Citizens, Chicken Machboos, or Machboos ala Dajaj (“spiced chicken and rice”), is the national dish of Bahrain, a small island country in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain also happens to be the home of one of my dear friends, whose grandmother is now sadly very ill and in hopeful recovery at King Hamad University Hospital.
Noor – this recipe is in her honor!
Bahrain, officially the Kingdom of Bahrain is situated near the western shores of the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. It is an archipelago with Bahrain Island, the largest land mass, at 55 km (34 mi) long by 18 km (11 mi) wide.
Saudi Arabia lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway while Iran lies 200 km (124 mi) to the north across the Persian Gulf. The peninsula of Qatar is to the southeast across the Gulf of Bahrain. The population in 2010 stood at 1,234,571, including 666,172 non-nationals.
Bahrain is the site of the ancient Dilmun civilization and has been famed since antiquity for its pearl fisheries, which were considered the best in the world into the 19th century.
Bahrain was one of the earliest areas to convert to Islam (628 AD). Following a period of Arab rule, Bahrain was occupied by the Portuguese in 1521, who in turn were expelled in 1602 by Shah Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty under the Persian Empire.
In 1783, the Bani Utbah clan captured Bahrain from Nasr Al-Madhkur and it has since been ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family, with Ahmed al Fateh as Bahrain’s first hakim.
In the late 1800s, following successive treaties with the British, Bahrain became a protectorate of the United Kingdom. In 1971, Bahrain declared independence. Formerly a state, Bahrain was declared a Kingdom in 2002.
Bahrain created the first post-oil economy in the Persian Gulf. Since the late 20th century, Bahrain has invested in both the banking and tourism sectors. The country’s capital, Manama, is home to many large financial structures.
The national dish of Machboos is similar to Biryani (from the Indian subcontinent) and Kabsa (from Saudi Arabia), all with varying cooking methods, ingredients, degree of spiciness, and assembly. That said, all three are essentially meat and rice dishes.
This dish relies on the spice blend known as Baharat for its primary flavor, in addition to dried limes, aka Loomi.
As noted on the excellent blog Daring Gourmet:
Loomi are limes, often from Oman, that have been boiled and then left to dry in the sun. Their color can range from tan to black. The concentrated lime flavor is intensely tangy and earthy with an almost smoky quality.
Loomi are sold under a variety of names including black limes, black lemons (though not lemons at all), and of course dried limes. They can be purchased either whole or in powdered form. Whole is better as the powder oxidizes quickly and much of the flavor can be lost. As with spices, it is better to keep them stored whole and then grind as needed.
Dried limes can be found in stores carrying Middle Eastern products or can be ordered online. They are also delicious stuffed into the cavity of a chicken before roasting or added to boiling rice for added flavor. You can purchase them online HERE.
I would like to think my version of Machboos would find great favor with my Bahraini readers who have chosen to become dual Citizens of TFD Nation. If you aren’t Bahraini, this is an exotic and delicious dish fully worthy of your attention!
In the meantime, please offer your prayers and best wishes of support to Noor and her family in this very difficult time.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 large onions, diced
3 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of The Hirshon Baharat spice mix (see recipe below)
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
A combination of chicken thighs, legs and breasts (about 3 pounds)
2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
6 large cloves or garlic, thinly sliced
1 (14 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, juices drained
2 dried limes (loomi), several holes punched throughout each one
6 green cardamom pods, skins removed and seeds ground
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
2½ teaspoons salt
2½ cups chicken stock
2 cups basmati rice (soaked for at least 15 minutes, then rinsed and drained)
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons Rosewater for sprinkling, or to taste (optional, but highly recommended)
For the Hirshon Baharat:
Blend 2 parts of these spices together in a bowl:
Black Pepper, Cumin, Coriander seed & Paprika (lightly toast the whole spices in a pan over medium heat until fragrant)
Next, add one part of all the following:
Clove, Nutmeg & Sea Salt (lightly toast the whole spices in a pan over medium heat until fragrant)
Now add ½ part of Cardamom seeds and Cinnamon (lightly toast the whole spices in a pan over medium heat until fragrant)
Grind all the spices together into a powder. Keep the leftover blend in an airtight container.
In a small bowl, mix the 2 tablespoons of baharat, clove, turmeric, cumin and cardamom together. Sprinkle half of the spice mixture on the chicken pieces.
Heat oil in a large cooking pan, fry the onions until golden brown, then add the hot pepper and the black limes. It’s VERY important to punch a few holes in the limes with a skewer, knife or the tines of fork before adding it to the dish, otherwise the juices won’t effectively penetrate the hardened skin.
Add the chicken to the onion mixture and turn it over a few times in the pan.
Sprinkle on the chicken a teaspoon of cinnamon and ¾ of the remaining mixed spice blend.
Turn the contents all together so the chicken is coated with the spices, cover the pan and let it cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.
Add the garlic, chopped ginger, and diced tomato to the pan and turn the ingredients in the pan a few times. Cover again for 3 minutes on medium heat.
Sprinkle with the rest of the salt and pour on chicken stock while it’s still hot.
Cover the pan and let it cook for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked. Remove the dried limes.
Add the chopped cilantro 5 minutes before you remove the chicken from the stock in the pan. While the chicken is cooking, wash the rice well and soak for 10 minutes in cold water, then drain.
Remove the chicken from the pan and put on an oven tray, brush with oil and sprinkle with the remainder of the mixed spice powder (use some of the leftover Baharat spice from when you made it, if needed) and grill in the oven until the chicken is golden brown.
Add the rice to the chicken stock, stir, then let it cook on low heat until the rice absorbs the stock and is almost done.
Sprinkle rosewater over the rice and place the ghee on the top. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.
Serve the rice on a large serving plate and place the grilled chicken halves on the top and garnish with the chopped parsley.