There is a strong connection between food, family and sharing, once the day of fasting is over during Ramadan, a month-long Muslim holiday.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Middle East, where it is not uncommon for extended family and even close friends to get together every day and break bread with each other.
Here are five recipes, courtesy of British-Omani chef Dina Macki, that will take you on a culinary journey through Arabia.
“I feel like sweet treats are talked about most often in Zanzibar and Oman,” Macki said. “They are a conversation starter and a warm welcome to anyone’s home. Totally (unintentionally) vegan too!
“I would say they are a cross between a donut and a donut. They tend to be more hollow on the inside with one part having a more squishy side, if that makes sense. Unlike normal donuts or doughnuts, we don’t put icing or powdered sugar inside or sprinkle on top. They have enough sweetness in the batter to be eaten as is or generally dunked in your tea!
5 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 2/3 cups caster sugar
1 2/3 cups hot coconut milk
1/4 ounce yeast
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 egg (optional: “I use this if I want them to be more spongy inside.”)
4 1/4 cups vegetable or sunflower oil for frying
Pour the yeast into the coconut milk and leave to ferment for about 5 minutes.
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, but add only 680 grams of flour and keep the remaining 50 grams.
Then add the coconut/yeast mixture.
Knead for 15 minutes by hand or 7 to 10 minutes with a mixer. Add more flour slowly if you find the dough is too wet. “I like my dough very hydrated and loose, so add it slowly to prevent it from getting too sticky,” added Macki.
Once it is homogeneous, smooth and no flour left, cover the bowl and let it sit in a warm place for at least an hour.
As soon as it has doubled in size, place it on a well-floured surface and start shaping.
Separate the dough into about five to six pieces (depending on the size you want the mandazi).
Lightly knead each piece then form a smooth ball.
Then, one by one, take a ball and roll it into a flat circle. Look for a one or two piece thickness.
Using a knife or pizza cutter, cut in half each way, producing four triangles.
Repeat with the other balls of dough.
Then cover the triangles with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
When you’re ready, heat your oil (it should be hot).
Then test first with a triangle, gently dropping it into the oil. It should rise straight up and start to puff up. If so, add a few more, giving them plenty of room to move around.
Brown them lightly on one side, then flip them over to do the same on the other. They say a real test of a mandazi is to see if it looks like it is about to burst and if it also has a white rim around the middle. “Watch out for those signs too!”
Be sure to keep an eye on your oil. If the mandazis turn dark brown very quickly, it is a sign that the heat needs to be lowered.
Fry them all and place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
“Then enjoy it with a gorgeous cup of tea,” Macki added.
Tuna stew, dried lime, zaatar and cinnamon
“It’s not a dish that my mother’s family talks about, but again, I only hear about it among Omanis who have influence from Bahrain, Pakistan and Iraq,” Macki explained. “The beauty of this is the za’atar (thyme). Omani Za’atar just isn’t the same as what you find in stores, and these leaves are so tangy that we add them at the end, so they don’t get overcooked, to make sure we retain their fragrance and distinct taste. It’s so important to give this dish time for the dried limes to work their magic.
2 1/8 cups fresh or frozen tuna chunks
1 small onion (cut into rings)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
2 green chillies (halved)
2 medium potatoes (peeled, cut into four pieces)
3 dried limes (crushed/broken into large chunks)
3 tablespoons za’atar (thyme) leaves
1 large tomato (cut into wedges)
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon plain flour
6 1/3 cups to 8 1/2 cups water (enough to cover ingredients, fill pot)
Add all your ingredients except tuna and za’atar to a fairly large saucepan, place over a heat and bring to a boil.
Simmer the mixture until the color turns a milky brown and slightly opaque. At least 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the tuna and place over low-medium heat, simmering for about 20-30 minutes until the tuna is cooked, the liquid is more opaque and thickened. But, remember, it still has a thickness of soup.
Before serving, add your zaatar and let it simmer in the broth over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. You want the flavor of the za’atar to be tangy throughout the stew but not cooked long enough to be lost.
Serve and enjoy with rice.
Zanzibar fish skewers
“On a recent trip to the fish market in Oman, I had so much fresh tuna that I was able to turn it into several things…a friend of mine insisted that I make it into croquettes too of fish !” Macki remembers.
2 1/8 cups fresh or canned tuna (drained)
1 medium potato
Bunch of coriander
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
2 red onions (roughly chopped)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 to 3 green chillies, depending on how hot you want it.
1 tablespoon garlic paste or two garlic cloves
Salt to taste
Breadcrumbs for coating
Vegetable oil for frying
A good food processor
If you are using fresh tuna, cut it into small cubes.
Boil your potato until tender.
Sauté the garlic and onions together until the onion turns lightly browned around the edges.
Then add the tuna, followed by all the spices and the tomato paste. Fry until your tuna is cooked through (if fresh) and until all the water is gone and the mixture is dry. If you’re working with canned tuna, fry it for a good 8-10 minutes until the spices have blended well.
Once dry, add the lemon and potato (cut into small pieces first), then mash and fry. Add mixture, plus cilantro, to a food processor and process until smooth. Check lemon and salt.
Shape into oblongs.
Cover a large skillet in oil to fry lightly.
Dip the fish cakes in the egg, then roll them in the breadcrumbs and fry them on all sides until golden brown.
Banana coconut and cardamom cake
“It’s hard to explain what kind of pudding it is, but it’s basically ripe plantains boiled with sugar, coconut milk and cardamom until they produce a thick consistency. like custard,” Macki said. “It sounds weird, but as I get older, my taste buds love it.
“I wanted to find a simple way to bring those flavors to you with easy-to-reach ingredients and in the form of something sweet we can all relate to: a light, airy sponge with a caramelized banana filling, perfect for dipping tea and nibble until your heart is happy.
1 banana or plantain for the top (sliced)
For the caramel, 1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
For the sponge, 2/3 cups banana or plantain (mashed)
3/4 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup white caster sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
3/4 cup to 2/3 cup vegetable oil
10 cardamom pods (crushed)
Make your caramel by gently melting the sugar. Melt everything and in the butter, and keep stirring until smooth.
While the sugar is melting, line and grease a mold, place the banana slices on the bottom, then pour over the caramel. Leave besides.
Combine all of your sponge ingredients together, whisking until fully incorporated and smooth. Don’t whip too much.
Pour into your cake tin and bake at 356 F for 20 minutes then 347 F for 25 minutes. Be sure to check after 35 minutes. A test skewer should come out clean, and then it’s ready to eat.
Tuna skewer and dried lime curry
“I was never going to buy a juicy and tasty whole Omani tuna and not use every part. If there’s one thing I learned from my grandmother and my mother, it was that nothing was wasted,” Macki said.
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chilli powder
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 dried limes (pierced)
1 red onion (cut into small pieces)
2 large tomatoes (cut into small pieces)
Salt to taste
A handful of chopped cilantro
2 fresh peppers
Tuna patties (the same as the Zanzibari skewers listed above)
2 crushed garlics or 1 teaspoon garlic paste
For the curry sauce, sauté your onions until they begin to brown and caramelize.
Add all your other ingredients and simmer for 1.5 hours to allow the dried lime to kick in.
For the fish skewers, instead of rolling the fish balls in beaten egg and then breadcrumbs, you’ll need to stir them into the mixture and form the balls, then fry them to seal them. Do all of this while the curry is boiling.
Once the curry has been simmered and the tuna balls are fried and ready, add them to the curry and cook for another 20 minutes.
Serve with white rice, or better yet, eat it the next day when the dried lime has had more time to infuse.
For more recipes, visit Dina Macki’s website at dinewithdina.co.uk.