There is a strong connection between food, family and sharing, once the day’s fast is over during Ramadan, a monthlong Muslim holiday.
Nowhere is this seen more widely than 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 British-Omani chef Dina Macki, which will take you on a culinary journey through Arabia.
“I feel like they are most commonly spoke about sweet treat in Zanzibar and Oman,” said Macki. “They are a conversation starter and a warm welcome into anyone’s home. Totally (unintentionally) vegan, too!
“I would say they are a cross between a donut and beignet. They tend to be hollower on the inside with one part having a spongier side to it, if that makes sense. Unlike normal donuts or beignets, we do not put icing or sugar powder inside or dusted on top. They have enough sweetness in the dough to be eaten as they are or typically dunked in your tea!”
5 1/2 cups and 1/3 cup of plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 2/3 cups of caster sugar
1 2/3 cups of warm coconut milk
1/4 ounce of yeast
1 tbsp of ground cardamom
1 egg (optional: “I use it if I want them more spongey on the inside.”)
4 1/4 cups of vegetable or sunflower oil for deep frying
Pour the yeast into the coconut milk and allow it to ferment for about 5 minutes.
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl but only add 680 grams of flour and hold onto the other 50 grams.
Then add in the coconut/yeast mixture.
Knead for 15 minutes by hand or 7 to 10 minutes in a mixer. Add more flour slowly if you find the dough is too wet. “I like my dough very hydrated and loose so only add this in slowly to stop it being too sticky,” added Macki.
Once it has come together, is smooth and there is no flour left, cover the bowl and leave to rest in a warm place for at least an hour.
As soon as it doubled in size, place it onto a well-floured surface and begin to shape.
Separate the dough into roughly five to six pieces (depending how big you want the mandazi).
Knead each piece slightly then shape into a smooth ball.
Then one by one, take a ball and roll it out into a flat circle. Look for a thickness of a coin or two.
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 cloth and let rise for another 30 minutes.
When ready, heat your oil (it needs to be hot).
Then, firstly test with one triangle, by carefully dropping it in the oil. It should rise straight to the top and begin to puff up. If so, add in some more, leaving enough room for them to move around.
Brown them slightly on one side, then flip them over to do the same for the other. They say a true test of a mandazi is to see if it looks like it’s about to pop and also have a white rim around the middle. “Look out for those signs, too!”
Make sure to keep an eye on your oil. If the mandazis turn a dark brown very quickly, that is a sign to lower the heat.
Fry all of them, and place on some paper towel to soak up excess oil.
“Then enjoy with a gorgeous cup of tea,” added Macki.
Tuna, dried lime, za’atar and cinnamon stew
“It’s not a dish I hear my mum’s family speak of, then again, I only hear of it amongst Omanis who have influence from Bahrain, Pakistan and Iraq,” explained Macki. “The beauty of this is the za’atar (thyme). Omani Za’atar just isn’t the same as what you find in the shops, and these leaves are so pungent that we add them right at the end, so they aren’t overcooked, to make sure we hold onto their scent and distinct taste. It is so important to give this dish time so that the dried limes can work their magic.”
2 1/8 cups of fresh or frozen tuna chunks
1 small onion (cut into slices)
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
2 green chilis (chopped in half)
2 medium potatoes (peeled, cut into four pieces)
3 dried limes (crushed/broken into big pieces)
3 tbsp za’atar (thyme) leaves
1 large tomato (chopped into quarters)
Salt to taste
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp plain flour
6 1/3 cups to 8 1/2 cups of water (enough to cover the ingredients, fill the saucepan)
Add all of your ingredients except the tuna and za’atar to a big enough saucepan, and place on a heat and bring to the boil.
Leave the mixture to simmer while the color becomes a milky brown and slightly opaque. At least 10 to 15 minutes.
Add in the tuna and place on a small — medium heat, leaving it to simmer for roughly 20 to 30 minutes until the tuna has cooked, the liquid is more opaque and thickened. But, remember, it still has a soup like thickness.
