Chicken Salona / Saloona: Emirati Chicken Stew, flavoured with Loomi (dried lime) and easy, home-made Bezar spice mix.
Over the last month MENA Cooking Club have explored the United Arab Emirates through three dishes chosen by our host Tamar: Ro-be-yann nashif – spicy fried shrimp, Djaj Murraq / Salona – Chicken Stew and Khanfaroosh – saffron and cardamom fried ‘pancakes’.
Emirati cuisine is a blend of many Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. These days the UAE diet is more worldly, featuring dishes from all around the globe.
Seafood features heavily, in dishes such as Mhammar: local fish spiced and prepared whole and often served with sweet caramelized onions and sugary yellow rice. A blend of savoury and sweet.
I don’t like shrimp (prawns) or most seafood, so for me the spicy fried shrimp were a non-starter. Stew and sweet it is then….
Flavoured with Loomi – dried limes and Bezar, an Emirati / Omani spice mix.
I scoured the net looking for an easy, small-batch Bezar recipe that doesn’t need toasting and grinding whole spices because:
- I haven’t a spice grinder and my little pestle and mortar wouldn’t get me far i.e. I’m lazy
- I didn’t have most of the whole spices at home and didn’t want to buy some – I’m tightening the purse-strings. Saying that, I did buy saffron, ground cardamom and rice flour for the sweet, but those I can and will use again more readily.
I’m rambling aren’t I?!
I found and scaled down a Bezar spice mix recipe from a Middle Eastern cookbook I own, called Arabian Delights by Amy Riolo, under the heading Bizaar – Omani spice mix.
The main spices in the Bezar spice mix are coriander, closely followed by cinnamon (cassia).
Dry limes give this dish a background hint of sourness and smokiness, if you use the black variety. Sourness is welcome here as it is rather a rich dish and the dried limes help cut through that. If you can’t buy Loomi, a good squeeze of lemon or lime juice at the end is the best alternative.
The original recipe uses both whole and ground Loomi but as I didn’t have ground and was scaling back the recipe anyway, two whole Loomi sufficed.
As you are well aware stews usually take hours to cook, especially when using tough meats such as beef. Chicken Salona is ready in 1 hour.
I’m confident you can shorten the cooking time further by using smaller cuts of chicken and/or slightly increasing the heat, so that the stew is on a fast simmer instead of slow.
My fellow MENA Cooking Club members Emirati recipes
Emirati Chicken Stew, flavoured with loomi (dried lime) and Bezar spice mix.
- 2 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (cassia)
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon chilli powder
- heaped ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 600 grams halal chicken pieces, on the bone (with or without skin)
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2-4 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 ½ teaspoon Bezar spice mix
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (cassia)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 loomi (dry lime), pierced
- fine sea salt, to taste (for me ¾ tsp)
- 2 fresh or ¼ 400 gram tinned tomatoes, chopped
- 1 potato, washed, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 carrot, washed, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 cups / 750 ml water
- Basmati rice or bread
- fresh coriander leaves, washed and roughly chopped
- In a small bowl mix all the spices together.
- In a large pot over medium heat warm oil, add chicken seal / brown on all sides, remove and set aside.
- Lower the heat to the pot then add onion and cook until it softens, stirring often. Add tomato paste, stirring always let it cook for a minute or two, before adding garlic, spices, salt, loomi. Cook for another few minutes until fragrant. Be careful do not let the spices burn, you may need to add a splash of water to prevent this and keep stirring.
- Add the remaining ingredients: vegetables, tomatoes, water and return the chicken to the pot. increase heat and bring stew up to a boil, then cover the pot, lower the heat to a slow simmer. Cook for approximately 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through and the liquid has reduced. During the last 20 minutes or so, if the liquid isn't reducing as much as you like, uncover the stew and continue cooking.
- One the stew is cooked If you used chicken with skin (I did), take the chicken pieces out of the pot and remove the skin. Serve chicken stew with rice or bread and garnish with coriander.
Leftover Bezar Spice Mix can be used to marinate chicken,lamb or used in other Omani and Emirati dishes. I used 4 tablespoon oil plus chicken with skin (removed before serving). I found the dish slightly too oily, so next time I would use 2 tablespoon oil or if you prefer use chicken without the skin.
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