Dubai has a special place in my heart and stomach. First off, it is where I met my husband, married him, and had our first child.
Secondly, it is where I learned to cook. In fairness, I had a lot of recipes. Most were from my mom or my Brownie/Girl Scout days. I also had my own copy of Betty Crocker and some recently acquired Louisiana River Road cookbooks from my year in New Orleans after University graduation.
The reason I qualify Dubai as where I learned to cook is the scarcity of all those standbys of the 70s like French Onion Soup and cornmeal muffin mixes. In Dubai, I had to learn to substitute those items with real food. The first meal I prepared for my then-boyfriend now-husband was beef stroganoff and popovers. The beef recipe called for, you guessed it, a French Onion Soup mix. Cooking lesson number one: you can substitute real onions and they actually taste better. I was sure I would impress this husband-to-be with my popovers. I brought forth those golden domes only to be greeted with “Yorkshire puddings!” Did I forget to tell you that husband-to-be is/was British? Lesson number two: start learning about the cuisines of other nationalities.
In case you were wondering, I was in Dubai long before the Burj al Khalifa, the Burj al Arab, or the Palm Islands that cover the travel posters of Dubai today. We did have a villa on the beach on a sand road just off the Beach Road. The giraffe at the Dubai Zoo could be seen leaning over the concrete wall that bordered the Beach Road on my way to work 6 mornings a week. Friday was our only day off.
Dubai is where I got my start in Real Estate with British Property Consultants, Cluttons. Many mornings were spent biding my time at the Ruler of Dubai’s office waiting to collect keys for villas that I needed to show that day or the next. English was the language of business, but luckily I tried my best to learn some Arabic. One day I was to meet a local Arab property owner to view the home that he wanted us to rent out for him–only Arabs could own property in Dubai in that era, the rest of us were obliged to rent. This was truly the only time I really had to speak Arabic in the 5 years that I lived there. The irony of ironies, my husband’s first job in Dubai was managing a construction company and the owner didn’t speak English so my husband had to learn Arabic. 5 years later it was I that needed Arabic to do business with the same man!
Dubai is a trading port. The workforce is made up of people from many countries, especially other Arab countries, Iran, India, and Pakistan. Most of what was sold there came from those same countries. Some of our shopping souvenirs include our Tree of Life Persian rug and our Omani coffee pot and antique silver jewelry.
Dubai was where I first experienced Lebanese cuisine. Issa’s outdoor restaurant in Old Dubai was always a treat but never more than the first time when paper plates of hummus and pita bread were served the moment we sat down. Served with hot sweet tea, we passed the time awaiting our grilled lamb or chicken tikka kebabs. When we left Dubai we needed to recreate that perfect hummus and chicken tikka kebabs. The tikka means chunks of meat. Kebab alone is usually minced or ground meat.
Each of the following two recipes contains 3 ingredients if you don’t count the salt, pepper, and garnishes. I do love chickpeas/garbanzos. I make mine in the slow-cooker after soaking them overnight in water then adding bay leaves and several cloves of garlic. I cook them on high for 6 hours for the perfect texture.
Then I freeze them in two-cup portions. A can will work just as well, but some brands seem to be tougher than others. You can buy pita bread or make your own as I do. The recipe I use is in my post Sourdough Seduction.
Chicken Tikka Kebabs and Hummus–D is for Dubai
Hummus bi tahini
Assemble your ingredients for the chicken in the morning.
Cut up the chicken breast into 1 1/2 inch cubes.
Mix the yogurt, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a plastic bag or glass dish, cover, and chill until the evening meal.
Place cubes of chicken on skewers.
Heat grill to hot. Grill skewers on all sides until browned and seared. This will take up to 20 minutes depending on the heat of your grill. Large whole spring onions may be grilled at the same time.
Serve the tikka kebabs with grilled onions if desired, pita bread, and hummus
Mince the clove of garlic in the blender. Add the chickpeas and blend on high until smooth. Add the tahini, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Use enough of the chickpea liquid to acquire a creamy texture. Thin the hummus with the reserved liquid from the chickpeas to your preference. Thinner is common in the Middle East.
Spread the hummus in a shallow bowl and garnish with the olives, if using; the paprika and sumac; and drizzle with olive oil. Serve the hummus with pita bread or lettuce leaves and the Chicken Tikka Kebab. My guess is that you will not go back to store-bought hummus.