International Cooking: Food from Kuwait

I enjoy Middle Eastern food so I was already looking forward to food from Kuwait. I also got some great information about Kuwaiti cuisine and some of the history behind it from someone from the Kuwait subreddit, which made what could have been a difficult country (due to its small size) much easier.

Kuwait is a small Middle Eastern country in Eastern Arabia, between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In ancient times, most of the region was part of Mesopotamia.

Before oil was discovered, Kuwait was an important trade port between Mesopotamia, Persia, and India. After crude oil was exported for the first time in 1946, the country modernized on a large scale, mostly due to the income from oil production.

However, this period of prosperity did not last, and in the 1980s a stock market crash caused an economic crisis and instability throughout the region. Kuwait and Iraq had disputes over oil production, resulting in Iraq invading and annexing Kuwait. The Iraqi occupation ended in 1991 after a military intervention led by the United States and other countries.

Kuwait is a developing country with a high-income economy, with the world’s sixth-largest oil reserves. It’s also influential in the region when it comes to pop culture in the form of theatre, radio, music, and television soap operas.

What Do People Eat in Kuwait?

The cuisine of Kuwait comes from a mixture of Arabian, Iranian, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisines.

Rice is an important staple and Kuwait has many rice dishes, differing in the meat and spices used. The rice is usually fluffy and does not stick together well, which poses an issue since traditionally, in Kuwait, these dishes are eaten by hand. This is why condiments like daqoos, a tomato-based sauce, are often served with rice dishes; they are used to ball up the rice and make it easier to eat.

Bread is also very common, particularly flatbread. It can be served alongside meals or, in some cases, form the base of a meal such as tashreeb.

Seafood is very popular in Kuwait, particularly fish. Fish are often grilled but can also be included in rice dishes. Meat such as lamb, beef, and chicken is also common, with pork being rare due to the majority of the country being Muslim.

Kuwaiti dishes are often flavored with a lot of fragrant spices such as cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron, and some dishes contain chili. A wide range of fruits and vegetables feature as well. Kuwait was one of the first countries in the Arabian Peninsula to adopt tomato as an ingredient, and ended up exporting it throughout the region.

Desserts are often based on pastries and cakes, flavored with cardamom, honey, saffron, and citrus. I very nearly included one this week but it was getting close to Christmas and I just didn’t feel I could justify so many desserts so close together!

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Kuwaiti dishes I didn’t make!

Tashreeb (Chicken and Vegetable Stew)

Tashreeb (Chicken and Vegetable Stew)

Tashreeb is a stew that is popular in a few countries in the region. It is made from meat and/or chickpeas and vegetables and served on top of torn pieces of flatbread, which soak up all the broth. I made a chicken tashreeb.

I started by cooking onion in oil, followed by garlic and tomatoes. Then I added some chicken thigh pieces, tomato paste, and the seasoning: cloves, cardamom, curry powder, ground cumin, ground turmeric, a dried lime (also called ‘loomi’, sometimes also referred to as a ‘dried lemon’), cinnamon, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. I added water and simmered for about 15 minutes before adding chunks of carrot and potato. I was meant to include eggplant too, but the eggplants at the supermarket weren’t in good condition (this happens pretty often), so I omitted it.

Once everything was cooked through, I added some chopped parsley and served the stew over torn up pieces of homemade flatbread. I really enjoyed this dish; the spices all worked well together and I loved how the flatbread soaked up all the flavor.

The recipe I used for this comes from The Odehlicious.

Jireesh (Cracked Wheat Soup)

Jireesh (Cracked Wheat Soup)

This is a thick soup made primarily from cracked wheat (bulgur). It’s highly customizable, and often contains meat but can also be vegetarian. I chose a simple meatless recipe (though my jireesh wasn’t vegetarian since I used chicken stock for the liquid).

First, I soaked some bulgur and a little rice for a few hours. I was meant to put it in the blender for a few pulses next but I think this was meant to be if the bulgur was whole or at least in larger pieces; mine was already broken up so I skipped this step.

Next, I heated some oil and added turmeric, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, and ground cumin. After a few moments I added chicken stock (the recipe called for water but I prefer the flavor from chicken stock in recipes like this) and the bulgur/rice mixture. I let this cook until the water was mostly absorbed and the grains were soft.

In a separate pan, I sautéed some tomato and onion, and stirred them into the pot. Next time I’d just cook these in the first pot before adding the spices.

To serve, I garnished with lemon juice and cilantro. The recipe also suggested chili and ginger as garnishes but I skipped those. I’ve seen fried onion as a popular garnish in other recipes, and I think that’s something I would try next time. Because there probably will be a next time; I really enjoyed this dish!

The recipe I used is from Finmail.

