Shouting In The Dark…
The images of people shouting from their rooftops for peace and equality is a stunning and powerful one. When I decided on Bahrain as my next country, I have to admit I was fairly ignorant about the events that had taken place this past year. Posted below is a documentary published in early-mid 2012 by Al Jezeera called Bahrain: Shouting In The Dark. It is the story of the revolution that never happened. I will warn you, it is rather shocking and depressing, but worth every second of your time.
When I started this blog, the idea behind it was a term I was calling virtual travel. The notion that you could visit a place in your mind, and connect with it by sharing in their cuisine, as well as learning about their history. Little did I know that only 3 countries in to my adventure, My naivety would be challenged by a small set of islands in the Gulf. So I won’t go into much detail, and instead I recommend that you watch the documentary and see for yourself.
A Bit Of History:
Just so we get a little background on the country we are cooking from today, let’s learn a little about the Kingdom of Bahrain. Looking on a map, you might not realize that Bahrain is actually a collection of 33 islands, with the island of Bahrain being the largest. The country has been run by the al-Khalifa dynasty since 1783, making it one of the longest running constitutional monarchy’s in the world. The king has almost limitless power, including the power to appoint the prime minister, the parliament and complete control over the nations army, its media and its oil. Needless to say, human rights violations are quite frequent occurrences.
In 1932, this nation was forever changed thanks to the Standard Oil Company (California, USA) who helped Bahrain establish a national oil company. That same year, oil was discovered, making this the first such discovery in the gulf region of the middle east. The wealth gap is staggering. Although the World Bank identifies Bahrain as a high income economy, much of the nations inhabitants live in poverty. In reality, the king and a few elites control much of the wealth, and it is said that they also have awarded themselves over 40 billion dollars in prime real estate in Bahrain.
Bahrain is a place of contradictions. A high income economy with rampant poverty, A country where foreign nationals actually outnumber Bahranis (by about 100 thousand). A country where the Sunni minority rules over the Shia majority. A country where stunning skyscrapers and pinnacles of human achievement cast shadows on the unjustly treated inhabitants.
So not only should you enjoy the meal today….but I urge you to take a little time and discover a bit about this tiny island nation.
Let’s get cooking…
For today’s meal, we are going to be cooking the Bahrain national dish, otherwise known as Machbous Ala Djaj. It is a chicken and rice dish, with some interesting and unusual spices. This dish is the first to use an unusual ingredient: loomi. Loomi is basically a dried black lime used in middle-eastern dishes throughout the gulf region. It may not be found in your regular grocery store. However, if you live in the Sydney area, then just go to Herbie’s on Darling Street in Rozelle and you can pick them up. (or just order them online). The other sort-of obscure addition is a spice blend called Baharat, which is used in many dishes as well. You should be able to find this in the spice section, but if you can’t, click the link here to make your own.
Machbous Ala Djaj: Serves 6
- 1/2 – 1 Kg Chicken (Whole or Breast)
- 2 Cups Basmati Rice
- 2 Large Onions
- 2 Tbsp Butter or Ghee
- 2 Tomatoes (chopped)
- 2 1/2 Cups Water
- 2 Tbsp Fresh Coriander/Cilantro (Chopped)
- 2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley (Chopped)
- 1 Tbsp Baharat
- 1 tsp Turmeric
- 3 Cloves
- 2 tsp Salt
- 2-3 Loomi (whole/punctured)
- 2 Cinnamon Sticks
- 6 Cardamom Pods
Method: (2 Hours)
The first step is to chop your vegetables and chicken. Chop the onions and the tomatoes and place them into separate bowls, and chop the chicken into cubes (if you are using a whole chicken, just cut up the chicken as normal and use the pieces). I used chicken breast because it was already in my freezer, but I would recommend cutting up a whole chicken for even more flavor.
After your veggies and chicken are chopped, go ahead and get your spices ready by combining the cloves, salt, loomi (punctured – see below), Cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods so that you can dump them all in at the appropriate time.
Now its time to get started…..in a large pot melt the two tablespoons of butter and then fry the onions until they are clear and almost about to start turning brown. Once you get to this point, add the turmeric and the baharat to the onions and fry for 2 more minutes.
Next, add the chicken to the pot, stirring to combine with the spices and frying until all the pieces are browned.
It’s time to add the spice mix containing the loomi, cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and salt. Also add the chopped tomatoes at this time. Stir this all together for about 30 seconds until combined, then add the 2 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the temperature to low and simmer this with the lid on for about 45 minutes.
While this is simmering, you can start watching the documentary….I watched the entire documentary while cooking this meal….since there are 2 long wait times in this dish, it is the perfect excuse!!!
After about 35 minutes, you should go ahead and prepare the coriander(cilantro to Americans) and the parsley by chopping it up finely. I chopped up a bit more than the recipe called for and set that extra aside for garnishing the dish at the end. by the time you are done chopping it should be just about time for the next step. Go ahead and rinse the rice in cold water and then add the rice, the coriander and the parsley to the pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer again on low for about 30-40 minutes.
You will know the dish is done when almost all of the water is absorbed and the chicken is tender. At this point, remove from the heat and let it stand for about 10 minutes. This will finish steaming the rice, and also allow the flavors to meld together.
Last, dish out the rice onto a plate or a bowl, and garnish with the leftover parsley/coriander mixture and enjoy!
Cooking For Activism!
If you enjoyed the dish and found the documentary as moving as I did then I have a suggestion for you. Why not prepare this dish for some friends, and watch the documentary together while you enjoy the food. It’s a concept I call Cooking For Activism! Just like myself, there are many people who might not be aware of the situation in Bahrain. This could be a great way to spread awareness as well as enjoying good food and good company!.
If this isn’t your cup of tea, then you can always affect change by signing a petition. I have included some links below to various petitions on the internet concerning Bahrain.
- Go Petition: Go Petition has plenty of various petitions you can read and sign.
- Frontline Defenders: Sign an open letter to the King Of Bahrain concerning the unfair trials and torture of doctors and nurses.
- Amnesty International: Take action against unfair treatment of teachers in Bahrain.
- Change.Org: Sign a petition to release tortured Human Rights Activists.
For this recipe, I must give big credit to the recipe I used as a guide on Food.com.
Also, It may need to be said that although i despise a lot of what Google stands for….I would be completely and utterly lost without my search bar on this endeavor….so I should say thanks to the internet in general for allowing something like this to even be possible!