Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Week 4: Bahrain

Bahrain is a small island country in the Middle East and barely a dot on the world map. I didn't even know it existed until 8 years ago, when I befriended a Bahraini girl at my university.

Last November, I had the opportunity to travel to Bahrain for work. The temperature that time of the year is perfect, still warm but not unbearably hot and humid.

Bahrain is considered one of the more moderate countries of the Middle East. But I admit I was still surprised to see many women dressed in burkas, and some women had only their eyes showing. It really made me feel out of place. I have been to a lot of countries where I am kind of the odd one out, but in the Middle East, I also worried about offending anyone with my Western ways. I made sure to dress conservatively in pants and long shirts, even though I would have preferred a tank top and shorts.

I took full advantage of time there to explore the city. I spent time at the beach, the mall, but I really loved going to the Souk (outdoor markets). The smells and colors hold your attention, and you lose yourself in the exotic and familiar. Windows filled with endless gold chains, watches, earrings, are next to shops selling open containers of spices. Both meant to rouse the desire of the window shopper. I ofcourse fell to temptation, and bought rose water, saffron, a woven tapestry and a traditional looking coffee pot.

The weekend in the Middle East is Friday and Saturday, so Thursday nights can get pretty rowdy. Saudis often drive over the bridge to Bahrain so they could get liquored up, since they can't buy liqur in Saudia Arabia, and drive around in their SUV's making a loud ruckus. Another reason why prohibiting liquor just doesn't work.

When I asked my friend for advice on what was typical Bahraini food, she said there wasn't a "typical Bahrain food". Food eaten there is similar to all foods in the Middle East, with only minor adjustments to the spices. So, I decided to make some Baba Ghanoush (also called baba ghanoog), hummos, tabbouleh, whole wheat pita, an aromatic festive bread with fruit compote and scented waters, and invite friends over to share the Mezze.

The last recipe -fruit compote with scented waters - I got from a book called Flatbreads and Flavors, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I am completely in love with this book right now. The last two weekends I have gone crazy making different flatbreads; pitas, Afghan Naan, and feleverai, to name a few. Not only does this book contain flatbread recipes from around the world, there are also entrees and appetizers that pair well with them, and of course I love their travels stories.

Baba Ghanoush, Bahraini Way
Source: Recipes Wikia
1 Large eggplant
2 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp of tahini
1/4 tsp of salt
1 Tbsp of lemon juice
125 ml of yogurt
3 Tbsp of olive oil
several pitted olives for garnish

  • Pre-Heat the oven to 200C or 400F place whole eggplant (pricked with a few holes to let the steam out) on a baking sheet and bake until the outer shell is crisp and the inside is soft and mushy (about 1 hour)
  • Let the eggplant cool, then remove and discard the skin and the green cap. Spoon the inside into a food processor or a blender.
  • Add garlic, tahini, lemon juice, salt and yogurt and purée until creamy. Spoon into a serving dish and garnish with olive oil and olives.
  • Serve cold or warm with pita.
Source: Arrowhead Mills recipe (on back of box of bulgur)
I reduced the amount of parsley to 2 cups instead of 3 the recipe called for, because 2 cups is more than enough.

1 cup of Bulgur Wheat
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup of olive oil
Dash of garlic powder
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cups of chopped fresh parsley
4 green onions, chopped with tops

  • Pouring boiling water over bulgur wheat and salt, cover bulgur for 30 minutes and let sit.
  • Stir the next three ingredients into bulgur and chill for 2-3 hours.
  • Add tomatoes, parsley, and green onions and gently toss before serving.
Fruit Compote with Scented Waters.
Source: Flatbreads and Flavors, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

1/2 pound of unsulfured dried apricots (around 2 cups)
1/4 pound of raisins (around 3/4 cup)
1/4 pound of prunes (around 3/4 cup)
2 Tablespoons of sugar, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups of water
1 tsp of rose water
1 tsp of orange blossom water
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

  • Rinse fruit quickly, and place in a nonreactive bowl.
  • In a small bowl, mix the sugar, water and rose and orange waters. Pour over the fruit and let stand for at least 24-48 hours, covered in a cool place or refrigerator.
  • Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice, and sprinkle more sugar if you wish.
  • Serve at room temperature with flatbread or soft white baguette.

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