A long time ago, when I used to study in Cardiff (yes, it almost seems like a fairy tale now- more than a decade back), I was fortunate enough to experience different cultures from across the world. Between two years in Cardff, I came across the Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Nigerian, Kenyan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Spanish, Greek, Nepali, Lebanese, Moroccan, the English ofcourse and many more students from other countries. That seriously expanded my thinking horizon and I did feel very privileged. Those were the days when travelling abroad had not become as popular as now, at least not in my circle of friends and family. Nowadays, everyone travels extensively and hence are able to savour the world. What was most enlightening was the food and how, no mater what or where we go, we relate very closely to food that resembles our own. Most of us Indian students, especially the carnivores, doted on Middle Eastern food, particularly the doner kebab.
This was long before shawarma had become a neighborhood takeaway joint in India. A vertical rotisseri covered in seasoned meat (mostly beef and sometimes lamb but never chicken) slowly scrapped on to a thermocol plate and then slathered with yogurt garlic sauce and topped with generous amount of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, onions and sumac. If you wanted, you could take the whole thing inside a pita bread. But I was always the one for more meat and less carbs. It was simply the most sensational and satisfying thing we could eat whenever we felt low or wanted to celebrate. Well, we actually did not need a reason to order for doner kebabs. The vegetarians had falafel but falafel never stood a chance in front of the mighty doner.
That early on I realised that even though the spices used in Middle Eastern cooking is the same as Indian cooking, the use of spice is limited to one or two in a particluar dish. Whereas, we use several spices in one dish to balance it. The food is primarily very meaty, yet very light on the tummy. The same was the experience when Anindya and I, along with my siblings and extended family went to Turkey for a holiday. Food was our focus in Turkey and we practically lived on meat. There also, I realised how simple the dishes were. Every ingredient used in a dish would shine through. The kebabs were mildly flavoured and the use of lime and herbs were extensive. I brought home a jar of sumac seeds (the only spice which perhaps, I would not get in Kolkata) and very often use it to season grilled food at home. I understood the cooking of meats with the least amount of spices, keeping in tact the original flavour.
Since our Turkey travels, we have had several Middle eastern influences in our kitchen. And to be honest, both of us enjoy it.
Majbous is our latest encounter and it turned out brilliant. I am one of those people who love to cook and praise oneself. Can’t help it!!
Majbous is essentially a lamb and rice dish cooked in almost all Middle Eastern countries. The essence is the same however, the cooking method may vary from place to place. I got this recipe from The Arabian Cookbook by Chef Ramzi Choueiry, who is also known as ‘the smiling chef’ . This particular recipe is from UAE. Although I did not completely stick to the recipe, the essence remains the same. Majbous uses lamb pieces on the bone. I did use mutton keema as well, since there was not enough mutton pieces in my pantry. A few minor changes here and there and my version of Majbous was ready.
One complete dish, very similar to a biryani, since it requires cooking of two or three elements and then assembling them. Also being a rice and meat dish cooked in ghee and loaded with caramelized onions and served with simple yogurt or raita, it can be an alternative to a biryani.
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Majbous and our love for Middle Eastern Food
- 500 gms minced mutton
- 250 gms mutton pieces with bones
- 2 cups basmati rice uncooked
- 4 large onions
- 8 nos cloves
- bunch coriander and parsley The recipe asked for bunch of herbs (i used these)
- 1 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
- 1/2 cup golden raisins soaked in water
- 10 tbsp Ghee
- 4 nos green cardamoms
- 2 tbsp rose water
- 2 pinches Saffron
- 1 1/2 tbsp grated lemon peel
- 2/3 cup roasted almonds
- In a pressure cooker, take the minced meat as well as the ones with bones, chopped herbs, cloves, one large onion cut into quarters, 3 cups of water and some salt and pressure cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the meat is tender.
- Alternatively, you can just use a large pot of boiling water and cook for a little longer time and achieve the same consistency of the meat.
- While the meat is cooking, finely slice the rest of the onions. Also soak the saffron in the rose water and keep aside.
- Soak the rice in water for about 1/2 hour.
- In a frying pan, take about 4 tbsp of ghee. When it is hot, add 4 split green cardamoms and then the sliced onions. Let the onions caramelise and turn into a beautiful golden brown colour.
- At that point, add the chickpeas, raisins (discard the water), lemon peel and season with some salt. Give it a good stir and fry for 3 - 4 minutes and turn off the heat and keep it aside for final assembly.
- By this time your meat should be cooked. Use a collander to strain out the meat and keep the broth for cooking the rice.
- Drain the water from the rice and put the rice in the pot you would be cooking in. Add the stock or the broth from the cooked meat. For 2 cups of rice you would need 4 cups of liquid. So use more water if required.
- Add the saffron and rose water in the same pot. Check the seasoning and add more salt if required.
- Then cook over low heat till the rice is ready. I used a rice cooker for cooking (I find it convenient without having to check on the rice).
- While the rice in cooking, take a frying pan and add the rest of the ghee. Heat the ghee and fry mutton pieces and the minced mutton till they are dark and caramelised.
- Once the rice is done, it is all about assembling. Spread the rice on a serving tray. Top with the chickpea filling and then the browned meat.
- Garnish with roasted almonds split in two.
- Serve immediately with some yogurt or raita on the side.