Machboos Laham (Lamb Pilaf)

Machboos Laham (Lamb Pilaf)

Machboos is one of many popular Kuwaiti rice dishes, and machboos laham, made with lamb, is Kuwait’s national dish.

I started by browning some lamb. The recipe I followed used bone-in pieces, but lamb isn’t as common here and I used boneless leg meat. I added water, salt, and whole spices: cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, and cloves.

The recipe also called for Arabic masala, which shares a lot of the same spices as baharat, an Arabian spice blend (also known as ‘seven-spice’). I substituted this with baharat and some tumeric, which isn’t in baharat but was in the blend used in the recipe. I’m sure the flavor is not exactly the same, but I lacked some of the ingredients to make the Arabic masala and would have had to make much more than needed in the recipe. I already have a few containers of spice blends I made for various recipes that I’m still trying to use up!

While the lamb cooked, I heated some ghee in a separate pot. I added red onion, as well as more dry spices: cinnamon, cardamom, a dried lime, and cloves. After a few minutes, I added ginger and garlic. I added salt, as well as more baharat and turmeric in place of Arabic masala. Then I added tomato paste, followed a few minutes later by tomato sauce and hot water.

After the sauce had simmered a while, I added the cooked lamb as well as the liquid it had been cooking in. Lamb stock has a lot of flavor, even without using bone-in pieces. I added some basmati rice and a whole serrano chili, and then covered the pot and let everything cook until the rice was tender.

I served the machboos with a dried lime and chili on top as a garnish as suggested in the recipe, but I didn’t eat them! The color of the rice wasn’t quite right; I think this was a combination of me using too much tomato sauce when reducing the recipe (the original made a LOT) and the fact that there is some paprika in the baharat blend I used. It’s supposed to be more of a yellow color.

However, the dish still tasted really good. I do think I prefer the Bahraini machboos I made a while back for this challenge, but that may not be a fair comparison as I did substitute the Arabic masala in this recipe.

The recipe I loosely followed for this is from Chef Kayum Kitchen on YouTube.

Daqoos (Tomato Sauce)

Daqoos (Tomato Sauce)

This simple sauce is often served with rice dishes in Kuwait. I served it with my machboos.

This was very simple to make. I cooked some garlic in olive oil, then added tomatoes which I had pureed with a little water in a blender. I added some tomato paste, salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar, and cooked until the sauce thickened a bit.

This tasted pretty good but I think it was a bit sweet for my taste; I would reduce the sugar if I were to make it again.

The recipe I used is from The Odehlicious.

Mumawash Rubyan (Shrimp Pilaf)

Mumawash Rubyan (Shrimp Pilaf)

I feel like shrimp haven’t shown up as much as I would like during this challenge, so I was excited to hear about this popular shrimp pilaf!

I started by cooking chopped red onion in a pot; the recipe said not to use oil and advised to use a little water if the onion was sticking. I tried that but I felt like the onion was steaming so I did end up adding a bit of oil. Once the onions were caramelized, I added ghee, salt, pepper, ground cardamom, and ground turmeric (the recipe called this last ingredient ‘paprika’ but it definitely wasn’t any paprika I’ve seen before; I think this was a mistake and that it was meant to be turmeric from the color).

Next, I stirred in my shrimp. Once they were just about cooked through, I stirred through some cilantro and a little dried dill. I was meant to use fresh dill but I changed the recipe I was using at the last minute and the previous one did not have dill, so I hadn’t bought any.

I removed the cooked shrimp from the pot but tried to leave as much of the onion as possible. The recipe said to leave some shrimp but I thought they would get tough if I let them stay while cooking the rice, so I took them all out. I added the rice next, followed by more ghee and salt, a dried lime, and enough water to cook the rice.

Once the rice was cooked, I topped it with the cooked shrimp to serve.

I loved this dish! I should have added more cilantro than I did and I’d like to try it with fresh dill, but it was still delicious the way I made it.

The recipe I used for this is from Easy Cooking on YouTube. I did change it a bit by omitting split mung beans, which didn’t show up in all the mumawash rubyan recipes I came across so they may be an optional ingredient anyway.

  • Mutabbaq samak – spiced fried fish (usually a fish known as stromateus or butterfish) and caramelized onions served over seasoned rice, considered a national dish.
  • Harees – a porridge made from mashed wheat and meat, sometimes seasoned with spices such as cumin and cardamom and usually topped with cinnamon sugar.
  • Sub al-ghafsha – fried dumplings made from gram flour (chickpea flour) and seasoned with cardamom and saffron. They are coated in a sweet sugar syrup before serving.
  • Gers ogaily – a sponge cake flavored with cardamom, saffron, and lightly toasted sesame seeds. Also known as ‘perfume cake’.

Final Thoughts

This was another great week! I really enjoyed all the food from Kuwait but the mumawash rubyan was my favorite dish.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Kyrgyzstan.

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