Assignment 71: Saudi Arabia

SAR map.jpgLocation: Middle East
Population: 33 million
Capital: Riyadh
Geography: A desert nation with coastlines on the Persian Gulf and Red Sea
Language: Arabic
Signature flavours: Rice, cardamom, cinnamon, tomato, parsley, sesame, lamb

The Menu

I ordered a couple of cookbooks from the library for this assignment. One ended up being more focused on Lebanon, but the second book, the Arabian Nights Cookbook, yielded loads of Saudi dishes (among others — the book covers the whole Arabian Gulf area). I sought to build a balanced menu that showcased the variety of flavours of Saudi cuisine. I was very pleased with what I ended up choosing, as I felt it would all go together well.

SAR tabbouleh

Tabbouleh: A fresh parsley and tomato salad, made heartier with bulghur wheat, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Difficulty: 2/5

SAR ruz.jpg

Ruz bil Jambury (Saudi-Style Shrimp and Rice): Basmati cooked in tomato juice, loaded with buttery shrimp and onions, and spiced with Baharat, a blend of 11 spices.

Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Difficulty: 3/5

SAR cauli

Qarnabeet bil Kuzbara: Spicy cauliflower with chilli pepper, green onion, and paprika.

Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Difficulty: 2/5

SAR cookies

Ghurayba: Rich cardamom shortbreads garnished with blanched almonds and flavoured with a little orange blossom water. This recipe is found throughout the region, but is especially popular in Saudi Arabia.

Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Difficulty: 3/5

SAR tea

Saudi-Style Chai: Milky sweet black tea spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and fennel.

Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Difficulty: 1/5

The Shopping List

Bulk Barn was an essential destination for the spices for this assignment, including the Baharat mix, which is made up of sumac, black pepper, cumin, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, curry powder, ginger, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg. I was able to find all my other ingredients at our local supermarket.


The Meal

This was a particularly enjoyable assignment, in part because I felt I had time for everything. Typically when I am enjoying the cooking process, I forget to take pictures, and Eric has to keep shouting from the living room, “Are you taking pictures?” And I put down my wooden spoon and reply, “Oh, right.”

It’s hot in Toronto this week, with temperatures near 30 degrees celsius, so I made the cookies first, to get the oven component of the assignment over as soon as possible. These cookies are done completely by hand, from squishing the butter, to adding sugar and flour and spice, and pressing the little doughballs flat. The recipe was really good, and I will use it again for shortbreads of all kinds. The cookies were rich but not at all greasy, and firm without being crunchy. They were delicious dipped into our chai.

SAR parsley

The mark of a good tabbouleh, said the Arabian Nights Cookbook, is very well-minced parsley. “Take care and patience to chop the parsley as fine as possible,” read the instructions, and I did just that. Although, I probably could have gone even finer. The tabbouleh was tangy and refreshing, with a juicy crispness.

SAR shrimp

The shrimp and rice was the most time-consuming of my recipes, with 30 minutes at the end allocated for resting the dish in its own steam. It was not difficult, however, and the only adjustment I made to the recipe was to reduce the amount of water added to the rice by one third. The result was perfectly cooked, fluffy basmati. The shrimp were juicy and flavourful. I’ve been avoiding garlic lately, which the recipe did call for (I find garlic to be quite hard on my stomach), so I used a splash of garlic-infused olive oil, which added just the right garlicky kick.

I’ve never made a cauliflower dish for Wooden Spoon Wanderer, since Eric doesn’t like it much, but the picture that went along with the qarnabeet made me really want to try this one. Eric has found he likes cauliflower in curries, so I thought this spicy dish might surprise him. I used dry red chillies and a whole head of cauliflower. The dish had a pleasant heat, and Eric liked it. He’s even been eating the leftovers voluntarily.

I loved the Saudi-Style chai. It had deep notes of sweetness with lingering spice over the mild black tea flavour.

SAR table
Our spices “system”… If anyone has a good way to organize 4000 spices, please let us know. Our way is not working.


Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

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