(MENAFN - Arab News) Since I have begun writing about restaurants in Riyadh I have always wondered why there are so few restaurants serving Saudi food. Expatriates often think that Kapsa is the only Saudi dish but this is not the case.
A quick glance at Saudi cuisine highlights the importance of regional cooking as well as foreign influences namely Turkish Indian Syrian Lebanese and Egyptian. The truth is that the best Saudi food is still cooked at home. But if you do not have access to genuine homemade Saudi food I recommend you try the Najd Village. Established since 1996 this restaurant has been consistently serving good Saudi food in a typical Najdi environment. It specializes in the regional cuisine of the Najd hence its name.
There are two Najd Villages operating in Riyadh; one is situated on the Takhassoussi Road and the other on Abu Bakr Road. The restaurants are built in a traditional Najdi architectural style and cannot be missed.
The popular 'Kapsa' also written as 'Kabsah' tops the list of dishes. It is interesting to know that before the advent of planes and refrigeration only dried shrimps were available. Many Najdi people still feel that a traditional 'Shrimp Kapsa' should be made exclusively with dried shrimps. I prefer fresh shrimps and nowadays most of the shrimp kapsas are prepared with fresh shrimps.
A 'Kapsa' incidentally can also be prepared with fish chicken lamb and even camel meat and all these variations are included on the Najd Village menu. The main ingredients are rice dried limes known as 'loomi' cardamom and tomatoes. Loomis are dried on the trees and come mainly from Thailand and Oman. Although its blackish and rubbery appearance might repel you at first do not discard it. The 'loomi' has a delicious fruity sour taste which gives the Kapsa its inimitable flavor. All you need to do is just squeeze the 'loomi' gently with a fork or a spoon and let the richly flavored juice seep into the rice.
Another traditional Najdi dish is 'Gorsan' which despite its appearance is very tasty when it is properly made. Most of the 'Gorsan' I have eaten contained chili but it is optional.
'Gorsan' consists of dough made from whole wheat flour water and yeast. The dough is baked on a griddle. When the thin sheet of bread is cooked it is then broken into pieces which are thrown into a stew made of chunks of boneless meat tomatoes green beans pumpkin courgettes onions black pepper and of course dried limes or 'loomi'.
'Margook' another typical dish is similar to the 'Gorsan' in so far as it uses the same dough rolled into thin sheets which are added to a stew of meat green beans green pumpkin yellow pumpkin courgettes onions and flavored with black pepper cumin chili loomi cinnamon and cardamon seeds.
'Gereesh Bil Laban' which is cracked wheat cooked in a yoghurt sauce is also very popular in the Najd province. Yoghurt and salt are placed over low heat until the mixture reaches the boiling stage. Then the cracked wheat which has been previously washed and drained is folded into the yoghurt sauce flavored with ground cumin and red chili peppers and left to simmer for at least three hours. 'Jareesh' should be served piping hot sprinkled with melted butter or ghee.
The menu also features 'Badya' an elaborate dish which takes at least six hours to prepare. It consists of a layer of 'Jareesh' topped with 'Gorsan' which is itself covered with steaming hot rice and a final layer of roasted lamb or chicken or camel meat sprinkled with raisins almonds and garnished with boiled eggs tomatoes and chili.
If you want to end your meal with a typical Najdi dessert you must ignore the menu's selection of desserts and return to the section of wheat dishes. If you look carefully you will find there three superb date specialties known as 'Hineeny' 'Mihalla' and 'Qishdah'.
I love 'Hineeny' which is generally served in winter but can be prepared and eaten all year round. To prepare 'hineeny' you have to first prepare dough made of rye flour and water and shape it into pancakes which are cooked on a griddle. These thin sheets of bread are subsequently broken into pieces and mixed with soft dates cut into pieces. This mixture of bread and dates is slowly fried with butter in a pan. Some people like to sprinkle 'hineeny' with black pepper. It is in the end all a matter of taste but I definitely prefer 'hineeny' without pepper.
'Mihalla' is made with dates and rye flour but it looks more like a very thick and smooth sauce. The dates are boiled strained and then returned to the heat. Rye flour is then slowly added to the date mixture along with melted butter. This is left to simmer over a low heat for at least an hour. Mihalla is served hot and it is very often sprinkled with lots of black pepper which completely blends in with the sweetness of the date. The use of black pepper is optional however and I have met many Saudi people who very much prefer 'Mihalla' and 'Hineeny' without black pepper.
'Qishda' is similar to 'Mihalla' and it is also made with dates butter and rye flour. Butter is melted in a pan to which the flour is added and stirred into the butter until it is brown. Then the dates are mixed thoroughly over a low heat until the dates have a firm texture.
I have only selected a few of the specialties mentioned on the Najd Village Menu which features many more dishes. As I am writing this I am thinking of Temman a superb dish made with vegetables meat and a special variety of rice.
Saudi cuisine doesn't have the variety of dishes found in French or Chinese cooking but it has some very tasty and unique food which reflects the history and generosity of its people.
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