Saturday 24 July 2010

Mandhi cooking

Further to our Saudi odyssey, I am exploring Saudi food right now. When some people move to foreign climes, they learn rthe language. Me? I learn the food. I have got Khabsa coming along, so it was time for me to turn my hand to Mandhi. Mandi is usually cooked in a pit in the ground, but that's a wee bit difficult in the 'burbs.

Noor, over at Ya Salam (which means "Oh, WOW!" in Arabic)) has an awesome smoking technique that adds the most amazing depth to the dish.

1 chicken cut into 4 pieces or 1 lamb fillet/backstrap
2 tablespoons Manhdi spice mix (2 tablespoons cardamon pods, 2 tablespoons cloves, 1 whole nutmeg, 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, 4 bay leaves, processed to a fine crumb in a coffee grinder)
1 teaspoon salt

1. Rub spice and salt all over meat. Allow to sit for 30 mins and then bake in a hot oven until chicken is cooked or lamb done to medium rare.

1-1/2 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small tomato, finely chopped and removes all the seed
1 cinnamon quill
4 whole cloves
6 black peppercorns
3 cups chicken stock (or just enough that about an inch is above the rice)

2. Next, Saute onion with butter until tender and brown, add whole spices, salt, rice, water, stir, boil then add chopped tomato, simmer cover, cook on a very low heat for 20 minutes.

3. After the meat and rice is cooked, arrange meat on top of rice and smoke.

You need to watch Noor's video to get the smoking technique! It's awesome!

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Everything I know about life, I learned from Ferris Bueller

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. —
Ferris Bueller

For those of you who haven't heard. Furry got the job in Saudi Arabia. Got home from Dubai on Friday with nothing on the table. Got an email from a PNG contact on Friday afternoon. WAS flying out to take up the PNG role on Monday, but got an offer from Saudi on Sunday.

"When Cameron was in Egypt's land...let my Cameron go" - Cameron Frye

And while it's not quite Egypt's land, it's pretty freakin close to it! So far my research has thrown up the way to survive Saudi is to get out often, and the money they're offering makes that so very doable. There are four-wheel drive tours into Qatar, cheap flights to Cairo or Rome, all sorts of things to do.

"My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious."- Simone

The serious stuff is pretty damn serious. Gender segregation, wearing abayas, living under Sharia law. Nothing to be sneezed at, but everyone we know whose been there says that the biggest threat is the boredom. Compound living makes the transition somewhat easier, and while Furry's working away, I'll do what I do best.. and that's network.

"The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude".- Grace.
I've already got myself invited to a coffee morning, and have several numbers for my new Saudi phone, when I get it. For me to survive over there, I need to have people to play with. And just like our time in PNG, I've already made contact with some other wives over there. And at the end of the day, we're not the first wide-eyed Westerners to do it. If other people have gone to Saudi and survived, we can do it, to.

"Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me." Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I'd still have to bum rides off people. " - Ferris Bueller

I was a bit worried about not being able to drive, until I realised that in Saudi they drive on the US side of the road. Bugger that.. I'll have me a driver, thanks, or take the compound bus. After 2 weeks in Florida, driving on the other side of the road, my head hurt. And that was just as a passenger. The Sharia law is also a worry, but I promise you all, that I won't get deported for distributing feminist literature. There's too much at stake here. And JUST like PNG, we're going to think globally and act locally. Of we can affect empowerment in one single other human being, then we've done out job. And one needs to move away from the First World-centric notion of empowerment for that statement to make sense.

Look, to all my nay-sayers.. and there ARE a few of them, it's a BIG move.. big in all sorts of ways. Culturally, economically, spiritually... but the rewards are so very worth it. Financial freedom by 50. Getting to experience one of the great cultures of the world, being within 5 hours of Europe. And the food.. Man, I am going to be living near a spice souk!! All that Kabsa I can poke down with a stick! Weekends in Dubai. And what my nay-sayers have to remember is that Furry and I are FAR from idiots. We've done our ground work, we've spoken to people with hands-on experience in Saudi... specifically Riyadh.. we're aware of the issues, both good and bad, and as adults, we're making an informed, rational and educated choice.

Oh, and Nurses over there are in HUGE demand and earn a freakin MINT!! Hello, a week long holiday in a villa in Tuscany. Hello, a garden tour of Lucca! Hello, a week in an Algarve B&B

"Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive. " - Ferris Bueller.

So, my dear readers, very soon, AGITK will be coming to you LIVE from Saudi! Stand by for further adventures!

