Finally it’s all over and my life is beginning to take shape again. We moved out of my childhood home, spent two months in a tiny apartment pretty close to the beach and moved into our new home. Then I went to visit my daughter in Germany and spent some time in Arabia – Abu Dhabi to be precise & now I’m back & to face life. Abu Dhabi was fascinating & I loved it, not only because I spent time with a very old friend & family but because the country is so fascinating.
Abu Dhabi is brand new and beautiful and, since it’s one of the richest cities in the world, it’s quite understandable! Historically Abu Dhabi seems to have been home to the ancient Umm an Nar culture who lived there around the 3rd millennium BC – because of the mountain of Hafeet, it would have been pretty visible. Nobody really knows the origin of the name “Abu Dhabi” and, believe me, I asked – apparently it means “father of the deer” because there used to be gazelle in the region; the assistant under secretary for Cultural Affairs, Bilal Al Budoor
The origin of the name “Abu Dhabi” is uncertain. Meaning “Father of Deer”, it probably referred to the few gazelle that inhabit the emirate – according to Bilal Al Budoor, assistant under-secretary for Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Culture. The city’s original name was “Milh” which means “Salt” (for the salty water of the Persian Gulf) but around 300 years ago, the name Abu Dhabi was used by locals. Originally Abu Dhabi’s economy was centred around the pearl industry but in the 1930’s the pearl trade declined and oil was discovered – with the help of the Brits and with permission from Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan al Nahyan, a concession was signed and drilling began. It took a while but in and around 1960 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan decided to spend the oil money on the people of Abu Dhabi and built them a city that will take your breath away. I kept on having to remind myself that I was in the desert and not at an oasis – it’s filled with trees and plants and the Al Nahyan family make very sure that the city and it’s people are well looked after.
I didn’t see very many old buildings – in fact, I didn’t see a single really old building, mainly because there aren’t any; the construction of Abu Dhabi began in 1960 and the oldest buildings we see today can be no older than 53, not that I saw anything that old. The city is ueber clean and everything functions – parking is paid by SMS, service is outstanding, the people are really friendly and despite all the silly publicity, it’s well worth a visit. It’s very hot – really really hot but since everything is air-conditioned, you hardly feel it .
Capital Gate clocks in at a 160 metres with an 18 degree incline to the west! It’s quite something to see and made me quite dizzy – no way was I going to go into the place! According to the Guinness Book of Records, Capital Gate was the world’s furthest leaning man-made tower (in June 2010). There are hundreds, if not thousands of restaurants and eateries in the city and there’s nothing you won’t find. I was adamant about it Middle Eastern food so my long suffering friends took me to a little place in a Souk. As everywhere, the food was outstanding, albeit pricey.
I love bread and found this amazing recipe for typical Middle Eastern flatbreads.
- 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 200g strong flour, here you’re probably looking for a type 00 or what we call ‘bread flour’
- 1 tsp instant yeast (fast action)
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp za’atar
- 1 tsp fine salt
- 325ml warm water
- 2 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling bowl
- For the topping
- 3 tbsp za’atar
- 1½ tbsp sumac – get the ground kind or grind it yourself
- Sieve both kinds of flour into a big bowl, then add the yeast, the za’atar, the sugar and the salt; in another bowl, combine the warm water and the oil and then pour into the dry ingredients – mix until you have a soft, sticky dough and then cover with a cloth to prove for ten minutes.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface & knead it for ten minutes until it’s soft & shiny – you may need to add a little flour.
- Now transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, turn it around so that all the sides are covered wtih a little oil – cover this with cling wrap & set aside to prove for around an hour – it needs to double in size.
- Cover your hands with flour & then knock the dough down before transferring it onto a floured surface & dividing it into six pieces, all the same size, and roll into a ball; roll each one out into a circle, about 3 mm thick and put each circle on a lightly floured cloth; spray each circle with a teeny bit of water and sprinkle the za’atar & sumac over the surface – now let it prove again for half an hour.
- Preheat your oven to it’s maximum temperature – it needs to be ueber hot; place an upturned roasting tray in the middle to lower shelf (the more uneven the surface the better so if you have a really battered old tray, use it).
- Leave this tray to heat up for about 25 minutes before baking the flatbreads on top of them.
- Bake about two, even three of them for about 5 minutes until they’re puffy and some brown spots have started to form; keep the oven door closed to prevent the oven from cooling down while they cook & check on them while they cook (these breads can burn easily).
- When they’re ready, remove them from the oven & cool them on a cooling rack – continue until you’ve used all the dough.
- 4 firm aubergines (don’t get the really big ones – medium sized is good)
- 3 fat cloves garlic
- 1 whole lemon, juice only
- 2 generous tbsp tahini
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
- Prick the aubergines with a sharp fork and bake them in the oven until the skin is charred and blackened & the flesh feels soft when you press it; it will take about half an hour, maybe less; remove from oven when ready and set aside to cool.
- In a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic with the lemon juice, the tahini and the olive oil, then add a touch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- As soon as the aubergines have cooled down, scoop out the flesh and mix it with the rest of the ingredients; put everything in a large dish, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with parsley or pomegranate seeds.