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How to Prepare and Enjoy Arabic Coffee

August 29th, 2011 15 comments

If you visit an Arab home in the UAE in celebration of Eid ul-Fitr, you’ll probably be served some version of Arabic coffee. I’m not talking about thick, dark Turkish coffee or greenish Saudi coffee. I’m referring to the coffee of the Gulf, served in small thimble-shaped cups.

The first time I had Arabic coffee, I was not impressed. It didn’t taste like coffee; it didn’t even look like coffee. It was bitter and spicy. And what about the teeny tiny cups, barely half full?

But Arabic coffee grew on me. By my second Eid in the UAE I was making Arabic coffee myself. I made its most basic form: water, lightly roasted coffee, ground with cardamom and boiled for about 15 to 20 minutes—not percolated or filtered—but boiled.

Later, I learned more sophisticated variations and flavorings. I refined my method and added saffron, cloves and rose water. I discovered I not only like Arabic coffee, but I love Arabic coffee.

A Bit of Background

Originally the coffee beans were roasted on an open fire and prepared in a coffee pot (dallah), also over an open fire.

Nowadays it’s prepared on a stovetop and transferred to a stylish thermos flask, where it’s kept warm for guests. Below is an authentic dallah on the left and a themos flask on the right.

Here in the Gulf, Arabic coffee is bought at the roasters—either in the souk, at a large Arabic supermarket or even at the mall. It’s often sold at the same place where nuts and spices are sold. Normally there are four types of roasts available: Dark and Medium Turkish coffee (on the left below) or very light Saudi coffee (on the right). Second from the right is Arabic coffee, which in the UAE is also called Khaleeji (Gulf) coffee or local coffee.

Coffee is revered so much in the UAE that you sometimes see an enormous coffee pot (dallah) in the street. These roudabout coffee pots are in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

The dallah is such an important symbol in the UAE that  a picture of one is on the dirham coin.

For Arabic coffee, the arabica beans are lightly roasted and lighter in color than what we see in North America. With the addition of cardamom, the coffee takes on a green hue (but it’s not as green as Saudi coffee).

Note: sometimes “Turkish coffee” and “Arabic coffee” are used interchangeably, but they are different. Turkish coffee is dark and thick, with foam on top and grounds at the bottom. It’s often sweet when Arabic coffee is never sweetened.       

How to Prepare Arabic Coffee

A good ratio is 1 Tablespoon ground coffee per cup of water. If you like cardamom, 3 parts coffee to one part cardamom is good ratio to start, and you can adjust to taste. The cardamom can be ground with the coffee (the easiest method) or crushed cardamom can be added near the end of cooking. If you like extra cardamom, you can do both.

In addition to the cardamom, other flavorings are cloves (added toward the end of the cooking process) as well as saffron and rose water (added to the thermos flask). Some say you can use cardamom with cloves or with saffron and rose water. I like to use all four!

Sugar and milk are never added. However, Arabic coffee is typically served with something sweet on the side, usually dates.

ARABIC COFFEE

3 cups water

3 Tablespoons Arabic coffee, coarsely ground

1 Tablespoon cardamom (or to taste) either ground or crushed with a mortar

5-6 whole cloves (optional)

small pinch saffron (optional)

1 teaspoon rose water (optional)

 

Method

1.Bring water to boil in a dallah. If you don’t have one, simply use a medium saucepan. I like to use a long-handled coffee pot (used for Turkish coffee) because it’s easy to pour from.

2. When the water boils, add the ground coffee (and ground cardamom if it’s mixed with the coffee). Boil for 10 to 12 minutes.

3. Add crushed cardamom and cloves—if you are using them. Stir once and boil for another 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, pre-heat a thermos flask with boiling water. Don’t forget to remove the hot water before adding the coffee.

5. Remove coffee pot from heat, cover and let coffee grounds settle to the bottom for a minute. Do not stir.

6. Add the rose water and small pinch of saffron to the empty themos flask. Strain and pour the steaming coffee into the flask.

7. Allow to seep for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Arabic Coffee Etiquette

Arabic coffee is entrenched in hospitality, tradition and ceremony. In the Gulf, coffee is served in a small delicate cup (finjaan). The coffee is served and received with the right hand. The cup is only filled half full or less—so it cools quickly.

