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Dubai and Doha Detour

23 Jun

My travel westward to London included a necessary stopover in the Arabian Gulf to look for a new job opportunity. However, this brief pause in adventure travel wasn’t without a few interesting food discoveries. After all, I still had to eat.

Over the course of eight days, I fleeted across many offices to sell myself to potential employers. Working out free wi-fi hubs within the air-conditioned malls meant that healthy options were going to be difficult to find. This was even more challenging in Doha where buckets of fried chicken, burgers and pizza were in abundance. On most days I skipped lunch, opting for a Starbucks “light” frappuccino of some sort. However, dinner usually included something more substantial and by then I would be famished, especially if I’d been running in the desert heat.

In Dubai where I had already been twice, we dined at Meshawi a renown Lebanese Restaurant where the stand-out dish was pan-fried chicken hearts with a pomegranate molasses sauce. However, the tuna steak at the Belgian Beer Cafe, ravioli at Rosso and noodles at Wagamama were at best average. In Doha, we focused on regional food including Mamig Armenian/Lebanese, Alsoo South Indian and the delights of Yemen at Bandar Adan. All three restaurants were fantastic and possibly the best in their category. I also tried camel at a Moroccan restaurant in the Souq which I can only describe as being similar to goat, but only much softer.

My overall food experience made me think about reevaluating my food expectations in preparation of a move to the region. The fortunate thing is that the availability of organic produce and ingredients are on the rise so cooking the dishes I love will be possible. In terms of dining out, I will definitely have to lower my expectations and be prepared to try many restaurants. You may have noticed that very few vegetarian options were mentioned. This is representative of the regional consumption habits. Here vegetarians need to either choose from the limited options on the menu or request that they omit meat where possible.

I’ll leave you with a few photos. Unfortunately I wasn’t armed with my camera in every occasion so I wasn’t able to show you all the dishes. Have you unearthed anything interesting food lately?

Next stop London…stay tuned

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Spicy Chickpeas, baby eggplants and mushrooms

2 Oct

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I have recently allowed myself to watch a little more TV than the usual rare occasion. Although I’m not a big devotee of the “box”, I don’t mind cooking programs. In particular, I’ve been following River Cottage Veg on the LifeStyle FOOD channel. It’s about an English celebrity chef who takes on a 4 month meat-free pledge. The series has grown on me because I also have recently taken on a similar pledge: to cut my meat consumption by increasing veg in my diet.

I am still a little way off from becoming a vegetarian but I’m definitely enjoying this little challenge. I already eat a good amount of ordinary vegetables, grains and legumes but could be more adventurous. My recent experience with Superfoods has also showed me that healthy meat-free dishes need not be boring or bland. On the contrary, I discovered that there are some interesting textures and tastes which would please most palates. If you looked closer at your next meal, you’ll probably find that many of the ingredients are not meat.

So how did I arrive at this recipe? I just made it up! During an episode of River Cottage Veg, the chef prepared merguez spiced lamb liver as he had been really missing meat on his fork. He didn’t eat any though, just watched his colleagues devour it. Later in the same episode, he went on to make a chickpea curry. Then it came to me: why not combine both merguez spices and chickpeas? So to clear out my fridge and pantry before my next travels, I went rummaging around for ingredients. I came across some beautiful purple and white striped eggplants (spray free of course) and mushrooms. And that’s it, a new dish was born.

You’re probably thinking, “what will he post next, my first protest with PETA?”. Hang in there carnivores! I’ll make sure that the next one includes meat just to balance things out.

Ingredients
1 can of chick peas, drained

6-8 baby eggplants
300g of button mushrooms, chopped into quarters
1tsp caraway seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
1/2tsp of cayenne pepper
1/2tsp of smoked paprika
1 clove of garlic, chopped into slivers
1 cup of stock (veg or chicken)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Black pepper
Salt
A handful of parsley or mint, or both, chopped roughly

Directions
Dry fry all seeds in a non-stick pan, then grind in either a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Combine with the rest of the spices and set aside.

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Chop eggplants into bite sized pieces, place in a bowl, add a good sprinkle of salt and massage with a tablespoon of olive oil.

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Heat about a 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan, then add baby eggplants and sauté on medium heat stirring frequently until they’re lightly browned.

Add mushrooms and garlic, sauté for a few minutes then add stock and stir through.

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Simmer on low until the stock reduces to about half, then add spices and chickpeas. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Season with pepper and garnish with parsley.

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Serve warm with a good dollop of extra thick yoghurt.

It can also be served with couscous or rice, and of course as a side dish with lamb, beef or meat of choice!

What is Merguez? Its actually a North African lamb or beef sausage. The spices used in the sausage are pretty much summed up in the mix used in this recipe.

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