Yemen

The Republic of Yemen is in the Arabian peninsular and shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. The Houthis, a Shiite tribal militia from northwest Yemen, have been at war with the central government for the best part of a decade. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Yemen.

A few facts
In ancient times Yemen was known as Arabia Felix, Latin for “happy” or “fortunate. Today, Yemen is neither happy nor fortunate, but it acquired the name because its high mountains attracted rain, making it more fertile than most of the Arabian peninsula.
Shibam, in Hadramaut province, is sometimes known as “the Manhattan of the desert”. It consists of some 500 mud-built tower houses resembling skyscrapers, some of them as many as 11 storeys high. Shibam is a Unesco world heritage site.
Yemen claims to be the ancient homeland of the Queen of Sheba (Balqis or Bilqis in Arabic).
Camel jumping is a traditional sport that is becoming increasingly popular among the Zaraniq tribe on the west coast of Yemen in a desert plain by the Red Sea. Camels are placed side to side and victory goes to the competitor who leaps, from a running start, over the most camels.

Popular Yememi dishes include Saltah (meat stew), Laxoox (flatbread), Aseed (dried fish served with local cheese, salad of garlic and spring onions with meat and sauce), Fatoot (fried bread with eggs), Bint Al-Sahn (sweet honey cake). I made Chicken Mandi (slow cooked spiced chicken over rice). It was quite tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 45 minutes + 4 hours – overnight marinating
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes

For making Hawaij Spice
1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tbsp whole cardamom pods
1/4 tsp whole cloves
1 inch whole cinnamon

For marinating chicken
1½ kg chicken
2 tbsp hawaij spice
40g butter, melted
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3 tsp salt

For making Rice
2 cups basmati rice
1½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 whole cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 inch whole cinnamon
2 bay leaves
2 green chilies
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp soaked in 1½ tbsp water saffron strands
4 cups water
Salt to taste

In a small frying pan, roast all the ingredients for making the hawaij over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or till aromatic. Do not burn the spices.
Let the roasted spices cool down and grind to a fine powder
In a bowl, combine 2 tbsp hawaij with ½ tsp turmeric powder, ground pepper, salt and melted butter
Using a brush, spread the spice rub inside the skin, over the chicken and also inside the cavity
Place the chicken in a bag and marinate in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight
Making rice
In a small bowl, soak the saffron in water for an hour. Keep aside
Place a large pot over medium heat, add oil
Add onion, season with salt and cook till translucent
Remove the pot from the heat
Add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, pepper corns, green chilies, turmeric powder, rice, water and enough salt. Combine well

Baking the chicken and rice
Preheat oven to 210 C
Place a wire rack over the pot with rice, and place the marinated chicken breast side down on the wire rack to allow the drippings from the chicken to fall into the rice. Make sure the pot is larger than the chicken
Place the pot along with chicken on the lower rack in the preheated oven
Cook for 15 minutes at 210 C
After 15 minutes, lower the heat to 180 C and cook the chicken and rice for 45 minutes
After an hour, gently flip the chicken (breast side up) and again cook for another 30 minutes or till the chicken has browned and cooked well inside.
Take the rice and chicken from the oven. Remove the wire rack from the pot, let the chicken rest for 5 minutes
Add the soaked saffron into the rice and combine well. Adding saffron is a must as this is what makes the rice aromatic and flavorful
Place the rice on a platter and put the chicken on top and serve

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Oman

I’ve always wanted to go to Oman, well actually, I’ve always wanted to go the Chedi hotel in Muscat. Pouring over glossy travel magazines, as is my want, I came across it’s magnificent white Omani architecture and calming pools many years ago. It just oozes luxury and zen like serenity. However at £230 per night for a sea view room or £450 for a club suite, I’ve not quite got there yet.

The Sultanate of Oman is a nation on the Arabian Peninsula, it is bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the south and southwest, and shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. Oman is an absolute monarchy, meaning the monarch has unrestricted political power over the sovereign state and its people. The Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has been the hereditary leader of the country since 1970.

The largest dagger measured 91.50 cm (36.02 in) in length and 21.60 cm (8.50 in) at its widest point and was achieved by Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel) in Muscat, Oman, on 12 November 2011. The dagger was produced as a gift to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, to celebrate his 40 years of accession. The dagger was a Khanja- a traditional Omani dagger and Oman’s national symbol. The dagger was made from wood and silver, with ornate carvings and mouldings.

Some of the top highlights for the visitor are Nizwa’s 17th century fort, Wadi Shab gorge, the port and capital city of Muscat, Sharqiya (Wahiba) sand dunes, Masirah’s picture perfect beaches and the Empty Quarter, the largest contiguous sand desert (erg) in the world.

