I hear the weather is rather sad in Europe. Cold and wet in Paris, the same in London and just as cold in Milan. I can’t say that I am loving Dubai but at least it is summer here, with a lot of fresh produce and herbs piled in the markets including purslane (baqleh in Arabic), one of my favourite herbs.
Despite the trend towards global ingredients, purslane remains little known in the west. Perhaps because it is fragile. The leaves bruise easily and you need to be careful handling it. I don’t normally wash it. Instead, I just wipe off any earth delicately with kitchen paper. And I have to admit that I very rarely buy it in London looking as fresh as it does in the pictures above and below. And I certainly cannot pick up as much of it as I want and just stuff it in a bag, as in the display here. Middle Eastern shops have the herb neatly bunched up and I often have to discard part of the bunch because the stalks are too tightly packed resulting in some of the leaves ending up spoiled.
It’s green almonds season again. In full flow now but they were really expensive at the beginning — I paid $7 for 200 g about a month ago in Beirut which is a large amount of money for so little. Fortunately, when I went to Damascus a couple of weeks later, they were more plentiful and cheaper of course, and a lot larger too.
fine couscous: on the left before adding water to fluff it & on the right after adding the water but before the first steaming. It will fluff up even more after the 1st steaming, adding more water, then the second steaming
The last guest post by my lovely friend Charles Perry on when camel meat was fashionable was such a success that I asked him if he would do another one and I asked if he would write about how far back in history he can trace couscous. I reckoned that it would very interesting to know given how popular couscous is and what a global ingredient it has become. So, here is Charles’ post, followed by two recipes, one for how to steam couscous, and another for the seven vegetable broth to serve with it. I like to make mine without meat and I often use baby vegetables for a nicer presentation but you may not find these easily.
“Look up the word for couscous in a couple of dozen Berber dictionaries and you’ll be surprised how many ways there are of pronouncing the basic Berber name for it, seksu. (If you’re a linguist, you’ll also wonder exactly how seksu could have become the Arabic kuskusu.)
Couscous is the North African staple food, of course. In some places the word for it is just the local word for food in general, utshu or tt’am. A larger variety of couscous is called by the Berber name berkukes, which has a prefix meaning “large,” or by the Arabic word muhammas, which means “made to resemble chickpeas.”
I love Pakistani food, but it is not often that I can have it well prepared. The Lahore Kebab House in London has expanded and is no longer as good as it used to be and Salloo’s is too expensive and too far from where I live. And I can’t go to Karachi (where I had fabulous food last year) every day, or even every year.
Luckily, I happen to be in Dubai where my brother, a fine gourmet, lives and he seems to have the best addresses. Today, he took me for lunch to Barbecue Delights, a rather charmless restaurant in an equally charmless part of town but where the cooking is just perfect. As usual, we ordered far too much: raita and salad before anything, then chicken tikka, mutton ribs, lamb chops to start, followed by lamb biryani, potatoes, spinach, daal, and kulfi to finish.
Every dish apart from the lamb chops (tough and not so tasty) was scrumptious but my favourite was the mutton ribs. They reminded me of my mother’s dale’ mehshi (ribs stuffed with rice and minced meat). After lunch my brother showed me where he lived, on the 41st floor of a tower opposite the DIFC overlooking a good chunk of Dubai and the sea. Sadly, the light was not so good but the photograph below gives you an idea of how amazing the place is. I guess there are some consolations to being here.
Near Lamcy Square, Oud Metha, Dubai, Tel: +971 4 335 9868 or 9870