The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia, written by Felicia Campbell, highlights the remarkable cuisine and culture of Oman in 100 recipes, 175 breathtaking photographs, and fascinating storytelling. A few notable dishes include Aseeda (Toasted Flour and Ghee Dumpling), Bedu Samak Mashwi (Bedouin Whole Charred Fish), Madhbi Djaj (Hot Stone Dhofari Chicken), Royal Sticky Date Pudding, and Fried Mandazi (Sweet Cardamom Zanzibari Fried Bread). Following the review, I will be also sharing her recipe for Dhokri, a Lawati Lamb and Dumpling Stew.
Disclosure: I received this book from Andrews McMeel Publishing 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.
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.
The Food of Oman
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.
Felicia has paired 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) to showcase some of the best of Oman’s incredible cuisine. 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.”
For those unfamiliar with the country, a fact sheet has been included 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. You are then taken on a journey through the regions and into personal homes and kitchens to learn about the customs and practices surrounding mealtimes and special Omani celebrations. The history that created Oman’s fusion of flavors is also described, including how spices were introduced.
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). 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.
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 when possible.
Dhokri (Lawati Lamb and Dumpling Stew)
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 so worth it. Dhokri 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. Serve the stew warm with an optional drizzle of ghee over the top.
To make the dumplings(my favorite part!) to pair with the Dhokri, a fresh, well-rested 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 are stirred into a tomato and lamb stew to cook slowly until tender, but still chewy in texture. They actually reminded me a bit of the Lebanese Macaroon Bil Toum.
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.
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).
This book is an excellent addition for those wanting to learn more about Oman or love Middle Eastern flavors. A few ingredients may require a trip to a specialty market, but I found that I was able to make many of the recipes with spices and staples available in the average American grocery store. 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. I personally loved the vast assortment of flatbreads. Beverages are definitely not overlooked with a variety of tea, coffee, and juice.
Dhokri (Lawati Lamb and Dumpling Stew) Recipe
Excerpt from The Food of Oman
Dhokri (Lawati Lamb and Dumpling Stew)
- 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 such as stew meat 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:
- Place the flour, oil, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl and mix by hand until it just comes together. Knead the dough 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth and elastic; pat it into a ball, place in a bowl, and cover with a damp towel. Let rest 2 hours.
To make the stew:
- Place the lamb, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and 4 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer on low heat until the lamb is tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Strain and reserve the broth. If using bone-in lamb, shred the meat and discard the bones. Set the lamb aside.
- In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions until soft and brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic paste, coriander, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, red pepper flakes, cloves, and nutmeg. Stir and cook 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and tomatoes and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the reserved lamb meat, turn the heat to high and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Pour in the reserved broth (if it doesn't equal 4 1/2 cups, add hot water to bring the liquid amount to 4 1/2 cups) and add the remaining 1 tablespoon salt; bring to a boil and stir. Decrease the heat to medium-low and let simmer until slightly thickened, 10-15 minutes.
- While simmering, divide the dough in half and stretch and roll each half into a long rope, about 3/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces with a knife, like gnocchi. You can press each piece with two fingers to create small indentations, or simply drop the pieces as they are into the simmering broth one at a time, stirring to prevent sticking.
- Cover the pot, decrease the heat to low, and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring gently and frequently so the dumplings do not stick to each other or the bottom of the pot. The dumplings should be chewy, but cooked through.
- Add salt to taste and a spoonful of ghee for richness.