Insane in the Bahrain

February 22, 2009

Once again, we have struck out:  we failed to find any Bahraini restaurants in NYC (You will hear about our adventure searching for Bahamian food once Noquar gets around to posting the story.  For now I’ve decided to go ahead and get this one up).  Granted, we didn’t give the consulate a call this time (admittedly, this is simply sheer absentmindedness and laziness), but we did ask the proprietor of a Middle Eastern grocery store in Brooklyn if he knew of any Bahraini restaurants here, to which he replied, “Bahrain?!  Those people are too rich.  They don’t need to leave their country.” Fair enough.

So twice in a row now we have had to cook food from the country at hand.  As much as I judge the success of this mission on finding authentic cuisine cooked by natives, I have to think we have also succeeded when we manage to find all the ingredients needed to cook a meal that would be found on a table half way around the world.  And this is what has happened for Bahrain.

map

Bahrain is a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf.  It’s one million+ residents live on a total of 253 sq miles, which covers thirty-three islands.  In fact, according to one source, the entire archipelago has less total land than the nearby King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia. That just seems like one big airport to me.

A few minutes of googling was all it took to figure out that the most well-known dish of Bahrain is machbous (or machboos, depending on how the Arabic spelling has been translated), which is a meat and rice stew.  Kind of like a biryani, but more saucy.  A bit more web surfing and I had come up with a menu for the evening. Now all we needed were the ingredients.

Bahraini cuisine uses many of the same spices that are used throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Because I often cook Indian food, I have quite a stock pile of spices on hand. There were a few, however, that required a visit to the local Middle Eastern grocery store.

One stop at the Oriental Pastry and Grocery at 170 Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn was all we needed to find every ingredient necessary for our dishes, including rosewater, bahrat (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and dried lemons, as well as a number of bonus items like delicious, sticky, sweet pastries. The store has only a narrow aisle down the middle that is not piled high with essentials: bulk items like rice and wheat, packaged goods, olives, and whole and ground spices. Far off in a dim corner in the back of the store is the pastry counter — if you ever pay a visit (and you definitely should) don’t miss it! The prices were right on and the staff very helpful. I highly recommend you stop by the next time you are on Atlantic Ave near Clinton Ave, even if just for one of the cheese filled sweets. Yumm…

baba

baba ghanoush

Anyway, back at home we made a Bahraini baba ghanoush that we nibbled on with some pita as we prepared the main dishes: the machbous and a fish curry that I found here, which turned out to be no more than OK (I am of the opinion that the recipe wasn’t written very well). The machbous, I’m proud to say, was quite delicious.

fish_curry

fish curry

I cobbled the machbous recipe together from a few that I found online, here and here. It takes a little while, but the results are worth the wait.   We served it with dates and finished it all off with the fabulous pastries and an attempt at Bahraini coffee (we basically just added a dash of rosewater and green cardamom).

dates

Irani dates

Here is my machbous recipe.  Try it and let me know what you think!

2 lb lamb (I used the kind already prepared for stew)
1 tbs bahrat
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin powder
3 tbs olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
5 black cardamom pods
2 dried black lemons or limes, with hole punched in each
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 quarter-sized slices ginger, minced
4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tsp salt
4 cups water
2 cups basmati rice, washed in 3-4 changes water
3 tbs rosewater
2 tbs lemon juice

1. Mix together the bahrat, turmeric, and cumin. Spread all over lamb. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the onions until golden brown

3. Add the cardamom, dried lemons, cinnamon, and pepper. Stir well and cook for 3 minutes.

4. Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and salt. Stir well and cook for 3 minutes.

5. Cover the pot and cook for one hour.

6. Add the water and rice. Cook until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

7. Add the rosewater and lemon juice. Cook a few more minutes then serve.

Enjoy, but be careful not to bite into one of the dried lemons!  You’ll be in for a sour surprise.

machbous

machbous


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2 Responses to “Insane in the Bahrain”

  1. Esha Says:

    Hmm..this sounds good. (the machbous, I don’t really care about the fish curry). Although, I guess if I make it veggie, it’ll taste even more like biryani except with rosewater, bahrat, and dried lemons. Did you also get the dried lemons from the middle eastern store? I wonder how meyer lemons would go with it…not authentic, I know, but it might also taste good.

    i LOVE iranian dates. They’re awesome.

  2. confinednomad Says:

    Yes, I got the dried lemons there too! They give it a really nice flavor. An essential ingredient I think. Not sure about meyer lemons. Let me know if you try it.


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