The holy month of Ramadan for this year is almost on us. Very recently I was talking about Ramadan with an Arabic sales lady in a super market. This casual talk became a half hour affair 😅. I was engrossed listening to her, how excited she was, preparing for the upcoming Ramadan. The cooking and eating meals before sunrise, arrangements, preparation, stocking of prepared stuff and the pantry etc.
Fasting during Ramadan is intended to educate, and instill humility and patience within oneself. It also reminds the haves of the suffering of the have nots, who may rarely get to eat well. Ramadan is a time of worship, reading the Holy Qur’an, charitable acts, and the purification of one’s nature. According to Islam, the thawab (rewards) of fasting are many, but in this month they are believed to be multiplied. Hence, these and for many more reasons it is called the Holy Month.
She gave a clear picture, though in short, what are “Suhoor” and “Iftar”, the two main meals for all people who follow Islam. “Suhoor” is the meal taken very early in the morning just before prayers and sunrise. That early in the morning, one cannot expect a lavish four course meal; but yes, a light, fast and nourishing meal that includes sandwiches, lentil or oats soups, or a filling one-pot dish, fruity desserts. Thereafter people fast until dusk or sunset without even a sip of water. “Iftar” is breaking of fast after sunset (Maghreb). Breaking of fast is usually simple with dates and water and some fruits. After this, the real feast starts with a lavish spread of dishes ranging from salads to whole baked meat dishes, syrupy desserts and fresh fruits and vegetables. To me it sounded like a lavish English brunch, just minus the champagne 😄. But to be honest, fasting is necessary to have a so called “Bhog” (indulgence) of such sumptuous Iftar and Ghabga and your belly needs to be empty for that. She sounded exhausted while explaining. Inhaled and exhaled deeply with a “phew!!” Putting myself in her shoes and just visualizing the whole affair, excited me as if I would be preparing and displaying a spread for three different meals for family, friends and the loved ones for those days. I know that’s really funny. Finally the store manager had to interrupt our chat. Ah! She also has a tireless tongue just like I do. Talking about common and must have dishes; the list is quite long, but among them Machboos, a traditional Bahraini rice dish that I had been eating at various occasions at various places, interested me most at that moment. Maybe I did not have it for a long time and the craving started to build up. Quickly picked up the necessary ingredients for this rice dish (made either with lamb, chicken, shrimps or vegetables with some lovely blend of spices) that turned out to be one of the dinner menu items for the day. I am excited too for the Iftars and the Ghabgas. Many other Arabic delicacies too will be on my kitchen table this Ramadan.
At the first look, it may give you an impression of Biryani, but it is quite different with bursting flavors of Arabic spices. There are two ingredients in particular that sets this dish apart from any Western chicken and rice dishes. Baharat, Arabic for “spice”, is a popular spice blend found in Arab cuisine. Ingredients can vary, but it typically includes black pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. An intensely flavorful spice blend, Baharat can liven up any dish.
Lumee is another ingredient that is a must if you wish to achieve an authentic flavor in your Middle Eastern cooking. Lumees are limes that are more often called as black lemon or black lime. Their color can range from tan to black. The concentrated lime flavor is intensely tangy and earthy with an almost smoky quality.
And here is the recipe of this delicious dish, Chicken Machboos.
15 mins Cook Time: 45 mins Total Time:1 hour
- Rice 3 cups (any medium grain biryani or basmati rice) soaked for an hour.
- Chicken 1 kilo, cut into 4 big pieces with the skin. Traditionally it’s made with chicken skin on. But, personally I like the skin removed.
- 2 medium size chopped onions.
- 2 medium size chopped tomatoes.
- 2 chopped garlic cloves.
- 1/2 inch finely chopped ginger.
- 3 sliced green chilies.
- 2 to 3 table spoon oil.
- 2 dried black lemon.
- Whole spices (few green cardamoms, a small cinnamon stick, few cloves).
- 1/2 table spoon cumin powder, 1/2 table spoon coriander powder, 1/2 table spoon Paparika powder, a pinch of turmeric powder or yellow food color, salt as per taste.
- 1 1/2 table spoon Baharat spice mix (readily available, if not, use Garam masala)
- 1 table spoon Chana dal (chick pea lentil) just half cooked.
- 1 table spoon mixed dry fruits.
- 1 table spoon ghee.
- 1 table spoon chopped onion and coriander leaves for garnishing.
- Take a wide deep bottom pan and fry onions, ginger & garlic. Sauté for a few mins then add in the tomatoes. Fry well.
- Add whole spices, salt, powdered spices/masalas. Fry on medium flame until all well combined.
- Add the chicken, black lemon and fry until golden brown, till oil separates.
- Add 3 cups of water and simmer the chicken with lid closed for about 10 mins.
- Now take out the chicken pieces and add the pre-soaked rice into it. Cover and let the rice cook until 80% done. Keep checking in between. Add a little water if required.
- In a separate pan or in a pre heated oven, roast the chicken pieces for around 10 minutes or until golden.
- Once the rice is 80% done, add these roasted chicken pieces. Then cover and let it cook for another 10 minutes or until the rice is done.
- Drizzle ghee over the dish.
- Fry the half cooked Chana dal, dry fruits, 1 table spoon chopped onion and dry fruits. Garnish this mixture over the Machboos and add fresh coriander leaves.