Finally, we’ve reached another country on our food journey that we’ve actually been to before: the United Arab Emirates. Between us, we’ve seen the inside of Dubai airport more times than we’d care to count, but we actually ventured out into the searing heat for a few days in April 2012. Dubai is a curious city of simultaneous excess and restraint, which can actually probably be summed up by our two most memorable eating experiences there: all-you-can-eat brunch, and chicken shawarma.
The brunch was probably one of the most exciting meals of our lives and we are determined to experience it again one day. In fact, Dubai was our first thought for our honeymoon destination, largely inspired by the brunch at Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah. This afternoon-long ‘brunch’ is a smorgasbord of food so vast that you are given a map when entering. If we listed all the foods available, this entry would become so long that you’d all stop reading before you got to the actual recipe, but suffice to say that it included such delicacies as prawns, oysters, sushi and wagyu beef alongside an array of world cuisines like Indian, Mexican and Italian. And that’s just the beginning – not to mention the bottomless champagne and mojitos. We did feel incredibly sick after our few hours of culinary extravagance at Madinat Jumeirah, and probably didn’t really need that last wagyu burger… but it was totally worth it.
Our other foodie memory showed off the other side of Dubai, as we trekked around a less-than-salubrious neighbourhood for nearly an hour in search of one particular shawarma (a street food similar to what we know as a kebab). We’re definitely not the sort of travellers who stick to a Lonely Planet guidebook as a compulsory itinerary, but the Afghan Kebab House had had such a good write-up we thought we should make it our destination to experience this traditional dish, so one lunchtime we set off to find it. We tried a taxi, we tried asking shop owners, we tried to make sense of a map – but had no luck. Eventually, and pretty hungry by this point, we found Afghan Khorasan Kabab, and enjoyed a perfectly nice lunch of chicken shawarma with rice. Maybe not worthy of the raving in Lonely Planet, but still perfectly nice.
Then we walked out of Afghan Khorasan Kabab, and found the famous Afghan Kebab House RIGHT NEXT DOOR. So actually, maybe there are two reasons why we need to one day go back to Dubai.
Anyway, when choosing an Emirati meal for our cooking challenge, we reluctantly had to accept that recreating the Madanit Jumeirah brunch was probably beyond our (and our kitchen’s) capabilities. But shawarma: that, we could do. To be honest, it’s a little unclear whether it actually did originate in the UAE, because the countries in the Middle East have been so subject to change that it’s hard to define ‘traditional’ or ‘regional’, but it’s certainly a memory for us from our time there. It’s also hard to say what a traditional recipe is, but we liked the one we found on Sips and Spoonfuls, so we went with it. (With a bottle of Prosecco as a nod to the brunch.)
For the chicken:
2 good-sized boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup yoghurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
For the salad (use enough of these ingredients to make a salad to your taste and appetite):
Finely sliced lettuce
For the dressing (too much here for 2 people!):
1/2 cup yoghurt
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp chopped coriander
2 tbsp chopped mint
1. Marinate the chicken in all the other ingredients and set aside for an hour or so.
2. Heat a non-stick pan on medium-high and add the marinated chicken. (Recipe wasn’t clear whether or not to add the marinade as well – we did, and it was good.) Stir fry until the chicken has cooked through and is dry. Break up the chicken with a wooden spoon (we forgot to do this and it would have helped fit it into the bread later…)
3. Assemble the salad and dressing in two separate bowls by mixing all of the ingredients together.
4. To assemble the shawarma, heat the pita bread on a skillet to warm it. Divide the salad amongst the bread and top the salad with the chicken. Drizzle the dressing over the chicken and add a dash of Tabasco sauce. Roll tightly and tuck in!
Although this seems to have an enormous list of ingredients (ok, it does have an enormous list of ingredients), it really wasn’t difficult to make. Fiddly, perhaps, because there was quite a bit of prep involved, but not difficult. And it was really good! A perfect, lazy Saturday night dinner in front of a film (though, strictly speaking, it was probably held back from perfection by the fact that we chose the Syfy channel remake of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ as the film). So, would we make it again? Yes! The flavours were terrific. We just need to sort out our taste in movies first.
Next, we’ll cook our last Middle Eastern meal before moving across to the Indian subcontinent, which means that the next challenge will be Miranda resisting buying Persiana just for the sake of one Iranian meal…