Wednesday 14 July 2010

I'm like a baracuda with ADHD

Yes, I KNOW I said I was on a Middle Eastern thang, but seriously,sometimes all someone has to do is wave something bright and shiny in front of me and KAPOW.... my tangential brain skewers off in a random and new direction.

Middle East Mindy cooking which WAS on the hob for dinner last night, got put on the..err... back burner because the very delicious Jules from Stone Soup and the equally moorish Kathryn from Limes & Lycopene tempted me via a random tweet.

I intercepted a tweet about salt and vinegar potatoes. Not chips, potatoes.

Now my love for all things crunchy and salty and starchy is well known. But add vinegar into the mix and you had me at white/malt/apple/cider.

I was one of those weird kids who drank vinegar out of the bottle. One of my favorite smells is a slow boiling pot of balsamic vinegar, with maybe a star anise and a cinnamon quill.

So, as much as I was planning practicing my Mandi smoking technique, I had no option but to be culinarily kidnapped by these two enablers and just HAD to try the recipe.

Please note, my camera in in transit, on its way to Dubai, as we speak, so this is an old stock photo. But last night's end result was almost identical to the header pic for this post. But the smell, oh god.. the glorious, GLORIOUS SMELL! Go out and buy a packet of Kettle Chip Slow Cooked Sea Salt and Balsamic Vinegar Chips. Sit in front of this post, open on your computer. Close your eyes. Put the bag of chips close to your face. Open the packet, stick your schnozz in the bag, inhale deeply and open your eyes.

THAT"S what they tasted like.

Cut 8 waxy potatoes into slices. I used tiny Dutch Creams, almost chat size, and cut them not into slices, but into chucks.

Place them in a medium saucepan and cover fully with vinegar. I used a small bottle of white wine vinegar and some mirin to add a touch of sweetness.

Bring to the boil and cook for 5 mins, until JUST fork-tender.

Allow to cool in the vinegar.

Remove from liquid and dry on a clean tea towel.

Place in a single layer in a baking dish, liberally dotted with duck fat.

Place in a hot over (200c) and cook for 5 mins until the duck fat has melted. Toss potatoes until covered in duck fat.. you want them nice and glossy. Sprinkle liberally with flaky salt and fresh pepper. Return to oven and cook for a further 20 mins, shaking the pan frequently.

Potatoes should be nicely browned all over, with luscious crunchy bottoms.

Serve with a roasted free range chook with a handful of thyme and an orange up its bum.

Monday 12 July 2010

Chicken Kabsa

For various reasons that may become apparent later this week, I am on a middle Eastern cooking kick at the moment.

Perhaps it's a reaction to my recent American Odyssey, who knows but I am exploring food beyond the usual baba ghanoush, falafels and borghul. I am attempting to cook for my family for a whole week without using bacon or any pork products. Unfortunately, World's Best Son, the Lima Bean has also developed my hideous reaction to pork and pork products, and we're trying to cut down on our reliance of bacon and its fatty goodness.

Enter, Kabsa.

Wiki says:

Kabsa (Arabic: كبسة‎) is a family of rice dishes that are served mostly in Saudi Arabia — where it is commonly regarded as a national dish — and the other Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Kabsa, though, is believed to be indigenous to Yemen. In places like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait the dish is popularly known as Majboos (Arabic: مجبوس‎) or Machboos (Arabic: مكبوس‎), but is served mostly in the same way.

These dishes are mainly made from a mixture of spices, rice (usually long-grain basmati), meat and vegetables. There are many kinds of Kabsa and each kind has a uniqueness about it. Pre-mixed Kabsa spices are now available under several brand names. These reduce preparation time but may have a flavour distinct from traditional Kabsa. The spices used in Kabsa are largely responsible for its taste; these are generally black pepper, cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, black lime, bay leaves and nutmeg. The main ingredient that accompanies the spices is the meat, such as chicken, goat, lamb, camel, or sometimes beef, fish, and shrimp. In chicken machboos, a whole chicken is used. The spices, rice and meat may be augmented with almonds, pine nuts, onions and raisins. The dish can be garnished with hashu (Arabic: حشو‎) and served hot with dakkous (Arabic: دقوس‎) — home-made tomato sauce.

Meat for Kabsa can be cooked in various ways. A popular way of preparing meat is called Mandi. This is an ancient technique, whereby meat is barbecued in a deep hole in the ground that is covered while the meat cooks. Another way of preparing and serving meat for Kabsa is Mathbi, where seasoned meat is grilled on flat stones that are placed on top of burning embers. A third technique, Madghoot, involves cooking the meat in a Pressure cooker.

