregano, basil and sesame seeds over it.
- Or else serve with a tahini sauce and pickle.
- For Tahini: Toast 4 cups of sesame seeds over low flame, tossing the seeds frequently. It should take about 8 minutes.
- Once the seeds have cooled down, blend the toasted seeds with 8 tablespoons olive oil. Refrigerate in airtight container.
- Combine tahini, yoghurt, olive oil, garlic and water. Adjust seasoning. Mix in lemon juice before serving.
- Note: Adjust consistency as you wish using olive oil and water.
- For the Pickled onions- Whisk together vinegar, sugar and water till sugar is completely dissolved.
- Pour over onions, beetroot and green chilies. Refrigerate in glass container for at least two days before using.
- Note: You can add spices for flavor.