7
Feb

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Three years ago I was in Dubai filming a food/travel TV show for Abu Dhabi TV with the wonderful Tariq al-Mehyas. And the first thing I did when I got there was to spend 3 fabulous days in Sharjah as the guest of the brilliant Sheikha Bodour al-Qasimi who organised for me to cook with, or to be more accurate watch a group of lovely Emirati ladies cook Emirati dishes including the scrumptious lgeimat (saffron-flavoured fritters served drizzled with date syrup) you see in the picture above in the Sharjah Heritage House.

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Lgeimat are almost always part of breakfast in the Emirates as well as part of the fuwala, a word that describes various dishes offered to guests outside of meals which often include balalit (sweet-savoury vermicelli that are also served for breakfast) and western sandwiches and petits fours — I love the mix of traditional and western. Lgeimat are basically doughnuts but what makes them interesting is the saffron added to the batter as you can see in the picture above — the lady was using the finest Iranian saffron — and the date syrup that is traditionally drizzled over them.

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The batter is made with flour, a little sugar, water and yeast. It is quite firm and she tested it by lifting a little with a spoon to let it drop again at which stage she would decide whether to add a little more water in case she finds it too firm. Then she covered the batter and let it sit until risen and pockmarked with air bubbles all over. And in the time it sits, it absorbs both the colour and flavour of the saffron.

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When the batter was ready, the lovely lady put the oil to fry the lgeimat to heat and I settled on a stool across from her to both watch her mesmerizing technique, lifting just enough batter with her hand to make the right size lgeimat — they have to be large enough to be crisp on the outside and remain soft on the inside — never getting sticky fingers mainly because she dipped her fingers in water in between then pinching the batter off her fingers into a ball and dropping it into the bubbling oil.

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Once she dropped enough lgeimat into the pan — I wish I could have brought back some of those aluminium pans and strainers; they really look great — she stirred the fritters in the oil so that they coloured evenly.

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She served them as soon as they were ready, which was just as well. Lgeimat are best eaten soon after they come out of the fryer and been dressed with either a plain sugar syrup, preferably flavoured with saffron, or with the more traditional date syrup. The good news is that I am going back to Dubai in March to take part in the Emirates Literary Festival which I am very much looking forward to, doing various sessions including a lady’s lunch (Moroccan) and a question and answer session title ‘Life as a Modern Mezze’ with Alexander McNabb.

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Here is how you can make your own lgeimat with a recipe developed by Harrods’ wonderful pastry chef, Markus Bohr, when they were catering the food for Beyt Qatar during the Olympics. The proportions Marcus used were 1 kg flour, 1 litre water, 50 g sugar, 24 g fresh yeast, 12 g salt and a good pinch saffron. You mix everything well, let the batter sit until well risen then you fry the lgeimat either dropping them into the oil like my lovely Emirati lady or using a spoon which you dip in a little water before scooping the batter so that it doesn’t stick. Enjoy! I will report on my next lot of lgeimat as soon as I get to Dubai and have some!


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