Omani cuisine is rooted in a Bedouin culture of hospitality, using whatever is on hand to feed a wandering stranger or a crowd of friends. Dishes are often based on chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as the staple of rice. Common dishes include Machboos (rice flavored with saffron and cooked over spicy meat), Sakhana (thick soup), Djaj Fouq El-Eish (spiced chicken and rice) and Mishkak (skewered meat cooked over charcoal). I decided to cook the festival meal of Shuwa, which traditionally is covered with banana leaves and cooked in an underground sand oven for up to 2 days. As my husband wasn’t too keen on me digging a fire pit in our garden, I opted to cook it in the oven! It is served over a fragrant rice and we really enjoyed it.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 mins + 24 hours marinating
Cook time: 3 hours 50 mins

1/2 leg of lamb, pierced in a few places with a sharp knife

For the marinade:
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground pepper
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp red chili powder
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon

For the rice:
2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp pepper corns
2 cardamom pods
2 cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt

Thoroughly combine all the marinade ingredients
Put the lamb in a bag and pour the spice mix over the lamb leg, massaging it well inside the bag so it’s fully coated and the liquids get into the pierced holes
Place in the fridge for 24 hours

Preheat the oven to 150c
Put the lamb in a roasting tray and cover tightly with foil
Cook for 3 and a 1/2 hours, basting every hour
Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 mins
Put the lamb on a carving board, rest for 5 mins then carve

For the rice (start 20 – 30 mins before lamb is ready)
Soak the rice for 10 mins in water, drain and rinse
Heat a heavy bottom pan to a medium – high heat
Add oil
Add all the spices and fry for 30 seconds
Add the water
When water is boiling, add the rice
Cook until the water has all been absorbed, stir gently, then turn off the heat and cover with a lid
Let it steam until the lamb is ready

 

Wadi Shab, Oman
Wadi Shab gorge, Oman
Muscat Oman
Muscat, Oman
Chedi hotel Muscat
Chedi hotel, Muscat
Masirah beach Oman
Masirah beach, Oman

San Marino

San Marino is an enclaved microstate surrounded by Italy between the regions of Emilia Romagna and Marche and is the fifth smallest country in the world. It claims to be the world’s oldest republic, where it is said that Saint Marinus, a Christian stonemason from Croatia, built a church perched on top of a mountain and founded the republic in 301 AD. Their constitution, a series of six books written in Latin in the late 16th century is the oldest still in effect. It has a population of 33,000 and a land area of just 61 sq km. It is the only country in the world with more vehicles than people.

San Marino’s Historic Centre and Mount Titano became part of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008 and it is host to 2 million tourists each year. According to Lonely Planet the top things to see include the Palazzo Public (the town hall and official government building), the coastal panorama atop Castello della Cesta (the highest of San Marino’s three fortresses), horrific torture devices at the Museo della Tortura and the relics of Saint Marinus inside the Basilica del Santo.

Sammarinese cuisine is very similar to Italian. Some of the recipes I came across were Piadina (savoury filled pitta), Nidi di Rondine “Swallow’s Nests” (baked pasta with cheese & ham), Roast rabbit with fennel and Fagioli con le cotiche (bean and bacon soup). Sweet dishes include Torta Tre Monti (“Cake of the Three Towers”), a wafer layered cake covered in chocolate depicting the Three Towers of San Marino, Bustrengo (cake made with raisins) and Cacciatello (a dessert similar to crème caramel). I decided to make Steak San Marino which was slow cooked with vegetables and red wine. It was quite spicy and I would be tempted to add some bacon to give it a touch of sweetness. I served it with some Thyme roasted potatoes.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 5 hours

2 rump beef steaks
Plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
100ml red wine
1/2 medium onion
1 large carrot
1 stick celery
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 bay leaf
1/2 tbsp hot sauce

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees c
Peel and chop the onion and carrots into small chunks
Combine the flour and salt and pepper and coat the steaks with the flour mix
Coat the bottom of an oven proof pan with a little oil and place the steaks in the bottom
Mix the tomatoes, wine, carrots, onion, celery, mixed herbs, bay leaf and hot sauce in a mixing bowl and pour over the steaks
Cook in the oven for 5 hours
Once cooked, discard the bay leaf and remove the steaks to serving plates

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Ingredients for Steak San Marino
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Steak San Marino
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Steak San Marino
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Steak San Marino
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Steak San Marino
Mount Titano San Marino
Mount Titano, San Marino
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Palazzo Pubblico, San Marino