Citizens! It was with keen interest that I read just a few short days ago that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has finally relaxed its onerous visa requirements for tourism – it is now finally possible to go and easily visit the country without a religious or business purpose. The full story on the BBC is here and as such, I wanted to share with you today the Kingdom’s most prized dinner recipe – for camel kabsa (camel rice pilaf, to use the English)!
Yes, while it is true that my last recipe was a post for Turkmenistan fish and rice pilaf, this seemed like an equally antipodal choice to consider in the ‘unusual’ pilaf category and I have decided to post back-to-back pilaf recipes as a result!
Now – to be perfectly clear – camels are not eaten as an everyday meat in the Middle East. They are very expensive, costing thousands of dollars for a good specimen, tens of thousands for an excellent dromedary (single humped camel) and MILLIONS for the ultimate beauty queens!
Yes, there is an annual beauty pageant for camels in Saudi Arabia, as they are truly the symbols of their proud and ancient heritage – and just like in the West, cheating at beauty pageants (camel or otherwise) has become an issue.
Eating a camel isn’t something most of us have done – although the Emir of Exploration, the mighty TFD Himself – has indeed dined on this most unique of animals! It was at a Bedouin wedding feast in the wilds of the Sahara in Egypt many years ago when I was excavating an archaeological site at Beni Hasan (Arabic: بني حسن ). The meat was tender and delicious, and the hump was truly decadent with lip-smacking layers of both tender meat and luscious fat!
My uncle Tommy is one of the very few westerners who has ever cooked a whole camel in the traditional Middle Eastern fashion – he is a legend in the food industry and rightly so, having been honored to cook a whole camel for a Saudi Sheikh! Here he is in a brief video with his prized custom-made gas torch for BBQ!
Now, as it happens, it is quite easy to buy wild camel meat and fat here in the United States that is halal-certified for Muslim consumption, where it is imported in from Australia. Wild camels there are considered an invasive pest and it is actually helping the environment there to eat them – so eat them we shall! You can buy rendered halal-certified hump fat here and halal-certified camel stew meat here.
Now, as to Kabsa itself:
Kabsa (Arabic: كبسة) is a mixed rice dish that originates from Saudi Arabia but is commonly regarded as a national dish in many Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
The dish is made with rice and meat. It can often be found served in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The dish is also popularly known as makbūs (مكبوس/مچبوس).
The name comes from the Arabic word “kbs” (Arabic: “كبس”) which literally means ‘press’, alluding to the technique used in the cooking, where the ingredients are all cooked (or pressed) in one pot.
These dishes are usually made with rice (usually long-grain, almost always basmati), meat, vegetables, and a mixture of spices.
The spices used in kabsa are largely responsible for its taste; these are generally black pepper, cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, dried black lime, bay leaves and nutmeg. The main ingredient that accompanies the spices is the meat. The meats used are usually chicken, goat, lamb, camel, beef, fish or shrimp – There are many kinds of kabsa and each kind has a uniqueness about it – but today, we focus solely on camel.
In chicken machbūs, a whole chicken is used. The spices, rice and meat may be augmented with almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, onions and sultanas. The dish is served hot with daqqūs (Arabic: دقّوس), which is a home-made Arabic tomato sauce.
Citizens, my camel kabsa is the very definition of authenticity – don’t even THINK about substituting any other meat for the camel please! My spice blend is one I created especially to complement the sweetness of camel meat and I am quite sure once you have tasted the delights of camel, you will enjoy it with frequency! Even the fat used to fry the ingredients is rendered from camel hump – I like to use ½ sunflower oil and ½ camel hump fat, but feel free to adjust the proportions to your liking.
Dried limes (loomi) are a common seasoning in many Middle Eastern dishes and add a unique flavor to my version of kabsa. The limes are first cooked in salt water, then dried in the sun – the best are from the country of Oman. Whole or ground, dried limes can be found in many Middle Eastern markets – you can buy pre-ground loomi here.
Citizens, this is a rare dish outside of the Middle East – but it is one that deserves far greater understanding and appreciation as a delicious alternate meat recipe from beef, chicken or lamb. I hope you decide to give this a try – you will be well-rewarded, I promise! 😀
Battle on – the Generalissimo