To be gracious, the guest should accept at least one cup. It’s standard to accept three. A swish or jiggle of the cup shows that you are finished. Meanwhile, all this pouring insures that the host is kept busily focused on his or her guests.

Arabic coffee can be served any time. It’s served in the home, at social gatherings or business meetings. In Dubai, you might even be served Arabic coffee at the mall.

Questions: How do you prepare your Arabic coffee? What is your impression of Arabic coffee?

Eid Mubarak!!

August 29th, 2011 No comments

Tomorrow has been declared Eid al-Fitr in the UAE. Wishing everyone a very happy Eid with their loved ones … Eid Mubarak!!

Ma’amoul ~ Date-filled Eid Pastries

August 26th, 2011 35 comments

Ma’amoul are delicate little stuffed pastries that are served all over the Arab world for Eid and Easter. They have several fillings—dates, walnuts or pistachios—and they come in a variety of shapes. Sometimes they are made with semolina, sometimes flour.

I use a special wooden mold to shape my ma’amoul. Round, shallow molds are for dates, while oval and deeper molds are for nuts. If you don’t have a mold, you can shape the ma’amoul in your hand with the tines of a fork.

Meanwhile, many Arab women use little decorative pinchers to create intricate designs in their ma’amoul.

 These pastries are all about the dates. Use the best quality dates you can get. I use these large dark-colored dates from the Gulf.

Below is our family recipe that I have made for Eid-al-fitr and Eid-al-adha for the past 15 years.

 

Ma’amoul

Makes about 36 pastries

1 kg (2 lbs.) high-quality dates (or less)

2½ c flour

½ lb. (two sticks or 227 g) unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon rose water

4 Tablespoons milk

Sifted confectioner’s sugar for dusting the pastries

 

Method

1. Remove pits from dates. Take a walnut-sized amount of dates and roll into a ball. When forming each ball, double check there are no pits. All of this handling should make the dates malleable and easy to shape. If the dates are sticking to your hands, rub your hands with a little butter. If your dates are dry and stiff, coarsely chop the 1 kg of pitted dates and put them in a saucepan with ½ cup water. Stir over medium heat for a few minutes until the dates soften. Roll the dates into 36 walnut-sized balls. (There may be leftover dates.)

2. To prepare the dough, begin by sifting the flour into a large mixing bowl. Work the butter into the flour with your hands or a pastry blender. Add rose water, followed by milk. Work the dough until it is soft and easy to shape.

3. Divide dough into four equal parts. Roll the dough into 36 balls. (Each quarter should make about nine balls of dough.) The dough balls should be about the same size as the date balls—the size of a small walnut.

4. Fill the dough balls with dates. First, flatten a ball of dough with your thumb and make a hollow. Press a date ball into the hollow. Pinch the dough back over the date filling, making a ball shape. Do this with all 36 balls.

 

5. Next press the filled dough balls one by one into the ma’amoul mold. To snap the dough out of the mold, tap the tip of the mold against the edge of the counter with a firm quick movement. With the other hand, catch the ma’amoul and place it on an un-greased cookie sheet. Dust some flour inside the mold if it’s sticking. Don’t worry about imperfections. They will be covered up by the confectioner’s sugar.

6. If you do not have a mold, flatten the balls slightly and decorate the sides and tops by using a fork.

7. Bake in a preheated slow oven (350°F, gas mark 3) for 15 to 20 minutes. Baking ma’amoul is a delicate operation and requires attention. The bottom-side of the ma’amoul will be slightly browned, but the tops should appear soft and uncooked. If the pastry tops become brown, they will become hard and their taste will be spoiled. Upon cooling, the pastries will become firm.

8. Cool ma’amoul on a cooling rack. When they are cold, dust confectioner’s sugar over them. They keep for at least a week in a tightly closed tin.

On Eid morning in the Arab world, it’s the custom to go visiting family, neighbors and friends. The host typically offers coffee and date- or nut- filled pastry, served up with some witty conversation. Some people may visit a dozen homes on Eid, stuffing themselves with coffee, sweets and the latest gossip.

If you’d like to try another variation, I also have a recipe for Nut-filled Ma’amoul.

Question: What sweet do you serve on Eid? How do you make your ma’amoul?