International Meals – Kuwait

We return to somewhat less shaky alphabetical ground with Kuwait.  Best known in the US as the country whose invasion by Iraq in 1990 precipitated the first Gulf War, Kuwait has a long and complicated history as a part of a number of empires, including the Greeks, the Persians, the Ottomans, and the British.  It gained independence in the 1960s, and for a time was the biggest oil exporter in the region, despite its small size.

The national dish of Kuwait is machboos, a dish consisting of spiced chicken or lamb, rice cooked in the meat stock, and a middle layer consisting of split peas, raisins, and onions.  We’re going to use the recipe published on “United Noshes” from someone named “Al.”  That’s capital A lowercase “ell”.  The recipe was NOT produced by AI, as far as we know.

To start, I had to do something EXTREMELY unusual, that has not come up a single time on this blog so far.

No, just kidding – I had to chop up an onion.


The other major bit of prep work before we could attack the chicken was to make a spice blend called bezar.  This involved toasting a number of different spices one at a time, since they all have different cooking times, then blending them in a grinder.

Toasted spicesGround Spices
We don’t mind making our own spice blends, because toasting spices always makes the kitchen smell AMAZING.

One of the things that makes this dish complicated is that the chicken is cooked four different ways – it is poached, then seared, then braised, then baked.  To start with, the chicken is poached from the King’s forest in boiling water for ten minutes to start the cooking process, but also to flavor the cooking water into a stock.

Poached chicken

Next up, we fry the aforementioned onions with some garlic.  Once they’ve softened a bit, the chicken goes in to get a bit of color on it.

Chicken frying

This picture was taken BEFORE said color had started to appear. Once the chicken has a sear on it, you go in with the spices, water, and some tomato paste and let it braise.  And here we confront the fact that this is a “someone’s dad named Al” recipe, because we have directions like “cook until the chicken is soft and the sauce tastes amazing.”  Thanks, Al.

Chicken braising
The rear pot is the dried yellow split peas getting underway in some boiling water. Once they’re tender, you cook some more onions, then mix them with the peas and the raisins and simmer some more.

But wait, we also need rice.  As per usual on this blog, we refuse to cook rice using any method OTHER than a rice cooker unless it’s absolutely necessary.  And it wasn’t in this case – the recipe explicitly contemplated using one.  The only distinctive feature here is that the rice is cooked in the chicken stock we made while we were poaching the chicken.

Finally, the braised chicken gets sprinkled with cinnamon and put in a pan to roast “until the smell is unbearable.”

Chicken ready to bake.
This is the part where I suspect Al’s recollections leave something to be desired – we’re putting chicken in a hot oven with no liquid and no covering. Won’t this dry things out?

Well, as it turns out, yes, it does a bit.  In hindsight, I should have listened to my suspicion and looked at a few more recipes, which would have indicated to COVER the chicken, and possibly pour some oil over the chicken to keep it moist.

The recipe didn’t SAY to reduce the tomato sauce after braising the chicken, but it was a bit thin, so we left it on the heat while we took care of everything else. Here’s the whole pile, ready for assembly.

Machboos components

And here it is assembled.

That looks pretty doesn’t it?  Despite being a little dry, the flavor was excellent – we served the rest of the tomato sauce on the side, and it was absolutely delicious over the chicken, rice, and peas.  The only change I’d make, were I to make this again, besides covering the chicken in the oven, would be to add more raisins.  Their sweetness was an excellent contrast to everything else, but there weren’t ENOUGH.

Now, Kuwait is a strictly Islamic country – you can’t get so much as a beer at the airport. But I was able to locate one of the MOST popular drinks in the country.  I found it at a store called (checks notes) “Celtic Treasure Chest.”  Wait, what?

Apparently the frequent drink of choice in this middle eastern country is a blackcurrant  soda from Manchester.  I blame colonialism.  It’s usually safe to blame colonialism.

To finish the meal, we made a ring cake called Gers Ogili, Gers apparently just means “circle,” so this is the circle of Ogili.  It’s a fairly dense cake that uses rather a LOT of saffron, giving it an intense yellow color.

You whip eggs and sugar together in one bowl, put your dry ingredients in a second, and your wet ingredients in a third. In addition to the aforementioned saffron, the cake also contains rosewater and cardamom.

Cake ingredients

The batter was baked in our (newly acquired for this purpose) bundt pan, and produced a dense, delicious cake with a really striking appearance.

Gers ogali cake

And that’s Kuwait!  Only one more “K” country to go, and it’s probably one of the hardest countries to spell in the entire world.  Stay tuned!

Gers Ogali

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