The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia, written by Felicia Campbell, highlights the lesser known yet remarkable cuisine and culture of Oman in 100 recipes, 175 breathtaking photographs, and fascinating storytelling. Rustic, home-style dishes ranging from basic condiments and staples to the quite elaborate and impressive 48 ingredient Zanzibari Biryani (Double-Cooked Chicken in Rose Water and Spice-Infused Rice) showcase some of the best this diverse country has to offer. The descriptive writing transports you right into the streets of Muscat to experience the flavors, scents, and variety of this fusion cuisine, or as Felicia puts it: “a wonderfully bizarre mash-up of Bedouin rice and meat, South Asian curries, and East African vegetables spiked with coconut milk, hot chiles, and lime.”
Felicia Campbell currently lives in Muscat as the executive features editor at the Times of Oman. She also works as a freelance journalist, is an IACP Bert Greene Award nominated writer, and previously a travel editor at Saveur. She joined the Army following September 11, 2001 and was deployed to Iraq at the age of nineteen. While there, she fell in love with the Middle Eastern people and culture. She earned her master’s degree in food culture with a focus on the Middle East from New York University. She first visited Oman in 2013 and returned many more times- first with a photography and then with her recipe-developer friend, Dawn Mobley, to collaborate on the book.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Andrews McMeel Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
The chapters are divided based on course: Ingredient Guide; Grilled, Smoked, and Charred; Savory Porridges, Stews, and Soups; Rice: The Main Meal; Meat, Seafood, and Marak Mains; Produce and Legumes; Savory Bites; Omani Breads; Omani Sweets; Beverages; and Omani Pantry Basics and Condiments.
For those unfamiliar with the country, Felicia provides a fact sheet with the basics: country name, government, population, languages, religion, size, geography, key dates, and a beautifully illustrated map by Katie McBride of the regions with examples of the people in traditional dress, foods, and highlights. The interior of the front and back cover also features a larger illustrated map by Josie Portillo of the area surrounding Oman, from Africa to East Asia. Felicia then takes you on a journey through the regions and into people’s homes and kitchens. You will learn about the customs and practices surrounding mealtimes and special Omani celebrations such as weddings. The history that created Oman’s fusion of flavors is also described, including how spices were introduced.
With the handful of not-so-familiar ingredients, the inclusion of a visual glossary is incredibly helpful. Many of the spices and other products include a detailed color photo, name in English and Arabic, description, and how to use them. There is also a shopping guide to help locate the spices. Substitutions are given for those unable to locate coconut milk powder, black lime, and ghee.
The name of each dish is written in English and Arabic (or native language/dialect) and measurements are provided in US Customary. Every recipe has a headnote with background information and tips for serving.
The photography by Ariana Lindquist is absolutely breathtaking and definitely one of the highlights. There are also additional photos by Farideh Sadeghin, Dawn Mobley, and Felicia Campbell. Most of the recipes include a beautifully styled photo, generally of the finished dish. There are a few step-by-step illustrations of some of the more intricate recipes, including how to fold Maldouf (Date Chapati) and Sambusa (Fried Triangle Pastries Stuffed with Ground Chicken).
This book is an excellent addition for those wanting to learn more about Oman or love Middle Eastern flavors. A few ingredients require a trip to the International Market (including dried limes, cardamom pods, saffron, Medjool dates, and tamarind paste), but I found that I was able to make many of the recipes with spices and staples available in the average American supermarket. A reputable seafood market is also a plus with the wide variety of seafood dishes (Oman has nearly 1,300 miles of coastline and over 150 species of fish and crustaceans). Felicia tried to simplify some of the preparation, but she was careful to not cut corners to ensure that the overall methods are preserved for authenticity. There are quite a few simple dishes, but many are leaning towards the complex side. As a note: many of the dishes are heavily seasoned (particularly of the warming spices- cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin), but Omani cuisine is generally not spicy heat-wise. While there is a large range of recipes, the vegetable section is on the low side (Oman is 82 percent desert). Instead of specific vegetable dishes, raw chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, chile, cabbage or lettuce will often accompany the main meal. Some recipes from Zanzibar are included, such as the vegan Mchicha wa Nazi (Coconut Creamed Spinach), Ndizi Mbichi (Savory Mashed Green Bananas), and Maharagwe ya Nazi (Slow-Cooked Coconut Beans). I personally loved the vast assortment of flatbreads. Beverages are definitely not overlooked with many teas, coffees, and juices to choose from.
