Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dry night

Imagine this. You plan a fun night out. Friends around the table. Great restaurant. Nice dinner. Your favorite wine. As soon as you sit down and ask for the menu, the waiter breaks the daunting news to you: no alcohol served tonight.

This happened to me once and it was traumatic, to say the least. From then on, I always keep my eyes and ears open for the so called dry nights.

Yesterday, for example, as I made dinner plans with friends for tonight, I realized it was Isra’a Wal Miraj, the day that marks the journey of Prophet Mohammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension. So, besides taking the time to book a table, I called around to ensure restaurants would not keep me thirsty.

Yes, the UAE is one of the most flexible Arab countries and, since there are so many expats around, there are rules and regulations in place to allow us access to a cold beer and a flute of bubbly from time to time.

However, on certain occasions, mostly holidays linked to religious reasons, the government orders restaurants not to serve alcohol – regardless of whether or not you are a non-Muslim.

Notices are given only a few days in advance and, sometimes, restaurants have to be extra creative and think of other ways to attract customers, who usually prefer to stay home (where they can pop up a bottle of champagne).

Good news this time is that dry night was over yesterday and I can now look forward to a delicious night ahead…

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fuel shortages in the UAE?

Since the UAE is the world’s third largest crude oil exporter, I always assumed I’d never face issues such as hikes in gasoline prices or fuel shortage while living here. Unfortunately, recent developments show that things are not as simple as they seem to be…

For the third time during the past ten months, UAE residents are frustrated as they face fuel shortages. The recent chaotic situation has forced many drivers to waste precious time waiting in long lines for fuel, while others were literally left stranded by the side of the roads without gas.  

Fuel shortages have led ENOC, one of UAE’s main oil retailers, to completely shutdown petrol stations – a total of 82 in Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah (five out of seven Emirates).

Why is this happening here? Well, let me see if I can simplify this as best as I can…

Basically, the main issue is that while Abu Dhabi produces and refines its own crude, Dubai oil retailers buy petrol at international market price and then need to sell it at prices imposed by the local government. Surely enough this has come at a high cost to companies, such as ENOC and EPPCO.

According to specialists, there are two ways out of this mess. One option is for the Abu Dhabi government to step in and ‘pay’ ENOC’s bill. A second possibility is to free pump prices of petrol so retailers can ask what they want – to expats, that is, since, rumor has it, Emiratis will be entitled to free gas.

In Abu Dhabi the situation seems to be under control. I just hope it remains that way. It’s so good to be able to pay only 20 bucks (USD) to fill up my tank!

More info:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A mouthwatering taste of the Middle East

During my recent trip to Brazil, several friends hinted that I should prepare them a true Middle Eastern dinner, filled with goodies that are actually very popular in Brazil as well, especially due to the huge presence of Lebanese immigrants and descendants in the country: kibbeh, hummus, moutabel…

Unfortunately, I am very lousy cook, so I guess they will never see that dinner materialize if it depends on me!

On the other hand, I am a very good friend, so I talked to some people over here and managed to get a few recipes, which are supposed to be easy breezy – even for me.

Let’s all give them a try? If you do, remember to let me know how they turned out!


Kibbeh
Kind of like a fried meat ball. Can also be baked.










Ingredients:
  • 1 kg (about 2 lbs) finely ground beef, divided
  • 200 g (about ½lb) bulgur cracked wheat
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • 2 medium onions, (1 finely chopped and 1 coarsely chopped)
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • vegetable oil for frying
Preparation:
In a medium bowl, soak wheat for 30 minutes in cold water. Remove and drain, leaving no excess water.

Place into medium bowl and combine with 500g (about 1lb) meat, coarsely chopped onion, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Combine well and place small amount into food processor until it reaches a dough-like consistency. Place mixture aside, covered.

In a medium frying pan, sauté the finely chopped onion in olive oil. Add pine nuts if desired. Add beef and chop well with wooden spoon or spatula. Add allspice, salt, pepper, and cumin. Once beef is light brown, remove from heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

To assemble the kibbeh, take an egg sized amount of the mixture and form into a ball. With your finger, poke a hole in the ball, making a space for filling. Add filling and pinch the top to seal the ball. You can then shape it into a point, or football shape, or leave as a ball.

Fry in 350 degree oil on stove top or in deep fryer for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.


Hummus
A very popular dip made of chickpeas. Goes amazingly well with pita bread!















Ingredients:

  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • ¼ cup liquid from can of chickpeas
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons lemon juice (depending on taste)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
Preparation:
Drain chickpeas and set aside liquid from can. Combine the chickpeas with the lemon juice, garlic, salt and olive oil in blender. Add 1/4 cup of liquid from chickpeas. Blend for 3 to 5 minutes on low until thoroughly mixed and smooth.

