The rain in Bahrain stays mainly on the plain…

December 3, 2014

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The only thing I know about Bahrain is that my college freshman roommate was from there. It is an island, and a very well educated and financially sound country. Apparently the name is derived from the dual form of the word for “sea”. Which two seas are meant by this is debated, but it underscores the influence the water has on the country. Their economy was the first in the region to be non-oil based, favoring tourism and financial institutions.

I have always been a fan of unique and occult artifacts. From the legends incorporated into the Indiana Jones films, Fantasy Novels, Comic Books, and even those based in history. The myths surrounding items of power and meaning simply fascinate me which is one reason for my love of history. The sacking of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, by the very crusaders who were allied with it, fascinated me when I studied it in college. It was such an odd singular event in history that was complex and stood alone…or so I thought.

Apparently during the pilgrimage season of 930, a dissident Muslim group, whose stronghold was in Bahrain, called the Qarmatians sacked Mecca. Unlike the holy city of Jerusalem, which was/has traded hands for millennia due to its vulnerable location, Mecca has been more safely ensconced in strongly Muslim held lands. That is why I was shocked to learn about its sacking, especially by a Muslim group.

That was interesting enough, but then I read that not only did they pillage and perform acts of desecration, but they stole the Black Stone and took it back to Bahrain. I know right?! The actually Black Stone. For those unfamiliar with Muslim relics (as I was before looking this up), I bet it sounds like we just took a detour into a universe of the Maltese Falcon, Ark of the Covenant, One Ring, Excalibur, or a magic lamp.

Although Black Stone sounds menacing and dangerous…I’m pretty sure it is just a stone. It is said that is was a pagan relic from pre-Islamic times and that Muhammad himself set it into the wall of the Kaaba (the building towards which Muslims pray, the most sacred place in Islam) in 605. After being stolen in 930, the Qarmatians placed it in their own mosque hoping to divert the hajj away from Mecca but it did not work. It was ransomed back twenty-three years later for a large sum of money, but was broken in the process of removal and return. The fragments are now set in silver and millions of pilgrims attempt to kiss it every year as they ritually circle the Kaaba seven times, though due to the enormous crowd this is nearly impossible. The end.

Ok, I thought it was a pretty good story actually, especially for one mostly likely without magic. But I did go to the trouble of cooking something, so we should probably get to that. I made Bahraini Chicken Machbūs which is a mixed rice dish. The base of the dish is basmati rice on top of which you lay the heavily seasoned seared/boiled/broiled chicken.

The main flavor punch comes from the surprisingly delicious combination of turmeric, cumin, and cardamom. I really loved everything about this dish, especially the sweetness of the onions and rice contrasted against the very savory chicken. The multiple cooking methods leave the chicken moist on the inside and crispy on the outside, while the rose water adds a very beautiful fragrant aroma to the rice. I am starting to learn the proper use of cardamom, an ingredient which, much like the Black Stone, needs a gentle touch, but can be a unique and powerful addition.

I know that was a weak analogy, give me a break I have a cat chewing on my sleeve and distracting me.

Next up is Bangladesh. Where we can walk like an Egyptian on a manic Monday while looking for an eternal flame…



Bahraini Chicken Machbus

3-4 servings


  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 12 oz basmati rice
  • 1 1/2 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1.5 lbs chicken
  • 1 1/2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green hot pepper, as desired
  • 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 slice gingerroot, cut into small pieces (or ground ginger)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rose water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt



Heat the water and leave aside. In a small bowl, turmeric, cumin, and cardamom together and add to the mixture one teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle half of the spice mixture on the chicken.

Heat oil in a large cooking pan, fry the onions until golden brown, then add to the pepper.

Add the chicken to the onion mixture and turn it over a few times in the pan. Sprinkle on the chicken a teaspoon of cinnamon and the rest of the mixed spices. Turn the contents all together so the chicken is coated with the spices, cover the pan and let it cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.

Add the garlic, ginger, and tomato cubes to the pan and turn the ingredients in the pan a few times. Cover again for 3 minutes on medium heat. Sprinkle with the rest of the salt and pour on it water while its still hot.

Cover the pan and let it cook for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked. While the chicken is cooking, wash the rice well and soak for 10 minutes in cold water, then drain.

Remove the chicken from the pan and put on an oven tray, brush with some oil and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon powder and grill in the oven until the chicken is golden brown.

Add the rice to the chicken stock, stir, then let it cook on low heat until the rice absorbs the stock and is almost done.

Sprinkle rose water and lemon juice over the rice and place the butter pieces on the top. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.

Serve the rice on a large serving plate and place the grilled chicken halves on the top.






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