Dhokri is a lamb and dumpling stew that comes from the Lawati people, descendants of Persian, Indian, and Omani traders. This comfort food takes a few hours of prep time and simmering, but the final result is worth it. It is not spicy, but filled with warming spices such as garlic, coriander, cumin, pepper, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. The long-simmered lamb is melt-in-your-mouth tender. Even my young daughter with only a few teeth was able to eat it (I cut the cooked dumplings into smaller pieces for her). Serve the stew warm with an optional drizzle of ghee over the top.
To make the dumplings(my favorite part!), fresh dough is formed into long ropes, then cut into bite-sized pieces similar in shape to the Italian potato-based gnocchi. Fingers are lightly pressed into each dumpling to form dimples, then they are stirred into a tomato and lamb stew to cook slowly until tender, but still chewy in texture.
I also made Omani-Spiced Ground Chicken Kebabs, Mkate wa Ufuta (Zanzibari Sesame Bread), Karas (Fresh Pasta Simmered in Coconut Cream), and Special Karak (Spiced Sweet Milk Tea).
The Omani-Spiced Ground Chicken Kebabs are perfect for the upcoming grilling season. Ground chicken is combined with a mixture of spices, then formed into a shape similar to chicken sausage. They are grilled alongside tomatoes, red onions, and flatbread, then served together with a Spicy Mayo sauce. This one was Chad’s favorite.
Zanzibari Sesame Bread is a somewhat dense flatbread made with coconut milk and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It has a wonderful aroma and was one of the easier breads to make with no complicated folding or filling required. The crisp, sesame-studded topping gives way to a chewy, flaky center.
Karas is a dish unlike anything I had ever heard of before. This slightly sweet pasta dish is a popular breakfast food, similar to oatmeal for pasta lovers. Fresh dough is rolled into a thin sheet and left to dry overnight. In the morning, it is cut into triangles and simmered in a sweetened coconut milk with cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin.
Special Karak is my new favorite type of tea. It was introduced to Oman by South Asian immigrants. Black tea is spiced with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. It is then sweetened with sweetened condensed milk. For a delicious breakfast, serve with Ragag ma Beed wa Jibne (Omani Bread with Egg and Cheese).
Dhokri (Lawati Lamb and Dumpling Stew)
Adapted from The Food of Oman
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1-1 1/4 pounds lamb pieces or up to 2 pounds bone-in lamb
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
4 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium red onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 plum or medium tomatoes, cored and diced
Ghee for serving (optional)
To make the dough: In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, oil, salt, and 1/2 cup water until dough comes together. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth and elastic, 2-3 minutes. Form into a ball, transfer to a bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and allow to rest for 2 hours.
To make the stew: In a medium saucepan, cover the lamb and 1 teaspoon of the salt with 4 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover, and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook until the lamb is tender, 1-1 1/2 hours. Strain the lamb into a bowl, reserving the broth. For bone-in lamb, shred the meat and discard bones.
In a large pot, drizzle vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until softened and beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the garlic paste, coriander, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, red pepper flakes, cloves, and nutmeg. Cook for a minute, then mix in the tomato paste and tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tender lamb meat and increase heat to high. Cook, while stirring, for 5 minutes. Add 4 1/2 cups of the reserved broth. If the broth does not equal 4 1/2 cups, then add hot water to make up the difference. Season with remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Bring the stew to a boil. Reduce heat to a medium low simmer and cook until the mixture begins to thicken, 10-15 minutes.
As the stew is cooking, divide the rested dough in two equal halves. Remove one half from the bowl and form into a long rope on a lightly floured surface, about 3/4 inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut the rope into 1 inch long pieces. Press each piece with 2 finger to form small indentations. Repeat with remaining half of dough.
Add the dough pieces to the stew one piece at a time, stirring in-between to prevent sticking. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until dumplings are chewy but cooked, 35-40 minutes. Stir often, but gently. Season with additional salt if desired.
Serve hot with a drizzle of ghee.