This should be fun, I know it’s the only country in the word starting with the letter Q. I know it’s in the Middle East, I was fairly sure on the Arabian Peninsula. That was as far as it went. (image credit: maps.com via infoplease.com)
I was really excited once I did my little bit of reading; much like plenty of countries in the area (think Bahrain, UAE) it’s very progressive and modern in a lot of ways, think technology, infrastructure – however apparently only something like 11% of the population are Qatari and the rest are from elsewhere! Fascinating to think about when the country is ruled under strict Sharia law and governed by an absolute monarchy when so many of its population aren’t Qatari, or even Arab or Muslim at all. I imagine that to be an interesting mix, but let’s not get into that (image credit: getty images via cnbc.com).
It’s absolutely TINY (smaller than Vanuatu, or the US state of Connecticut, or for us Aussies – about 1/6th the size of Tasmania!!!!) but it’s sitting on the 3rd largest reserves of oil and gas in the world, and is the richest country in the world when looking at per capita income. I was hoping the cuisine would be equally rich (haha dad joke, right?) and wasn’t disappointed. Some of the best meals we’ve had on this journey so far are true ‘peasant food’, born out of a combination of seasonality, geography thrift and necessity, but have passed the test of time for a reason because they are so gosh darn comforting, nourishing and tasty. But sometimes it’s just nice to indulge and have something rich and satisfying you feel like a king eating it. We definitely did that this time around, and loved every bit of it. I was a little interested in this weird sweet, noodly dish with an omelette on top, but passed in favour of some more nourishing, meaty fare (image credit: theculturetrip.com)
The best thing for me about this week’s efforts were the company – we had my wife’s sister and parents here for the weekend and I decided that the food didn’t look too alien or threatening for them to give it a crack. They, like many Australians, especially from rural areas, love a good plate of meat-and-three-veg and find some foods exotic (or off-putting) that we younger, travelled city-slickers have grown accustomed to and now deem commonplace (I imagine Thai food and Chinese food went through phases in Australia where everyone thought the same) (image credit: qatarday.com)
As much as Qatar may as well be on Mars for them, and the names of dishes may as well have been etOy[out!xcVBoy@5kjsg, they were totally picking up what we were putting down when we called it “lamb stew with pasta”, “chicken porridge” (although that raised a few sceptical eyebrows) and “fried doughnuts with syrup”. Not everything we’ve encountered so far could be summed up so succinctly and the fact we could give the dishes relatable names meant we’d thought we’d throw them in the deep end and see how it went. I’m pleased to say it went well – our two year old SMASHED the chicken porridge down with glee, and everyone went back for seconds which tickled me pink.
So what was it?
Matazeez (lamb stew)
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 2L water
- 500g lamb pieces (shoulder would be preferable, but so long as there’s bone and fat it doesn’t matter because we’re slow cooking it)
- 2 onions, diced finely
- 1-2 hot green chillis
- 2 tomatoes, grated
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp Baharat*
- 2 loomi (dried limes – or go to an Asian grocer and get some Chinese sour plums instead and use two of these with a squeeze of fresh lime juice as an alternative)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 large florets of cauliflower (we used half a small cauli)
- 1-2 carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into thick rings
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
- 1 large zucchini, trimmed and cut into thick rings
- Fresh coriander to garnish
- Soften the onions over a low heat, for 5 mins or until soft.
- Increase the heat, add the meat, season with salt & pepper, add the Baharat and chilli and cook for about 5 min, or until the lamb is sealed and browned. If the spices start sticking to the pot while you do this, just throw a splash of water in to loosen it up.
- Add the tomato paste, then the grated tomatoes about a minute later. Add the loomi and 1.5L of the water. Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature so it’s just a simmer. Leave it for up to 1.5 hours.
- Now is the time to prepare the pasta / dumplings, then come back to this one
- Add the cauliflower and carrot with the remaining water, then bring it back up to full blast again. Once it’s boiling rapidly, drop the pasta in *gently* one disc at a time, stirring gently in between. The pot is probably quite full by now, but what I did was just push everything to one side and slip the paste down the gaps. It worked for me, but you can probably have it a bit wetter and serve it as a soup.
- Cook for 40 minutes (the dumplings should hold together and not turn to shit like normal pasta would after so long)
- Add the eggplant and zucchini for a final 20 minutes of cooking, before serving.
- Serve warm, with fresh coriander sprinkled over the top.
*Baharat is a spice blend. If you can’t get it, just google a recipe and whizz something up, it won’t take long but I just couldn’t be bothered, and I use Baharat in cooking anyway so I just bought some)
Dumplings for the Matazeez
- 2 cups flour
- Warm water
- 1 tsp oil, plus more for rolling.
- Sift the flour into a bowl, add enough water to make a firm dough. Allow to rest, covered with cling wrap for 30-40 minutes.
- Oil a flat surface and your rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a large sheet roughly 3mm thick. Use a round cookie cutter or a drinking glass to cut circle shapes out of it), then re-roll the leftover offcuts into another sheet and repeat.
This seems really weird, it’s kind of like a dip, kind of like a porridge, and nothing like either. We served it with some toasted flatbread and it was actually bloody good! The wheat had a really nice slightly sour nuttiness to it (like sourdough or rye bread) that the chicken and ghee went perfectly with. If you can’t get whole wheat, get some Bulghur, which is just cracked wheat, and you’ll end up with basically the same result. I also read that you can substitute the chicken for lamb, which I’m keen to try one day.
- 500g chicken thigh fillets, diced
- 1 cup whole wheat
- 2 cups water
- 1 chicken stock cube
- ½ cup ghee
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp toasted cumin powder
- 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Soak the wheat overnight, then drain and discard the water.
- Add the chicken, stock cube, soaked wheat and water in a pan and cook on low for 2 hours, stirring every now and then, especially towards the end when it gets thicker.
- Blend the mixture using a food processor until it forms a thick paste, then transfer to a serving bowl.
- Melt the ghee in a pan, then add the cinnamon, cumin and salt/pepper. Allow to infuse for a few minutes (the ghee might darken a little, which is fine), then pour it on top of the porridge itself. Garnish with coriander seeds and serve with flatbread.
I remember learning how to make a Caribbean syrup cake years ago, and the key lesson in the recipe was that if you’re going to soak cake (or cake-like substances) with syrup, the equation must be hot syrup + cooled cake OR cooled syrup + hot cake = success. They can’t both be hot, or it’ll just trickle through and become a mess, and they can’t both be cold, or it just won’t infuse. That principle applies here, so make sure you cool the syrup like the recipe says!
- 1 cup flour
- ½ tsp dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp cornflour
- ¾ cup warm water
- 1 Tbsp oil, plus oil for frying
- ½ tsp cardamom powder
- Pinch salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 4-6 dates
- Pinch saffron
- Sesame seeds to garnish
- Boil the sugar, water, dates, lemon and saffron together until the sugar is dissolved (don’t stir it).
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool
- Meanwhile, mix the flour, cornflour, yeast, water, oil and cardamom together to form a batter. Rest for one hour, or until it doubles in size.
- Heat the frying oil, then drop ½ Tbsp of batter in. Try to keep it round, but it’ll be super sticky and tricky to work with so expect some free-form doughnuts for sure…
- Because they float, you’ll need to turn them a few times to ensure they cook evenly.
- Allow to brown all over, then remove from the oil. Drain briefly on paper towel, then serve while hot.
- Pour the syrup over the top and sprinkle with sesame seeds.