A few years ago I traveled to Dubai to launch my weddings magazine there. It was my very first visit to that part of the world, and I was enchanted with the desert, the markets, and the hustle and bustle of the fast-growing cities.
My team and I spent about 12 weeks developing 52 recipes that reflected our take on Arabic cuisine. The foods are delicious. I know they will become favorites in the Middle East as well as in America. “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School” began its new season on PBS on April 22. I hope you will have a chance to try some of these recipes at home, and enjoy them as much as I have.
DATES: Used in sweet and savory dishes, Medjool dates are among the largest and most tender variety (oasisdate.com).
GRAINS: Basmati rice, freekeh (roasted young wheat) and cracked wheat are used in many cooking techniques (kalustyans.com).
LABNEH: This thick yogurt (available at many grocery stores) can be made by straining Greek yogurt.
NUTS: Store cashews, pistachios and pine nuts in the freezer to extend their shelf life (nuts.com).
SPICES: For more intense flavor, toast and grind them just before using (kalustyans.com).
WHAT IS GHEE?
It’s a type of clarified butter with a caramelized flavor, and it’s simple to make. Melt 1 pound unsalted butter over medium-low heat. Cook until milk solids turn golden brown (push aside foam to check color), 15 minutes; remove from heat. Strain, let cool completely and refrigerate in a sealed jar up to 6 months. (You can also find ghee in Middle Eastern groceries or at fourthandheart.com.)
A popular Emirati treat, this date-sweetened bread is delicious plain or eaten with honey or cheese.
Yield: Makes about 12
8 large Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
3 cups hot water
7 to 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface and baking sheets
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons milk powder
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for topping
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of saffron threads
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Za’atar, sesame seeds or caraway seeds, for topping
Ghee, for brushing
1. Place dates in a large glass measuring cup or bowl. Add water; set aside until softened. Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree until smooth. Pass mixture through a fine mesh sieve, discarding solids.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 7 cups flour, sugar, milk powder, yeast, fennel, salt, cardamom and saffron. Attach bowl to mixer and fit with dough hook attachment. Add date water mixture and mix on low until smooth, about 5 minutes. The dough should be sticky and moist but not too wet. Add up to 1 cup more flour if necessary. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until dough has doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
3. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces, about 4 1/4 ounces each. Roll each piece into a ball and divide them evenly between two lightly floured rimmed baking sheets. Cover with plastic and set aside until puffed, 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Heat a large cast-iron Dutch oven over high and a small cast-iron griddle over medium-high until very hot. Fit two rimmed baking sheets with wire racks; set aside.
5. When the pans are hot, use your hands to flatten one ball of dough into a 5-inch round. Brush one side well with water and immediately transfer round, water-side down, to the hot griddle. Brush top of dough with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt and desired topping. Cook until bottom of dough is brown and bubbles are starting to form in the dough, about 1 1/2 minutes. Adjust heat as necessary to keep pan hot but not too hot.
6. Carefully flip griddle and place on top of heated Dutch oven, bread-side down. Adjust griddle to prevent any gaps between the two. Cook until the bread is puffed and golden brown, about 2 1/2 minutes. Use a metal spatula to remove the bread from the griddle to prepared rack. Brush top of bread with ghee. Repeat with the remaining dough. (Keep dough in refrigerator if your kitchen is too warm.)
ARABIAN GULF-STYLE FISH IN BANANA LEAVES
A whole grilled fish is just as easy to prepare as a fillet and makes a pretty presentation. You can use the banana leaf method to grill shrimp or vegetables, too.
1 whole snapper (about 3 pounds), scaled and cleaned
1/4 cup ghee, room temperature
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/4 cup chopped
6 sprigs dill, plus 1/4 cup chopped
5 fresh banana leaves, each cut to about 3 feet long, thawed if frozen
Celery and Herb Salad (recipe below)
Lime wedges, for serving
1. Heat an outdoor grill to medium or a large grill pan over medium. Rinse fish under cold water; pat dry. Coat the interior and exterior of the fish with ghee. Season the fish all over with salt and pepper. Place the herb sprigs inside the cavity of the fish and sprinkle the exterior with the chopped herbs; set aside.
2. Wipe any dirt or dust off of banana leaves with a damp cloth. Place leaves, overlapping one another, on a clean work surface with long ends parallel to edge of work surface. Leaves should overlap by about 3 inches. Position the fish vertically in the center of the leaves, folding one edge of the leaves over to cover the fish. Then roll to wrap the fish completely with leaves and tuck ends under.
3. Place wrapped fish on grill and cook for 15 minutes. Carefully flip wrapped fish and cook until leaves are charred and fish is cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes more.
4. To serve, unwrap the fish and transfer to a platter. Top with celery and herb salad; serve with lime wedges.
CELERY AND HERB SALAD
Citrusy sumac and nutty sesame seeds amp up the lime juice-and-olive oil dressing for this simple salad.
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sumac
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 center ribs celery with leaves, thinly sliced on bias
2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup dill sprigs
1. Whisk to combine lime juice, sumac, sesame seeds, salt and pepper, and 1/3 cup oil in a medium bowl. Add remaining oil if necessary.
2. Add celery with leaves, shallots, parsley and dill to vinaigrette; season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.
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