Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Here we are standing in front of the large villa protected by the huge white walls. The gates open and the security guard waves us in with a huge smile, the gleaming white teeth matching the walls.
If I had ever imagined what heaven would look like I think this would be the perfect picture of it. The luscious green grass is still moist and dripping from the sprinklers that were probably on all morning. In the right corner the branches of the date trees sway gently in the warm breeze. On the left a small stream flows snaking its way all the way to the impressive villa. Several trees, greener than any green I have ever seen, tower high above the banks of the stream creating a sort of natural canopy.
Beyond the stream I see the green grass speckled with red and yellow flowers, like paint blotches on a painters palette. Although the air is heavy with the desert heat, the perfume of oranges linger in the air. I find it hard to believe that this haven is in the middle of a desert. An oasis set in between the sandy brown dunes of Qatar.
We are invited to a feast. My father's good friend has invited us to join his family and other friends for lunch to celebrate the engagement of his oldest daughter.
The women of the house have probably gathered into the kitchen and have been preparing pastries, scented rice, and spiced meat since the early morning hours. In the courtyard musicians fill the air with their drum beats and songs of the old Bedouin folk. As we approach the huge wooden door of the villa we are greeted by my father's friend.
"Ahllan! Welcome, welcome! I am so honored that you can join us with your family!"
My mum and I are greeted by his wife, the Sheika. Covered in her black abaya she smiles at her husband, showing her pleasure at our presence. She takes us away to another room - a different room where only women are present. As we enter the huge room, she takes of her abaya and reveals the latest haute couture dress.
"Come come, sit down. Have some tea!" She pours hot tea into beautiful arabesque glasses and the aromas of mint waft into the air. With a movement of her other hand, she summons her help, who balances a large metal tray covered in mouthwatering baklava and other pastries. Another brings silver bowls filled with pistachios, almonds, cashew nuts and other delicacies.
Soon we are all chattering away, in the background we can still hear the drums and singing and far away I hear the gentle swishing of the stream.
As we finally gather around to eat I almost have to rub my eyes to really believe what I am seeing. The longest table covered in colorful silk tablecloth decorated with equally colorful food and mezzehs. There is an assortment of vegetables, rice, hummus, salads, meat, each dish sitting in delicately designed silver bowls and plates. A real feast ... fit for an Emir!
Warm Vegetable Salad
1 large aubergine - cut in half, lengthwise
1 large green bell pepper - cut in half, lengthwise
1 large red bell pepper - cut in half, lengthwise
1 yellow zucchini - cut in half, lengthwise
2 onions - finely chopped
4 garlic cloves - finely chopped
1 bunch parsley - finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika powder
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cumin powder
salt and freshly cracked pepper
Pre-heat the oven at 250 degrees Celsius.
Place all the vegetables with the skins facing up on a baking tray. Roast the vegetables in the oven for about 20 minutes. While the skins of the peppers and aubergine will begin to char and bubbles will build below the skin, you will need to keep a close eye on the zucchini. Take this out as soon as it is nicely roasted and slightly brown.
Place a tea towel on the peppers to allow it to sweat. Peel the peppers and aubergine. Cut all the vegetables in cubes.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently sauté the onions and garlic for 3 to 4 minutes on a medium heat. Sprinkle the sugar over the onion and garlic and caramelize for a further few minutes until they are golden. Mix in the paprika powder.
Add the vegetables and half of the parsley into the pan and allow to warm through. Pour in the lemon juice and spice with cumin powder, salt and pepper.
Serve warm with the rest of the parsley sprinkled on top.
2 small aubergines (approx. 500g)
3 tablespoons Tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves - crushed
freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 bunch parsley
1 tablespoon black olives
As described above roast the aubergines on the highest level in the oven for approx. 20-30 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly then peel them well.
In a blender or using a puree machine, place the aubergine together with the tahini, lemon juice and olive oil in the container and puree until smooth. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and pulse again.
Spread the aubergine cream into bowls and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkled with parsley.
These dishes will add a bit of the Middle Eastern mystic to the evening. Whenever I want to be taken back to that one day where I found a heavenly oasis in the midst of a desert, I whip up this quick meal. Served with warmed pita bread it is a real treat and a healthy one at that. Both my boys are big fans of this and there can never be enough of this to go around.
Thank you for coming away with me on this little Arabian adventure. I hope you enjoyed the past few days filled with some delectable delights from this wonderful region.
Come celebrate Spring with me. This month Spring Is In The Air.
Deadline: May 09, 2007!
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