The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia
by Felicia Campbell
Food Photographs © Ariana Lindquist
My guess is that not many of us know much about Oman. I, for one, appreciated Felicia Campbell’s opening The Food of Oman with an introduction of facts about this tiny country.
The author’s enchantment with the Middle East began with a tour of duty in Iraq, ending in 2004. In subsequent years she returned to the Middle East numerous times “eating and learning and writing about the fascinating region.” But it wasn’t until she journeyed to Oman in 2013 that she found something to fill a void that New York wasn’t providing.
To bring her readers up to speed, she initially provides facts as you might find in a travel book, i.e., key dates and a brief history of Oman. It provides a historical sense of the country prior to jumping into the culinary realm. But it’s her narrative that draws us in and gives us an understanding of her warm fascination with the country. She says “… the Mediterranean seaside cities of Lebanon and the towering skyscrapers of Dubai hardly echoed that desert or intimacy I had found…”
Campbell wants this book to instill a desire to explore new flavors and techniques.
To that end — and important for newbies to Omani food — the first section, the Omani Pantry has a Visual Ingredients Glossary, shopping guide, and notes on substitutions. With our world seemingly getting smaller, I didn’t see many items that aren’t readily available. But dried black lime stopped me in my tracks. The good news is that Campbell provides a recipe for that one.
Campbell then explains in the second section, Omani Meals, that the mid-day meal is built around rice. The rice dishes can be influenced by neighboring countries. For example, India offers biryanis where meat is cooked separately from the fluffy rice. And Yemen’s mandi, a technique where a grate is placed on the pot in which the rice is cooking with meat or chicken atop the grate, so that drippings flavor the rice.
The third section is Between Meals, which includes recipes for savory snacks, potato puffs, potato chips, dumplings, Omani breads such as Maldouf (a date chapatti), sesame bread, fried dough and crepes. The book wraps up with sweets, thirteen beverages and condiments.
This is an interesting — and educational — book with impressive photography of alluring food, happy people with beautiful children (and women in lovely attire). Thank you Ariana Lindquist, for your gorgeous photos that bring Campbell’s words to life.
Here is the recipe for Maldouf (date chapati), mentioned above. If you can’t initially find ghee, try Amazon or Trader Joe’s (ironically, Amazon sells Trader Joe’s Ghee). You can also find easy recipes for ghee online, and if you’re super adventurous… you’ll find recipes to make your own at home, which is basically removing milk solids from butter, resulting in clarified butter.
- 1/2 cup packed, pitted dried dates (7 to 15, depending on size)
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and rolling
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup ghee, melted, plus more for brushing and frying (at least another 1/3 cup)
- Place the dates in a small bowl and cover with boiling water; soak until softened, at least 1 hour. Mash by hand, then puree with the soaking liquid in a blender or using an immersion blender. Strain over a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve, using a wooden spoon to firmly mash and press the date pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Scrape the date pulp on the underside of the sieve into the bowl; discard the date pulp in the sieve and set aside the date puree liquid.
- Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the egg and the ghee and mix with a wooden spoon until a crumbly dough forms. Slowly add the date puree, a little at a time, and begin mixing with your hands (add about 2/3 cup of the date puree in total) until the dough comes together. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, 2 to 4 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 10 to 12 golf ball-size balls and briefly knead each ball in one hand until smooth and crease-free. Place in a shallow baking dish or bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel; let rest at room temperature 1 hour.
- On a lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin dusted with flour, roll each ball of dough into a thin circle, 8 to 10 inches wide. Brush the surface with melted ghee, fold up the bottom edge about 2 inches from the top, then fold the dough down from the top over the folder half so the dough just touches the bottom edge. You should now have a long, thin rectangle. Brush the surface again with a little ghee and fold each side in, one on top of the other, to make a square. Roll the square dough out, turning several times, to make a large thin piece about 8 inches square. Brush the surface again with plenty of ghee.
- Heat a medium or large cast-iron skillet over medium heat and fry the chapati, ghee side down first, for 45 seconds to 1 minutes per side (if it doesn’t puff up, the pan isn’t hot enough), brushing the top with plenty of ghee before flipping to make sure both sides brown evenly.
- Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with more salt, if desired, and serve with a curry like Lahm Kalia.