Alas, I don't have access to Mandi cooking holes, so I followed the recipe (see below) and when I removed the chicken from the sauce, before I added the rice, I threw it in a blazingly hot oven for about 10 mins to crisp it up. I omitted the raisins, added a splash of rose water and used slivered almonds.

Good tucker!

Chicken Kabsa

Chicken kabsa is one of the most popular dishes in Saudi Arabia. It is considered a staple.

  • 1 2/12 - 3 pound chicken, cut into eight pieces
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1 (12 ounce) can tomato puree
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 medium carrots, grated
  • Grated rind of one orange
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • Sale and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound long grain rice
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds


Sautee onion in oil until it begins to brown. Add chicken pieces, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and garlic and stir for about five minutes over low heat. Stir in three cups hot water, grated carrot, orange rind, spices, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, covered, about 20-25 minutes, until chicken is done.

Remove chicken. Set aside to keep warm. Stir rice into the liquid inthe pan, and cook, covered over low heat for about 35 - 40 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.

Put rice on a serving platter with chicken pieces arranged around the circumfrence. Toss raisins and almonds over all.

Serves: 6

recipe from

Thursday 8 July 2010

"American food"

American food is obviously bigger than the sum of its parts. I get that. It's like trying to define Australian food by eating only a Four 'N' 20 and a Chokito. And I am aware that I was in The South, the home of deep fried coke, but I have got to say that most of the meals I ate in Florida defeated me with the sheer size.

Now, as most of you know, I am pretty good on the fang, but as you can see from the above breakfast shot, the Yanks do it BIG.

The above pic was a small serve of corn beef hash and eggs. And, as you can plainly see, it came with toast, several slices of thick, hot ham, toast, sweet butter and apple sauce. AND a hash brown. The actual corned beef hash is peeking out under the ham, to the left of the toast in the pic.

AND, the hash had been served into patties and fried.

One of the first problems I encountered was the American idea of appetizers. In my feeble, jet lagged brain, I thought of small plates of tasty nibbly bits to whet my appetite. This was also promoted by the fact that after the Appetizer section of the menu, comes the Entree.

Erm. No.

Appetisers and entrees and entrees are mains.

And appetizers are freaking HUGE.

I ordered an appetizer of fried green tomatoes, naively thinking I'd get a wee tapas-like taste.


I got 4 whole sliced tomatoes. Deep fried and covered with cheese and salsa. Absolutely delicious, bit terrifying when I realised that I had also ordered another "appetizer" and an entree while I searched vainly for "mains"

That first night in Florida, I ate for Africa. I ate for King and country. I ate for my very reputation. Like a foie gras goose, I was pushing those last little bits of seared tuna with wasabi mayo, and those blackened grouper cheeks down with a stick.

And the other cah-WAAAZY restaurant thing I took a while to get my head around, was the sheer amount of choices.. both in supermarkets and restaurants.

Would you like fries, soup or salad with that? (Soup? With a sandwich?) White, brown, multigrain, farmers grain, rye or sourdough? Toasted or fried? Butter or mayo? Dressing with your salad, ma'am? Ordering a Coke became a battle of wills to see who would crack first. Cherry? Vanilla? Diet? Ice? Lemon?

Invariably, everyone I met was amazingly polite, but the number of choices and decisions I had to make simply to get a salad sandwich and a Coke, left me feeling quite wan.

I went to the supermarket (and yes, they do actually have Piggly Wiggly's in Florida!) and stared like a numpty at a whole aisle devoted to more than 30 TYPES (not brands) of Cranberry juice. Low-fat, added fibre, Cran-apple, Cran-respberry, Diet Cran, Sugar-free Cran.. the list went on and on.

Later in my trip, a bucket of steamed shrimp (no, that is not a typo.. I mean it.. a BUCKET of banana prawns) was ordered in the vain hope of consuming something neither fried nor covered in condiments.

I admit to developing a penchant for chips and ranch dressing while I was away, but only Lay's Kettle Chips, any other chip I tried was just too salty... like cave-your-mouth-in-seawater salty.

I was fed fried green tomatoes and cheese grits with boiled salted ham for breakfast, by two Southern Belles called Aunt Wee and Aunt Tee. I had iced tea, I ate a hotdog from a roadside diner. I had my very first coke slurpee, I ate a 7-Eleven Cherry pie, consumed mojhitos, Apalachicola fried oysters, soft-shell crab legs, Michelob beer and more.

And loved every damn mouthful!

Although, there was one thing I found, in a roadside gas station cum fast food joint, deep on 98, in the middle of the panhandle, that even I didn't attempt.

And no, they're not strange candies. They REALLY are what they say they are.