Arts & CultureFood

Cooking & Culture: Goat stew, aromatic spices and dates in Abu Dhabi

Hamdah Ghobash, a University of Oregon junior studying comparative literature, speaks nostalgically of the food made in her home in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is one of the country’s largest cities, seated on the northeastern part of the Persian Gulf. Bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman. The UAE is known for its oil production as well as its large cities like Abu Dhabi that attract millions of expatriates, nearly 80 percent of its population.

“I never thought much of the food made in my home until I moved away,” said Ghobash. Now, the distinct smell of Arabic coffee makes her feel at home.

The Arabic coffee she drinks at home is a bit more luxurious than what you might find at the campus Starbucks. Served in a small, espresso-style cup, it’s steeped with saffron and a bit of rosewater and is usually paired with dates.

Dates, Ghobash said, accounts for around 60 percent of the fruit and vegetable trade in the UAE. Normally used for adding sweetness to a dish or simply as a gift to guests.

The most common food staple in Abu Dhabi is rice, pronounced ‘aish.’ Like many other Asian countries, rice is eaten every day in Ghobash’s home and nearly all the UAE. Of the other things eaten regularly in her home, goat is a common meat in the Middle Eastern country. In a popular dish called Thareed, goat is stewed over layers of crispy flatbread.

In fact, goat is often a part of festive dishes during the two celebrations of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. As a part of this tradition, Ghobash said that people go to the farm and pick out their own goat.

In Ghobash’s culture, religion plays a large part in what her family eats.

“It’s encouraged in Islam to eat what God has given you, but within reason,” said Ghobash.

For example, because there is a surplus of livestock such as goats and sheep, they are acceptable to eat. In the same way, eating horse is frowned upon because the horse could serve a better purpose. Consequently, vegetarianism and veganism are hardly existent in the UAE.

“I can think of maybe one vegetarian Arabic,” laughed Ghobash.

Finally, in Emirati cooking, a wide array of spices is absolutely necessary. Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and turmeric are just a few of the culture’s staple spices.

If you want to try some Emirati food in Eugene, Ghobash recommends the Sunset Hut Rice Bowl and Biryani, a stand located on 12th Avenue and Kincaid Street.

If you’re feeling brave, try making this authentic recipe for Machboos, a one-pot dish of spiced chicken and rice. Be aware — you may have to bulk up your own spice cabinet for this one.

Machboos (Serves 4)

What you’ll need:

1 tablespoon curry powder, medium or hot
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon paprika
4 cardamom pods
4 cloves
5 black peppercorns
1/4 tablespoon crushed dried lemon
1 cinnamon stick, broken into a few pieces
4 teaspoons cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
4 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 chicken stock cubes
1 whole skinned chicken, cut up
3 cups water
14 ounces (1 3/4 cups) basmati rice

What to do:

1. Mix curry powder, bay leaves, paprika, cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns, lemon juice and cinnamon stick in a small bowl.

2. Brown the chopped onions with cooking oil in a large pot at medium heat, adding the bowl of spices part way through. Mix together well.

3. After one minute, add the garlic, tomatoes, chicken stock cubes and chicken. Fry the chicken until its outside appears cooked, then continue to fry on medium for four minutes after.

4. Add the water and continue to let the mixture simmer until the meat is cooked fully. Add salt as needed.

5. Add the rice and turn up heat to a boil, stirring every two minutes for about five minutes. Then, bring the heat down low to a simmer, stirring every so often as the rice absorbs the water.

6. When the water is gone, taste the rice to make sure it’s cooked. If not, add a splash of water and continue to let it simmer until fully cooked.

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Lindsay McWilliams

Lindsay McWilliams