Place in serving bowl, and create a small hole in the center of the hummus, so you can add a small amount (1 to 2 tablespoons) of olive oil. Garnish with parsley (optional).

Moutabel
A dip, very similar to hummus, but made with eggplants.









Ingredients:

  • 3 eggplants
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ to ¼ teaspoon pepper depending on taste
  • 1 to 3 green chili pepper (depending on taste)
Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place eggplant on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes - or until eggplant is tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool, so you can peel the skin. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine the garlic and peppers. Add in eggplant and blend well. Add in olive oil.

Remove from food processor and place in serving bowl. Stir in lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Manakeesh
A dough, similar to pizza, topped with – basically – whatever you want: cheese, thyme, lamb, meat, chilli…








Ingredients:
  • ½ package active dry yeast
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup warm water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Preparation:
Mix the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the flour and 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl and let stand until mixture turns into a creamy foam (+/- 10 minutes).

In a large bowl, stir together the salt and 3/4 cups flour. Add yeast mixture and remaining 1/4 cup of warm water. Stir until smooth. Add 1/2 cup flour.

With floured hands, place the dough on a floured surface. Work the dough until it is smooth, soft and elastic (+/- 10 minutes).

Form dough into a ball, then generously dust with flour and put in a medium bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm, place until it doubles in size (about 1 to 1-1/4 hours).

When the dough has fully risen, place it onto a floured surface and press down to make a disk shape. Spread your favorite topping (thyme, cheese, lamb, meat, chilli, etc.) and place on a pizza stone or oiled pizza pan.

Cook in a 350-degree oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the dough is crispy and brown. Serve warm.


Sambousek
A dough, sort of like the Brazilian ‘pastel’, commonly filled with meat, cheese or spinach.










Ingredients:
  • 3 cups all purpose flour or
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup softened butter
  • ¾ cup water
Preparation:
Place flour in a deep bowl, add sugar, salt, butter and mix well with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Gradually add little quantities of water and mix thoroughly until a dough forms. Cover with kitchen cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, decide your stuffing. You can use minced meat or lamb, or you might opt for cheese or spinach.

Roll the dough into around 3 millimeters thin pastry. Using a medium size cup, or dough cutter, cut round pieces of the dough. Place 1 tablespoon of the stuffing in the center of each piece and seal the edges by pressing them with a fork.

Deep-fry the sambousek in 190°C preheated oil for 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oil and place in kitchen tissues to absorb excess oil then serve.

Ma’amoul
Shortbread pastries filled with dates, pistachios, walnuts, almonds…










Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup semolina
  • 2 sticks salted butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon water
  • 2 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ chopped dates or nuts (pistachios, walnuts, almonds)
  • Powder sugar for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons milk
Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and semolina. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, beat butter for 30 to 45 seconds. Slowly add in flour mixture until combined. Stir in milk, allspice and water.

In a small bowl, combine nuts and sugar. Set aside.

Roll dough into small circles. Place about 1 teaspoon of nut mixture on top of dough. Fold and press dough together to seal the filling.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Abu Dhabi: a little bit of everything for all

I am back in the UAE and, to celebrate the over 10,000 pageviews BurCArioca had so far (yay!!!), I thought I'd pay a tribute to Abu Dhabi by sharing this great promo video.

Hope you enjoy it and decide to explore this great Emirate for yourself...

Come visit - it's not thaaaaaat far folks!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A piece of the Arab world... in Brazil

Brazil is located far, far away, from the Middle East. Yes, it’s true. But did you know that this country in South America is home to over 15 million Arab immigrants and descendants? In fact, data shows that Brazil has the biggest Arab colony outside the Arab world. Amazing, right?
Arab migration to Brazil started back in the 19th century and was intensified by the social-economic problems in the region during the 20th century. Most of the Arab-descendants in Brazil came from Lebanon and Syria, but others can be traced to places like Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Iraq.
They moved to Brazil, worked hard, invested in education, took care of their families, preserved tradition and made a name not only as businessmen, but in other areas such as Medicine, Politics and more.
Names like Salim, Tufik, Fuad, and Ibrahim and surnames like Kassab, Haddad, Khalil, Mansour, Ghosn are popular. They can be seen and heard everywhere – especially at the Rua 25 de Março, in São Paulo, and Saara , in Rio de Janeiro.
The famous commercial spots mentioned above were founded by the Arab community. Great places to haggle, as if in one of the popular Middle Eastern street markets (souks), and to try Lebanese delicacies such as kibe, esfiha, and hummus.


So, although I was miles away from the UAE, it was easy to feel right at home as I split my time between Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Paraná – the three Brazilian states with the highest concentration of Arabs in Brazil.
It’s a small world after all…

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shisha - or narghille, lula, galyon, chillim...

