Yesterday I was taken to buy saffron by my wonderful friend, Maryam Abdallah, Qatar’s first TV chef and a wonderful cook and educator. On the way, she gave me a wonderful tip on how to make sure I am buying real saffron which I thought I would pass on. Now, you probably don’t need to know this if you are buying saffron pre-packed by the gram but you better know it if you are going to buy saffron in industrial quantities the way they do in the souk. It’s very simple. All you need to do is ask the vendor for 3 or 4 threads of saffron which you put on your tongue and suck on for a few seconds. You then spit the threads out onto a clean tissue and rub them inside the tissue. If they colour it yellow, you know you are buying real saffron. If they colour it red, you are being sold coloured threads that have nothing to do with saffron. I wish my friend who recently brought me tons of saffron from Morocco knew this because he would have avoided buying a whole lot of fake saffron with only a few real threads in between for the smell! The top picture is of how they sell saffron here in Qatar, bunched up in ‘bouquets’ of 10 grams and below is a picture of my test to make sure I was not being sold fake saffron!
Yesterday, my great friend Reda sent me a clip of a belly dancer for my monthly feature all the way from Beirut. It was actually his father who had suggested her and even though she is pretty terrific, I felt she was a little vulgar for here. So, I trawled youtube looking for a more sober one but instead I came across a chorus of of mermaids belly dancing on the beach and luring men to their death with the sound of a derbakeh (or drum). The whole set up is preposterous and the dancers are not even that great; and if anything more vulgar than the one I spurned. Nevertheless, there is something irresistible about them in that seaside setting. Perhaps it is to do with my Sicilian plans that I warmed to them, or perhaps it is to do with the oncoming spring. Anyhow, I decided to go for them as my belly dancers for this month and I hope you will warm to this rather surreal choice as much as I have!
I have been neglecting the blog recently. Too many things happening and too many deadlines but today I decided to prepare for you one of my favourite dips, the Iranian answer to baba ghannuge where grilled aubergines are mixed with caramelised onions and garlic and instead of tahini, kashk or dried buttermilk that provides both creaminess and tartness. A very interesting ingredients which you can buy in Persian shops either dried or already reconstituted in jars. I used the latter. And instead of drizzling the dip with olive oil, Persians use the much more luxurious saffron water as garnish together with a little of the caramelised onions and chopped walnuts which you can toast lightly to enhance their flavour.
I am very late with my belly dancer this month but it actually works out because I am going with today’s Valentine theme and giving you an incredibly charming Shammi Kapoor relating the story of how he fell madly in love with a belly dancer (Samia Gamal?) when he was very young. You don’t see any belly dancing in the video, just a couple of pictures of the belly dancer (?) and a delightful Kapoor telling the story of life really, and missed opportunities. The other side of Valentine!