Before serving add in your za’atar, and allow it to simmer in the broth on a medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. You want the flavor of the za’atar to be pungent through the whole stew but not cooked long enough to be lost.
Serve up and enjoy with rice.
Zanzibari fish kebabs
“On a recent trip to the fish market in Oman, I had so much fresh tuna that I was able to turn it into multiple things … one of my friends insisted I make them into fish cakes as well!” recalled Macki.
2 1/8 cups of fresh or canned tuna (drained)
1 medium potato
Bunch of coriander
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
2 red onions (roughly chopped)
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 to 3 green chilis, depending on how hot you want it.
1 tbsp of garlic paste or two garlic cloves
Salt to taste
Breadcrumbs for coating
Vegetable oil for frying
A good food processor
If using fresh tuna, cut it up into small cubes.
Place your potato onto boil until it’s soft.
Fry the garlic and onions together until the onion turns ever so slightly golden on the edges.
Then add in the tuna, followed by all the spices and tomato paste. Fry this till your tuna is cooked (if fresh) and until all the water has gone and the mixture is dry. If working with canned tuna, fry for a good 8 to 10 minutes until the spices have come together well.
Once it’s dry, add in the lemon and potato (cut into small pieces first), then mash and fry off. Add the mixture, plus coriander, to a food processor and blitz until its smooth. Check for lemon and salt.
Shape into oblongs.
Cover a large pan in oil to shallow fry.
Dip the fish cakes into the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs and fry on all sides until golden.
Banana coconut and cardamom cake
“It’s hard to explain what type of pudding this is, but it’s basically ripe plantains boiled with sugar, coconut milk and cardamom till it produces a thick custard like consistency,” said Macki. “It sounds bizarre, but as I’ve got older my taste buds now love it.
“I wanted to find a simple way to bring you those flavors with ingredients which are easy to reach for and in the form of something sweet that we can all relate to: a light and airy sponge with a caramelized banana topping, perfect for tea dunking and snacking on till your heart is content.”
1 banana or plantain for the top (sliced)
For the caramel, 1/2 cup of light brown sugar
1/4 cup of butter
For the sponge, 2/3 cups banana or plantain (pureed)
3/4 cup of plain flour
2 tsp of baking powder
1/3 cup of white caster sugar
1/3 cup of light brown sugar
1/2 cup of desiccated coconut
3/4 cup to 2/3 cup of vegetable oil
10 cardamom pods (crushed)
Make your caramel by slowly melting the sugar. Get it all melted and in the butter, and keep stirring until it’s smooth.
While sugar is melting, line and grease a tin, place sliced bananas on the bottom, then pour over the caramel. Leave to the side.
Combine all your sponge ingredients together, whisking until fully incorporated and smooth. Don’t overwhisk.
Pour into your cake pan and bake at 356 F for 20 minutes then 347 F for 25 minutes. Making sure to check on it after 35 minutes. A test skewer should come out clean, and then it’s ready to eat.
Tuna kebab and dried lime curry
“I was never going to buy a whole juicy, tasty Omani tuna and not use up every single part. If there is one thing I learned from my grandmother and mother was that nothing was getting wasted,” said Macki.
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chili powder
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 dried limes (pierced)
1 red onion (chopped small)
2 large tomatoes (chopped small)
Salt to taste
Handful of chopped coriander
2 fresh chilis
Tuna fish cakes (the same as the Zanzibari kebabs listed above)
2 garlics mashed or 1 tsp of garlic paste
For the curry sauce, fry off your onions until they start to turn brown and caramelize.
Add in all your other ingredients, and leave it to stew for 1.5 hours to allow the dried lime to kick in.
For the fish kebabs, instead of rolling the fish balls in the egg wash then breadcrumbs, you’ll need to mix them into the mixture and form the balls, and then shallow fry to seal them. Do this all while the curry is boiling.
Once the curry has been left to stew, and the tuna balls are fried and ready, add them to the curry and leave them to cook for a further 20 minutes.
Serve up with some white rice, or better yet eat it the next day when the dried lime have had longer to steep.
For more recipes, visit Dina Macki’s website at dinewithdina.co.uk.