After six years living abroad, four of them in the United Arab Emirates, it´s always good to come down to Brazil for a visit and see that, somehow, I´m continuously able to bridge my two worlds.

This time around, the link came through shisha – the traditional, and often glass-based, waterpipe found in different shapes, sizes and prices everywhere in the world and especially popular in the Middle East.

Believe it or not, one of my first nights in Rio de Janeiro was spent not at one of the many famous bars around the city, but at a friend´s house around a shisha she brought from the UAE when she went for a visit. Pretty cool to be able to reproduce here, in my hometown and with my closest friends, the Arab tradition of social smoking.


Never heard of shisha? Well, although Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Somalia, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates smoke shisha, other locations refer to it differently, so you might have seen it or even tried it under another name… Do these ring a bell? 

Lula
Albania, Bosnia

Galyon
Iran

Chillim
Uzbekistan

Narghille
Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria

If you still have no clue as to what I am talking about, take a look at the pictures below. Basically, shisha is a different way to smoke tobacco, which comes in interesting flavours, such as apple, mint, grape, peach, watermelon, strawberry, chocolate and many more. It is also a common practice in many nations, as it brings people together, allowing them to socialize and catch-up.

Any health hazards? Well, some people believe shisha is more harmful than cigarettes because there is no filter to remove the cancer-causing chemicals. So, do try it and enjoy it, but don´t overdo it…



Saturday, June 4, 2011

To celebrate or not to celebrate - this is the question...

Today is my birthday and I am pretty excited. This is the first time in six years that I’m able to celebrate the date in Brazil, close to my close friends and family.
Now, the funny thing is that, just a couple of days before coming over, I was talking to a friend, an Emirati, and she told me something I had never heard before: Muslims do not celebrate birthdays.
According to her, 'in Islam, people do not celebrate a birthday because it is kind of bid'ah, or innovation in religion. Muslims are also not supposed to accept invitations to parties to not encourage the imitation of Western festivities.'
In her opinion, however, 'Muslims nowadays are not following Islam as they should. They celebrate birthdays, Valentine's Day and other events created and promoted by the Western world.'
After a quick investigation around I found out that not all Muslims agree with this. They feel they can express gratitude to Allah and still celebrate the occasion with family and friends – as long as they don’t engage in actions that are not permissible, or Haraam.
This is a tough one. As mentioned in one of my earlier posts (Halal x Haraam), I guess it must be hard to establish a clear limit between what is tolerable and what is forbidden, especially here in the UAE where you can see so much influence from the Western world.
Well, since I don’t have to worry about this and can celebrate all night long… let the festivities begin!!!!
Note to friends and family: can’t wait to receive all the cards, gifts and birthday wishes! :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Maternity leave? More like a small break...

Every single time I come down to Brazil I hear the same thing over and over and over again: when are you having a baby?
My answer? Allow me to quote the lyrics to a song written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and made popular by Doris Day back in the good old days: ‘Que será, será, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, que será, será, what will be, will be…’
What I do know for sure is that the laws on maternity leave and pay in Brazil are way more inviting than the ones offered to Moms in the UAE.
I was having a quick chat with my sister-in-law, who just gave birth to the cutest little baby girl in the whole wide world, my niece, and she told me that in Brazil law entitles women to four months of paid maternity leave, but that some companies, like the one she works for, offer even more: six months. That’s a total of 180 days!
Now, here’s what she’d get in the UAE: a miserly 45 days! And this is only if she had worked for the company for over a year. Otherwise, she’d get the 45 days, but at half pay. Sure, further leave days are allowable by law, but they should be discussed with employers and will be unpaid.
I mean, I’ve never had a baby before, but something tells me that 45 days aren’t nearly enough for a Mom to get fit (especially if she had a C-Section) and adjusted to her new life. Not to mention the helpless baby… What is one supposed to do with it when she is back to work?
Sure, in the UAE (as in Brazil), many families can hire help. But is a new Mom prepared to leave her 45 days old baby with a complete stranger, turn the page and focus on work? I don’t think so…
Not really sure about the logic behind such laws. The only thing I can think of is the fact that until very recently (and it still happens in some places and within some families) women weren’t allowed to or did not want to work. But now, with so many local and expatriates women in the workplace, will laws be revisited? Hope so!
Oh well, but I guess the grass is always greener on the other side, right? I bet people in Brazil are looking over at the laws on maternity leave enforced in some European countries.
In Denmark for example, pregnant women can take leave for four weeks before the birth. After the birth, the mother is entitled to 14 weeks of maternity leave. In addition, if both parents are working in Denmark, they are entitled to an extra 32 weeks leave between them once the child is 14 weeks old. This means at least 16 weeks for the Mom, bringing the total to over 240 days of maternity leave!
Jealous? Yeah, me too…

Info extracted from: