Chef Adel Yazbek from L'Sultan in Bahrain shares his culinary secrets
Time Out Bahrain staff
Bahrain is famous for its restaurants. Whatever you fancy, you can pretty much find it here. But for lots of us this is our first taste of Arabic cuisine which, with its delicate blend of herbs and spices coupled with dips like hummus and tahini, is something we quickly fall in love with.
So how can we go about recreating those tastes in our own kitchens?
Well, first you will need a good selection of herbs and spices. Adel’s most commonly-used list, some brought in from Lebanon but mostly available in our own souq, includes bay leaves, cardamom, cumin, cinnamon powder and sticks, cloves, coriander, thyme, Lebanese sweet pepper (also known as allspice, the ground, dried, unripe fruit of the pimento dioica), dried lemons, dried mint – which he prepares himself – and 7 spices powder which contains several of the above along with nutmeg, fenugreek and ginger.
How you use them is a matter of taste but in Arabic, and particularly Lebanese, cooking it’s not so much about long-term marinading and more about the actual recipes.
For example, a main course dish of fish and rice sounds like a boring dieter’s penance but siyadiya made with hammour, such as you would find at a typical Lebanese Sunday lunch, is a whole different kettle of fish…if you’ll excuse the pun.
To prepare it Adel takes the whole fish, cleans the insides, covers with rock salt, olive oil and slices of fresh lemon and wraps in foil to bake in the oven.
So far so simple, but the real flavour is in the rice for which he makes his own bouillabaisse using fish heads and bones, from the fish market, simmered together with lightly fried onions, cumin, cloves, bay leaves, dried lemons and cinnamon sticks. After about 20 minutes, strain the liquid and use it to cook the rice.
Or how about rice with shoulder of lamb – for which he recommends Saudi meat as the lambs are apparently bigger. To make the bouillabaisse put the joint in a baking tin and, using oil, rub in salt and pepper, cinnamon, 7 spices and dried lemon then add chopped onion, garlic, celery, leeks, carrots and tomatoes and cover and cook slowly.
Once the meat is cooked, take it out of the pan, put the rest of the ingredients in a pot, add water and again simmer until the juice is ready to cook the rice.
So now you know where the rice that comes with Arabic dishes gets those great flavours that make it almost a meal in itself.
For a classic Arabic mixed grill, the prep couldn’t be easier. Once again you’ll need lamb which should be minced with onion, parsley, allspice, white pepper and salt to make kofta.
And for shish taouk, this one actually does call for a marinade of white vinegar, lemon, garlic, chill paste, tomato paste, allspice and olive oil.
Of course, no basic Arabic cooking lesson would be complete without hummus. We love it with garlic but Adel says that’s cheating so we’ll give you the Lebanese purist’s version – which we have to admit does taste pretty darn good.
First up take boiled chickpeas, load into a blender and grind until smooth, add tahini (sesame seed paste) and blend again – you’ll probably need to stir this a few times during the blending process to make sure that it’s mixing properly – add regular salt and lemon salt and, now for the sneaky bit, crushed ice and blend again.
The ice goes in instead of water to get the lovely creamy consistency of good hummus. Without it, the mix is too thick and lumpy and if you use water there’s a danger of the chickpeas and tahini separating. So there you have it, as much as we can quickly tell you about Arabic cooking all in one page. Bon appétit! or Shahiyaa tayiba!