Where we're going this evening - Oman
A trip to the middle east tonight, to the sultanate of Oman.
My knowledge of all the countries that make up the Arab world in the Middle East is a bit on the hazy side, and I tend to lump them together as being all extremely dry, extremely rich, and extremely un-democratic - let's see if I'm right here.
First up, Oman is pretty sparsely populated - the sultanate is a bit bigger than the UK, but only has about 5% of the population, a quarter of which lives in the capital Muscat on the north east coast. And why are so many people living in the capital? Because the landscape is pretty inhospitable. In fact, with temperatures averaging nearly 29 degrees C, and the annual rainfall only 4", I'd be living in the city with air conditioning as standard too.
A moderate bunch, the Omanis (relative to the rest of the region) - despite being an absolute monarchy (a one man, one vote system - the Sultan is the man, he has the vote), there is a parliament which does have at least some legislative powers.
Actually, despite all those unfriendly mountainous gravel-desert baking hot regions, Oman does have a decent bit of coastline, so fishing does provide a proportion of income along with tourism, and of course, the oil.
For once, it was not the Brits who had a crack at planting a flag half way around the world when stumbling across someone else's land, but the Portuguese, who occupied Muscat for some 150 years, building an impressive fortress, still standing today, 500-odd years later.
Despite the unrest in the region which has affected so many middle eastern countries in the past twelve months or so with greater democracy demanded (and in this case rather squashed by the authorities, albeit with a few concessions to people power), Oman is rated as quite stable within the region, and well developed.
I can't do you much in the way of famous Omanis, but fact of the day just has to be that according to the Times Online, Oman is home to the world's only camel-backed bagpipe military band. Goodness!
So whilst we are all boggling over that little gem, let's say marhaba to the good people of Oman...
The main religion in Oman is Islam, so we aren't expecting much in the way of pork going on here.
The cuisine is varied, but with rice and meat (often marinated) usually served. I plumped for a pasta based dish, though - with mince and tomatoes, oddly similar to a bolognase sauce but with cinnamon giving the dish a twist.
Desserts are on the sticky persuasion with dates and honey big favourites - dates not so much with me, however (yuk!), so I've gone for a doughnut based recipe, fried in oil and served dipped in honey.
Macaroni Bechamel - recipe from desitwist.com
Cook a good portion of macaroni and set aside. Brown the same amount of mince & add chopped onion & garlic; tomato sauce, parsley, oregano, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and some water. Simmer for 10 mins or so. Meanwhile make a bechamel sauce with butter, flour, milk and a stock cube, stirring until thick, smooth and creamy.
Mix two thirds of the sauce with the macaroni, then pour half the macaroni/sauce into the bottom of a deep dish. Layer the meat, then the rest of hte macarni/sauce. Top with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Bake in a high over for half an hour.
Luqaymaat - recipe from desitwist.com
Beat together flour, milk, sugar, melted butter and egg, yeast and a little salt and ground cardamon. Cover and leave to rest for an hour. Stir, then scoop tablespoonfuls of batter into hot oil and fry the little balls until lightly golden. Drain well on kitchen paper, then drizzle with honey and serve.
And what have we learnt?
- Amazing how the addition of a couple of spices take this distinctly lasagne style of meat and pasta from Italy to the Middle East.
- If it looks rather like lasagne, I expect it to taste like lasagne, and it's a bit odd when it doesn't - so much of the taste of food is via the eyes.
- Reading the recipe ahead means that you can go some way to avoiding an unholy mess in the kitchen as well as personal injury. The doughnut batter was very sloppy - I was supposed to 'dampen fingers and scoop a tablespoon of batter with four fingers together then use your thumb to slide the batter in the hot oil'. I used a tablespoon - rather a lot of potential for disaster on many fronts there.
- Previous comment with regard to oil holding on to the last thing that was cooked in it still stands. The oil still has a fishy niff, as did the resulting doughnuts.
And out of 10?
- for the macaroni bechemal - a lukewarm 5/10 - if I had been expecting more of a sweet cinnamon taste to the dish and less of a lasagne taste, I may have enjoyed it more. As is it was, I kept wondering why I couldn't taste more cheese with the mince and pasta (answer: there was none in the dish. D'oh!)
- For the luqaymaat - a so-so 4/10 - they were ok (if a bit on the fishy side when they came out of the pan, but they really do not lend themselves to hanging around to eat later, an experience akin to eating a fish flavoured cotton wool ball.