Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Until recently, Bahrain would only get mentioned on Australian news if they were playing in a world cup qualifier against us (we are 2 from 2 I believe) or hosting the Formula One Grand Prix. However, since February Bahraini's have engaged in mass civil unrest known locally as the 'Lulu Revolution,' named after the Pearl Monument where the protesters gathered (I don't get it either). I was largely unaware of the human rights abuse and 'apartheid' like policies against the Shia majority that is systemic in Bahrain. The heavy handed crackdown against protesters even targeted bloggers so I am certainly thankful I can write my drivel without fear of condemnation.

Given the lack of coverage we receive of Bahrain, my general ignorance of the nation can be excused. I don't consider myself ignorant on the whole; in fact I regularly make a valuable contribution to the Flying Camels pub trivia team. I can tell you the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, but until recently I was unaware that Bahrain was an archipelago of 33 islands. Ironically, Australian's are always on their high horse about the ignorance that other nations citizens have of Australia. We laugh to think of the travellers to our shores who believe we ride kangaroos down the street (we eat them instead), or that we are all named Bruce. Yet here I was, picturing Bahraini people as oil magnates in dark sunglasses and white turbans (I apologise for this 'three B's* view of Bahrainis). As it turns out, Bahrain produces less oil than New Zealand, and has diversified it's economy to be counted as one of the fastest growing and freest banking and financial sectors in the Middle East. 

The Bahraini dish I decided to cook is called 'Machboos'. The name 'Machboos' sounds exotic in itself, and the list of ingredients nearly caused me to throw in the towel before I started. Nevertheless I steeled my nerve, with the image of my fellow bloggers scoffing machboos on the barricades in my mind, and I bravely press on.

I have mentioned that I come from a small town, and sometimes when I request an unfamiliar ingredient I am met with a vacant stare from health food and herb shop alike (these blank looks often seem suspiciously drug assisted). Machboos threw up quite a few of these hurdles:

Bahrat: This is a commonly used spice mix in the middle east, however nobody in Murwillumbah seemed to stock it. A quick google search provided the recipe, although I post this with an authenticity disclaimer given the source was the Better Homes and Gardens website, not altogether renowned for it's expertise on middle eastern cuisine.
2 1/2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon pods
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I made only as little as I needed for my machboos however all the ingredients are dried spices so you could easily store for later.

Rosewater: I am sure I could have found rosewater in one of the stores in town but lazily, I opted for the 'rosewater essence' from the supermarket. This was the flavour that, in my opinion, really made the dish and if I were to have my time again I would definitely suggest using the real thing.

Dried Black Lemon: The most bemusing ingredient I have come across. Nobody had a clue what I was talking about when I asked for it, however common it may be in Bahrain. I can picture a turban clad merchant peddling these little black shrivelled citrus' on a dusty bazaar corner. I blame the awesome brainwashing power of Disney's Aladdin for this repeated racial stereotyping. Incidentally, I replaced this ingredient with lemon zest out of necessity. I have no idea whether it comes close to the flavour of the real deal and would love to hear from anyone more learned on the topic.

* The three B's refer to the stereotypical view many Westerners have of Arab and Muslim people being either Bombers, Belly dancers or Billionaires.


1kg Lamb. I used a leg of lamb which I attempted to butcher myself with mixed results. You can also use chicken or fish.

1 Tbsp Bahrat

1 1/2 Tsp Turmeric

1 Tsp Cumin powder

3 Tbsp Olive oil

2 Large onions, finely chopped

5 Black cardamom pods (I used 1 teaspoon)

2 Dried black lemons or limes, with hole punched in each (zest)

2 Tsp Ground cinnamon

1 Tsp Black pepper

2 Garlic cloves, minced

2 Slices ginger, minced

4 Tomatoes, coarsely chopped

2 Tsp Salt

4 Cups water

2 Cups Basmati rice

3 Tbsp Rosewater (if using essence like me only use 1 Tbsp)

2 Tbsp Lemon juice


Mix together the bahrat, turmeric, and cumin. Spread all over lamb. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the onions until golden brown

Add the cardamom, dried lemons, cinnamon, and pepper. Stir well and cook for 3 minutes.

Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and salt. Stir well and cook for 3 minutes.

Cover the pot and cook for one hour. I think this is where you are meant to add the lamb although the recipe I found forgot all about it!

Add the water and rice. Cook until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

Add the rosewater and lemon juice, stir and serve.

I really enjoyed this dish and the interesting and unfamiliar flavours that were involved. The picture doesn't do it justice so don't be put off (mine looks a little like Anzac biscuit mixture which would be equally delicious but hard to pass off as Bahraini). I am going to try to plate up a bit nicer in future (Sar has now taken over this role). Bil-hanā' wa ash-shifā'!

1 comment:

  1. Dude that looks nothing like Machboos.

    Check out the picture here: