21 February 2011

February Spice Rack Challenge – Citrus

Posted in events, food at 9:47 pm by Tricia

The spice rack challenge this month is citrus. A citrus-reliant recipe from my archives is Orange Chocolate Chip Scones – once known as “breakfast cookies” in our house. It uses grated orange rind and thawed orange juice concentrate and is very tasty.

But for this month, I branched out into new territories – the Gulf States of the Middle East, to be precise! I was looking for something to do with lamb, and turned to my copy of The Complete Middle East Cookbook, by Tess Mallos. I was intrigued to see that a common ingredient in the Gulf region is loomi, or dried limes. Aha! Spice Rack Challenge! I didn’t have any dried limes on hand, but the author says it is possible to substitute the thinly peeled rind of a lemon (although it is said to be a poor substitute).

spiced chicken with rice (Machbous ala Dajaj)

spiced chicken with rice (Machbous ala Dajaj)

All the lamb dishes that intrigued me were not going to work out for that night’s dinner, so I ended up making a chicken dish: Machbous Ala Dajaj, also known as spiced chicken and rice. It is a fairly labor intensive recipe, but the taste was well worth it. It reminded me somewhat of Indian food, which is not surprising given the spice trade between the region. Quoting Tess Mallos:

Their rice dishes are of the kind one would expect, knowing the colourful history of the Arabs, as it was they who opened the spice routes to India and the East, and to the West, trading their own cardamom, coriander and cumin for cinnamon, nutmeg, cassia ginger, pepper, turmeric and cloves. The most popular spicing is a mixture of most of these, called baharat, and it is used in rice, soups, fish, poultry and meat dishes, usually with the addition of whole spices to emphasize certain flavours and turmeric or saffron for colour.

The cookbook specifies how to make 2 cups, starting from whole spices. I did not have a spice grinder so I decided to use ground spices. I worked out the proportions and used teaspoons instead of 1/4 cups. Here’s how I mixed it up:

Baharat (mixed spices)

2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1.5 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp ground paprika

If you are using whole spices, mix all but the nutmeg and grind. Then grate the nutmeg and blend into spices with ground paprika. If you are starting from ground spices, mix everything together. Store in an airtight jar.

Here is the recipe for the chicken dish I made with it. I used brown basmati rice – with all the color from the spices, nobody is going to know what the rice looked like beforehand, so you can sneak in extra fiber and protein to anyone who might object to brown rice. Also, I used boneless chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken (because that’s what I had on hand), so the cooking time was reduced – I simmered for 20 or 30 minutes in step 3 and it was certainly sufficiently cooked.

Machbous Ala Dajaj (spiced chicken and rice)
The Complete Middle East Cookbook, page 255

Serves: 4-6
Cooking Time: 1 3/4 – 2 hours

2 large onions, chopped
2 tablespoons ghee (I used 1 Tab olive oil + 1 Tab butter)
1 Tab Baharat (see above)
1 tsp turmeric
1 chicken, about 3 lb, joined
1 1/2 cups chopped, peeled tomatoes
3 cloves
1/2 tsp powdered loomi (dried lime), or 1 strip lemon rind
2 pieces cinnamon bark
6 cardamom pods
3 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups basmati rice
2 Tab chopped coriander leaves
2 Tab chopped parsley

1. In a deep, heavy pan, gently fry onion in ghee until transparent and beginning to brown. Stir in baharat and turmeric and cook two minutes longer.

2. Add chicken pieces and turn in onion mixture over medium heat to brown lightly. Add tomatoes, cloves, loomi, cinnamon, cardamom pods, and salt; stirring well to combine.

3. Add water, cover and simmer over gentle heat for 45 minutes.

4. Meanwhile: pick over rice to remove discoloured grains. Place in a bowl and wash with cold water until water runs clear. Drain.

5. Stir rice gently into pot contents, add herbs [I didn’t have them on hand, so skipped it] and bring back to a slow simmer.  Cover with lid and simmer on low heat for 35-40 minutes until chicken is tender, stirring gently once or twice during cooking. Remove from heat and leave aside for 10 minutes.

6. Pile onto large platter with chicken pieces in centre and serve hot with pickles, salad, and khoubiz (flat bread). [I skipped the pickles and used frozen naan from Trader Joe’s.]

A week or so after I made the chicken dish (and still having quite a bit of baharat remaining), I stopped at one of the middle eastern groceries in our town to find some dried limes. They did not have any, but I picked up some dried lemons and used them in a lentil soup, Shaurabat Adas. It tasted similar to lentil soup that you can get in many Middle Eastern restaurants around here, except the baharat made it much less bland. I’m not sure I could taste anything particularly citrusy in this recipe. I think the spicing might have been a bit weak for the amount of lentils in the dish. Or maybe I really need to go get some loomi and try again!

Shaurabat Adas (lentil soup)
The Complete Middle East Cookbook, page 250

Serves: 6
Cooking time: 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours (maybe less)

1 1/2 cups small red lentils
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup ghee or oil
4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp baharat
2 cups chopped, peeled tomatoes
2 loomi (dried limes)
1 cup crushed fine noodles, optional (I used 1/2 cup orzo)

1. Pick over lentils, place in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Put into a large pot and add 6 cups water. Bring to the boil, skimming if necessary.

2. In a frying pan, heat ghee or oil and add onion. Fry gently until transparent, do not brown. Stir in garlic and spices, cook a few seconds, then add tomatoes.

3. After the lentils come to the boil, add onion mixture to lentil pot with dried limes, each pierced twice with a skewer or fork.

4. Return to the boil and boil gently, uncovered, for 40 minutes. [This seems long for red lentils – I think you could get by with less time, especially if you add noodles as the next sentence specifies.] Add noodles, salt to taste, and a little more water if soup looks too thick. Simmer gently for further 25-30 minutes, uncovered, until lentils and noodles are tender. Stir occasionally.

5. Serve hot in deep bowls with khoubiz (flat bread), salad, and pickles. [Again I skipped the pickles, but this time I had flat bread from the Middle Eastern grocery!]



  1. Tricia said,

    Previous recipe from the same cookbook, 13 months ago: Turkish Carrot Pilaf. Great cookbook, even if you aren’t hunting for recipes for braaaaaaaaainnnnnssssssss.

  2. ohbriggsy said,

    looks great! did the dried lemons taste noticeably different than dried limes?

    • Tricia said,

      I’m not sure. I guess I need to do more research! The lemon peel that I used in the first recipe is from a bulk food store. It smells different from the dried lemons. I didn’t realize before reading your post that they are fermented – that might account for the slightly funky smell!

  3. shayne said,

    oh this looks so good and I am thinking that I could use this for the March spice rack challenge because it also has the cardamom…I think that would be a fun twist to the challenge too

    • Tricia said,

      Thanks, Shayne! The amount of baharat I mixed up is about half a standard McCormick jar, which seems reasonable. I’m going to try another recipe from the section, to use up some more 🙂

  4. shayne said,

    made the chicken tonight and everyone loved it. I made a few changes such as brown rice.

    • Tricia said,

      Hey, that’s great – it’s always rewarding when someone uses a recipe from the blog! Did you have dried limes or did you use the substitute?

  5. UmmBinat said,

    I love The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos. I have made many of the recipes in the Gulf section including the ones above. I just wanted to mention that in Arabic, the language of the Gulf, loomi, which are dried limes as you know are translated into dried lemons in English sometimes as in Arabic there is not a separate word for lime! There are two types of loomi however, some are a light colour, those are the Iraqi ones, and then there are black ones which are used in the rest of the Arabian Gulf which I prefer as I find they impart a stronger flavour.

    • Tricia said,

      Thank you for that explanation! I was starting to think they might be the same product. I did get some whole dried limes at a Middle Eastern grocery – they are somewhere in between light and dark. I also have a package of pieces, they are much darker.

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