Table Tales: The Global Nomad Cuisine of Abu Dhabi, written by Hanan Sayed Worrell, features the history, stories, and beautifully diverse cuisine from both locals and expats in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Highlights include Tahta Lahem (Emirati Lamb Pilaf), Cardamom Spiced Orange Cake, Couscous with a Trio of Flavors, Pain Perdu (French Toast with Salted Caramel Sauce), Sup-E Pesteh (Pistachio Soup), Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice, and more flavors from around the world. I will also be sharing her recipe for Luqamaat (Fried Dumplings with Date Syrup) following the review.
Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book from Rizzoli in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Hanan Sayed Worrell
Hanan Sayed Worrell, a Lebanese-Egyptian-American, is a specialist in international urban and cultural projects and an international recipe hunter in her free time. She grew up in Kuwait, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering at Stanford University, and has lived on four continents while also traveling extensively. She has resided Abu Dhabi for over 25 years and notable contributions include projects for New York University Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
The chapters are divided uniquely based on timeline and further by person/country: 1960s- Start to Simmer, 1970s- Bring to a Boil, 1980s- Low and Slow, 1990s- Lift the Lid, 2000s- A New Course, and 2010s- What’s Brewing.
Hanan begins with the story of her life, how she developed her love for cooking, and built a home in Abu Dhabi. Among the pages, she has compiled a collection of recipes from forty individuals along with personal stories of their experiences in the city. Table Tales will take you through Abu Dhabi’s history from a sparsely populated fishing village in the early 1960s to the formation of the United Arab Emirates, immense growth, and the development of a thriving food culture built by locals and expats from around the world.
I especially love the gorgeous photographs of the food, homes, people, and city by Martin Nicholas Kunz and Heike Fademrecht. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a photo of the dish, generally quarter to full-page or a collection of photographs. Titles are written in the original language (when applicable) with the English translation below. Measurements are listed in Metric and US Customary. Each recipe has a headnote with background information, serving size, tips, personal stories, and a quote from the contributor.
This book is a great pick for those wanting to learn more about the history of Abu Dhabi and how the people have shaped the cuisine and country into what it is today. The recipes mirror the communities within Abu Dhabi with local dishes alongside others influenced from all over the world. A few come together easily, but many do require a bit more time and effort. Having a specialty international market will be helpful for locating items such as saffron, tahini, orange blossom water, pomegranate molasses, Sichuan peppercorns, wasabi paste, star anise, dark soy sauce, galangal, sumac, baby eggplant, kaffir lime leaves, labneh, goji berries, nigella seeds, cardamom, and more.
Luqamaat (Fried Dumplings with Date Syrup)
The recipe for Luqamaat (لقيمات, Fried Dumplings with Date Syrup) comes from Shaikha Al Kaabi of the United Arab Emirates. These little balls of dough are known as “little bites” in the Gulf and have variations throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. Luqamaat are especially popular during Ramadan. According to Shaikha: “We prepare a fresh batch every day and anxiously await the first bite after the iftar meal, when a dose of sugar is much needed. We snack on them after iftar through to suhoor, the meal before going to bed. One bite is never enough!”
Rounded balls of a thick yeast-based batter are dropped into hot oil and fried to develop a crisp, golden exterior that gives way to a pillowy center. Each piece is coated in date syrup (or honey) and sprinkled with sesame seeds before serving immediately.
Most of the sweetness comes from the date coating and pairs so wonderfully with the saffron and cardamom-scented dough. I have been able to find date syrup near the honey in larger grocery stores and markets with Middle Eastern ingredients. It can also be found on Amazon: Just Date Syrup and D’vash Organic Date Nectar.
The Luqamaat are best served shortly after frying and coating in the syrup. They will quickly lose their addictive texture.
I also made Chbaab (Emirati Pancakes), Chai Karak (Cardamom Milk Tea), Borani Kadoo (Sautéed Butternut Squash with Saffron and Yogurt), and Marbled Cheesecake Brownies.
Chbaab is a yeast-based Emirati pancake spiced with cardamom and saffron. This recipe from Ahmed al Bawardi of the UAE creates a thin batter that is traditionally cooked on a metal disc called a tabi. I served them simply with a date syrup, but they are also delicious with honey, brown sugar, or cheese. Ahmed notes that these pancakes are also a staple during suhoor, the meal before dawn during Ramadan.
The recipe for Chai Karak (Cardamom Milk Tea) was also contributed by Ahmed al Bawardi. Chad consumed much of this tea during his time in the region and even brought me back a tea set so we could enjoy it at home. It is especially perfect paired with the Chbaab. Black tea is steeped with cardamom and adjusted to taste with evaporated milk and sugar. You can even add a pinch of saffron.
Borani Kadro (Sautéed Butternut Squash with Saffron and Yogurt) is an Afghan side dish packed with flavor. The recipe comes from Marjon Ajami of Afghanistan/United States. Cubes of butternut squash are simmered with caramelized onions, apricots, saffron, cardamom, and a pinch of red chili flakes. Once tender, the squash is served with a garlic yogurt and sprinkling of dried mint.
The Marbled Cheesecake Brownies are a family favorite of Maisa Al Qassimi’s Aunt Aisha. A rich brownie batter is swirled with a cheesecake batter made of cream cheese and sour cream, then baked just until cooked through. These brownies were delicious with ice cream.
Luqamaat (Fried Dumplings with Date Syrup) Recipe
Excerpt from Table Tales
Luqamaat (Fried Dumplings with Date Syrup)
- Pinch saffron
- 1 tbsp rose water
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 3 tbsp plain yogurt
- Cooking oil for frying
- Date syrup or honey
- Sesame seeds
- Combine the saffron and rose water. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 120 millilitres (1/2 cup) of warm water and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, until it begins to froth.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, cardamom, oil, and yogurt. Add the yeast mixture and saffron/rose water.
- Gradually pour in 120 millilitres (1/2 cup) of water and beat vigorously by hand in a circular motion for 5 minutes, until the batter is smooth and elastic with no lumps. Add more water as needed to get a thick, pancake-like batter and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour. Beat the batter once more.
- Make the luqamaat in batches in a deep pan that provides a large surface area. Heat the oil until it sizzles when a small piece of dough is added.
- Using an oiled teaspoon or by hand, drop in multiple 3-centimetre (1-inch) dough balls, but don’t crowd them. Reduce the heat to medium and fry the balls for 10 minutes, stirring continuously with a slotted spoon until the balls are puffed, crisp and golden. They should be slightly crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. The batter is light, so it may produce irregularly shaped balls. Remove the luqamaat to a strainer to drain for a few minutes. Raise the heat under the oil before cooking the next batch and repeat the process.
- Gently toss the luqamaat with date syrup or honey, coating completely. Sprinkle them with sesame seeds and serve immediately.