I feel that Saudi Arabia is off-limits to me; it’s not somewhere that would welcome my visit. My mother went once, on a trade mission with the British Council. She erupted in western liberal fury at being forced to don a burqa to go through border control at the airport, and then spent the rest of her stay inside a heavily guarded Western compound in Riyadh, miserable, and barely saw any of the country at all. But she tells a great story of presenting at a mixed conference at which all the women were in burqas. After the presentations, the men went into a separate room for segregated networking and the women, once alone, whipped off their veils to reveal towering heels, tight designer jeans and immaculate makeup. Except one. Mother asked her why she chose to remain covered, and the woman responded, “Oh, I just really couldn’t be bothered to wash my hair!”
Kabsa is described as a Saudi favourite by every recipe author I’ve come across. It’s a simple and fragrant rice dish, and I decided to go with lamb as chicken-rice dishes are going to be pretty well represented through the length of this project, I think. It’s supposed to be done with the tougher cuts of lamb that respond best to a long slow simmer, using the cooking liquor to make the rice. I had some lamb stock in the freezer and other things to do this afternoon, so I decided to do it with chops instead and cut the total time down to about 40 minutes.
One onion, diced
One small clove of garlic, crushed
Two cardamom pods, lightly crushed
Half a stick of cinnamon
2/3 cup of basmati rice
Half a pint of hot lamb stock
A bay leaf
Four lamb shoulder chops
Handful of sultanas (more if you really like them, I guess)
Two handfuls of flaked almonds
Soften the onion and garlic in groundnut oil. Add the spices, salt and rice and stir. Pour in all the lamb stock and the bay leaf, turn the heat right down and put the lid on. Season the lamb chops with more salt and more turmeric, and heat some more oil in a frying pan. Fry the chops over a very high heat so that they are brown and caramelised on the outside. Add the sultanas and almonds to the rice and stir, and then add the browned chops to the rice. If you’re used to cooking rice via the reduction method then use your instincts. For those of you who, like me, aren’t, beware the temptation to add extra water to the rice. Mine came out a little wet. Flavour-wise it was good, and very middle eastern. We had a chunky green salad on the side to keep up on the five-a-day front.
Saudi Arabia was selected randomly by a member of my staff, Tazeem. Coincidentally, she plans to visit the country later this year for her first Hajj pilgrimage. She’s also an obsessive photographer so I’ll charge her with getting some pictures of the real thing, to compare to my infidel version.