Let’s rub the glitter of the New Year out of our eyes and spend this week feasting on Saudi Arabia. If, perhaps, you over-indulged during the evening’s festivities, this alcohol-free country will be apropos. Dotted along her sandy slopes and rubble-tumble mountains, from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, we find groups of people sipping on hot tea, enjoying richly spiced lamb stews, and riding camels. But let’s not stop there… My friends, we also find groups of people zooming along in cars, processing petroleum fields, and eating pizza.
Or shall I say… “pizza”…
This is a land of duality. Take this “pizza,” for example. Otherwise known as Aysh abu Laham, we’re talking spiced flatbread topped with lamb, spring leeks, and lemon-tahini sauce. This dish, like much of Saudi Arabia, has elements of the familiar (hello, pizza shape), but taste entirely different to a westerner (goodbye tomato sauce; this is all about fennel, black cardamom, and tahini). Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still find Domino’s in Saudi Arabia… but in people’s homes, it’s all about tradition.
While some gather around dining tables, others enjoy their meals on low tables or floor mats and eat with the right hand. Family culture is strong, and nowhere is this more apparent than at dinnertime. As explained to Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations, families are spared the company of single guys in restaurants, and even a solitary booth can be shuttered for a family’s privacy. (Incidentally, the show also draws attention to a distinct population that love camel’s milk and even camel meat – though it seems the youth aren’t clamoring after these traditional eats with the same enthusiasm as their elders).
Looking for a bit of rice? Try one Saudi favorite, kabsa with chicken, raisins, almonds, fennel, ginger, or maybe cumin. On the side, nibble a tomato, cucumber, and onion salad. For breakfast, buckle up to ful medames, a dish we already made for our Egyptian Global Table.
Thirsty? Aside from the wonderful teas and cardamom coffee, you might enjoy a yogurt drink which will keep you cool during the scorching hot days (we actually made something similar before). Speaking of yogurt, what about a yogurt and barley soup?
Finally, there’s poetry in the sweets. Want cake? No problem, as long as you enjoy the sweet perfume of rose water and orange blossom water. Each bite tastes like a garden, or deep, true love. Or perhaps you’d rather enjoy the haunting tease of cardamom in cookies… either way is grand.
As we enter this New Year, let’s enjoy a little Saudi proverb:
“There are some who make a dome out of a grain.”
a.k.a. There are some who make a mountain out of a molehill.
What will you make with your grain in 2013?