Bahrain breakfast

March 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

When I started researching this breakfast, Bahrain was just a small Gulf State backwater brought to international prominence by its oil industry. It’s an archipelago of 33 islands close to Saudi Arabia in the western Persian Gulf. The largest, the 34 mile long Bahrain Island, is linked to Saudi Arabia via the King Fahd Causeway which is the 16th longest bridgest in the world.

A chance encounter with Lucy Caldwell’s new novel “The Meeting Point”, courtesy of BBC Radio 4’s Book At Bedtime in February 2011 put some flesh on the bones of the life of the substantial ex-pat community in Bahrain – more than 20% of the population of 1.2m are foreign nationals. And the web is littered with references to “Aramco Brats” – children of the original Arabian-American Oil Company employees who were based in Saudi and Bahrain following the discovery of oil in Bahrain in 1932.

Then Bahrain became one of the countries of the 2011 “Arab Spring” currently sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. There had been early intimations of trouble – another Radio 4 Programme, “Crossing Continents” presciently reported in December 2010 on the heavy-handed repression, torture even, of opponents to the ruling al-Khalifa family. So far, demonstrations in Bahrain have been stopped in their tracks with the aid of troops from neighbouring Saudi. It remains to be seen what will happen.

A lot to think about over one small breakfast.

This breakfast’s menu came to us thanks to a helpful video entitled “Friday Breakfast” shot by Mahmood from Bahrain back in 2006. His Friday breakfast looks to be the equivalent of our Western Saturday or Sunday breakfast when we might make or buy something special.

Thanks to Mahmood, I decided that the menu would be khubz (Arabic flat bread, aka pitta), samboosas (which look to be similar to Indian samosas), fried tomatoes with spices, and scrambled eggs.

Making the pitta bread was straightforward enough – those little pockets appear as if by magic as long as there’s enough heat on the top surface of the bread. Very satisfying and deliciously fresh.

The samosas were, on the other hand, a complete faff. Making the filling of potatoes, peas herbs and spiceswas straightforward enough but forming the samosas was another matter…

I pride myself on having nimble fingers and being reasonably proficient with pastry, but shaping these wretched little tricorn parcels, coaxing them to stay open in order to push in the filling, then attempt to seal the whole thing up was the most technically challenging piece of cooking I’ve attempted in the last 2 years (and beyond that my memory fails me). I don’t often find myself saying this, but if you fancy a samosa, pop to your local Indian grocer and buy one.

Recipe for Khubz (pitta bread)

From Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” with occasional minor wording changes. Based on my recent breadmaking experience, I didn’t bother with warming the liquids, letting the yeast froth or oiling the baking sheets as specified in the recipe. The end result was just fine so by all means do the same if you are a confident breadmaker.

15g fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast
300 ml tepid water (approximate)
pinch of sugar
500g strong white flour
3g salt (1/2 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (optional) plus a little extra for greasing

Dissolve the yeast in 100ml of the total amount of tepid water. Add the pinch of sugar and leave in a warm place for about 10 minutes, or until it becomes frothy and bubbly.

Sift the flour and salt into a warmed mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture. Knead well by hand, adding enough of the remaining water to make a firm, soft dough. Knead the dough vigorously in the bowl, or on a floured board for about 15 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, and no longer sticks to your fingers. Knead in 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil for a softer bread. Sprinkle the bottom of the bowl with a little oil and roll the ball of dough round to grease it all over. This will prevent the surface from becoming dry and crusty. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place free of draughts for at least 2 hours, until nearly doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes. Take lumps of dough the size of a large potato or smaller (according to the size of bread you wish to have). Flatten them on a lightly floured board with a dry rolling pin sprinkled with flour, or with the palm of your hand, until about 1/2 cm thick. Dust with flour and lay the rounds on a cloth sprinkled with flour. Place them a good distance apart so that they do not touch as they grow considerably. Cover with another lightly floured cloth, and allow to rise again in a warm place.

Preheat the oven set at the maximum temperature (240 degrees C?) for at least 20 minutes, and leave the oiled baking sheets in it for the last 10 minutes to make them as hot as possible. Take care that the oil does not burn.

When the bread has risen again, slip the rounds onto the hot baking sheets, dampen them slightly with cold water to prevent them from browning, and bake for 6-10 minutes, by which time the strong yeasty aroma escaping from the oven will be replaced by the rich, earthy aroma characteristic of baking bread – a sign that it is nearly ready.

Do not open the oven during this time.

Remove from the baking sheets as soon as the bread comes out of the oven and cool on wire racks. The bread should be soft and white with a pouch inside.

If your oven does not get hot enough to make a good pouch, make the bread under the grill: put it low enough underneath so that it does not touch the grill (and burn) when it puffs up. Turn as soon as it does and leave only a minute longer.

Put the breads, while still warm, in a plastic bag to keep them soft and pliable until ready to serve.

Recipe for Vegetable Samosas

From Madhur Jaffrey’s “Indian Cookery” with a few minor wording changes of mine

Makes 16


For the pastry

1/2 lb (225g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons water

For the stuffing

1lb 10 oz (725g) waxy potatoes boiled in their skins and allowed to cool
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 oz (175g) peas fresh or frozen (defrost first if using frozen peas)
1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 fresh hot green chilli, finely chopped
3 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh coriander
3 tablespoons water
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt – or to taste
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground roast cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil and rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Slowly add 4 tablespoons of water – or a tiny bit more – and gather the dough into a stiff ball.

Empty the ball out on to a clean work surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it is smooth. Make a ball. Rub the ball with about 1/4 teaspoon of oil and slip it into a polythene bag. Set it aside for 30 minutes or longer.

Make the stuffing. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 5mm dice. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the onions. Stir and fry them until they begin to turn brown at the edges. Add the peas, ginger, green chilli, fresh coriander, and 3 tablespoons water. Cover, lower heat and simmer until peas are cooked. Stir every now and then and add a little more water if the frying pan seems to dry out.

Add the diced potatoes, salt, coriander, garam masala, roast cumin, cayenne, and lemon juice. Stir to mix. Cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring gently as you do so. Check balance of salt and lemon juice. You may want more of both. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool.

Knead the pastry dough again and divide it into 8 balls (I did this with scales – each ball weighs 43-44g). Keep 7 covered while you work with the eighth. Roll this ball out into an 18cm round. Cut it in half with a sharp, pointed knife. Pick up one half and form a cone, making a 5mm overlapping seam. Glue this seam together with a little water. Fill the cone with about 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of the stuffing. Close the top of the cone by sticking the open edges together with a little water. Again, your seam should be about 5mm wide. Press the top seam down with the prongs of a fork or flute it with your fingers.

Make 15 more samosas.

Deep fry the samosas in small batches until they are golden brown and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

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