Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chebeh Rubyan (Prawn Balls)

I have two Middle Eastern cookbooks, one which is like a handy informational brochure and the other more akin to a bible. Though the recipes in the bible sound amazing and usually have more robust flavor, about half are prefaced with "making this dish is a practice in both time and patience." Oof. So it stands that while I often read through my bible, I cook more from the brochure. But I cannot avoid recipes forever so yesterday I decided to make a Kuwaiti specialty, shrimp balls, in honor Eid celebrations.

It took some sacrifice on my part, as I had to renew the love/hate relationship with my Foop. I also feel uncomfortable sharing such a complicated recipe with you, but not everything can be boiled down to 30 minutes or less. While I lay awake listening to the Eid morning prayer through the minarets (it goes on for the entire hour before dawn and I find it impossible to ignore; Seth sleeps right through) I thought that these balls may not be as complicated as I thought while making them. You go through the motions once and subsequently it gets easier. Then I fully woke up and decided, no, it's damn complicated - especially if you serve it with Muhammar - and the time involved is suitable only for special occasions (in my opinion, anyway.)

With that said, you should make these. They are amazing and ridiculously flavorful. The sauce has a wonderful tang from the combination of dried limes and tamarind (yes, which I normally despise) and the simple onion filling makes the shrimp paste just pop, despite the fact that "shrimp paste" is probably one of the most unappetizing terms in the cooking lexicon. I was left with about 1 1/2 cups of paste so cooked up it for lunch today with some tomatoes, baharat and leftover rice and was still happily impressed by what Kuwaiti cuisine has to offer.

Just a couple of notes: the recipe calls for "ground rice" and I still am not sure what that is. I assume it isn't rice flour because that would have be listed instead and the recipe states that the balls will swell during cooking, which to me means that there are rice grains in the mixture. I precooked some basmati rice then pulsed it a few times in my Foop to make ground rice; I can only suggest you do the same. On saffron: I always state saffron as optional because I never use it; I refuse to spend money on what, to me, is a wasteful posh ingredient. Maybe it's because my taste buds were desensitized from my smoking days but I can't taste any distinctive flavor from saffron and don't care when certain dishes lack that yellow-orange hue. Of course, if you don't feel as strongly about the issue as me feel free to use saffron whenever it is mentioned.

Chebeh Rubyan
The Complete Middle East Cookbook

2lb uncooked prawns (shrimp)
1/4cup cilantro
1/2tsp ground turmeric
1/2 ground loomi (dried lime), optional
3/4cup ground rice
1tsp salt

1 large onion, finely diced
2tbsp ghee or clarified butter
1tsp Baharat
1/2tsp ground loomi or grated rind of 1/2 lemon or lime

Tamarind Sauce:
piece of tamarind the size of a small egg
2cups warm water
1 small onion, finely diced
1tbsp ghee of clarified butter
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
1tsp Baharat
1/4-1/2tsp hot chili pepper
2tsp sugar

1. Shell and devein prawns, sicne and dry well. Mix prawns with cilantro and process to a paste in food processor.

2. Combine prawn mixture with turmeric, ground loomi (if available) and ground rice. Add salt and mix well with hand (I used a spoon) until thoroughly blended. Cover and refrigerate until required.

3. In a pan gently fry large onion in ghee until transparent, stir in baharat and loomi (or lemon/lime rind) and remove from heat. Keep aside.

4. Soak tamarind in 1 cup warm water for 10 minutes and rub with fingers. Pass through a sieve, pressing pulp through with back of a spoon. Reserve tamarind liquid. (You just made tamarind puree!)

5. In a large, wide-based port gently fry small onion in ghee until transparent. Add tamarind liquid, remaining water, tomato, spices, salt to taste and sugar. Cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.

6. While the sauce is simmering, make chebeh. Take about a tablespoon of prawn paste and flatten in moistened palm. Place a teaspoon of onion filling in center and close up, shaping into a ball. (Mine ended up being larger than golf balls but smaller than tennis balls.) Keep hands moist during shaping. Repeat until ingredients are used. (I had about 1 1/2 cups prawn paste leftover.)

7. Drop completed chebeh into simmering sauce. Cover and simmer gently for 35-40 minutes. Chebeh will swell during cooking. Serve hot with Muhammar.

Muhammar (Sweet Rice)

1/4tsp saffron threads, optional
3 cardamom pods, cracked
2tbsp rose water
2cups basmati rice
6cups water
1tbsp salt
1/3-1/2cup granulated sugar or honey
1/4cup ghee or clarified butter

1. Soak saffron and cardamom in rose water while preparing rice.

2. Rinse rice until water runs clear.

3. Bring 6 cups water to the boil in a heavy pan, add salt and rice and stir occasionally until water returns to the boil. Leave uncovered and boil for 8 minutes. Drain in a colander.

4. Pour sugar or honey onto hot rice and mix through with a fork.

5. Heat ghee or butter in a pan in which rice was cooked and add sugared rice. Sprinkle rose water mixture on top. Make 3 holes in rice with the end of a wooden spoon.

6. Cover rim or pan with a paper towel and place lid on tightly. Cook rice over low heat for 20-25 minutes until tender.

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