Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dairy- and Wheat-Free Crispies

When you are trying to avoid dairy and starchy grains, it is very hard to make any sort of granola-style bar. Most recipes require butter to bind all the ingredients together, that could be substituted for margarine but ingesting trans-fats from the margarine would be even worse than the butter. My ingenious 'binding' ingredient is dark chocolate. As dark chocolate has no dairy in it and in small amounts it is actually good for your health due to the anti-oxidants it contains, I would say that these crispies count as a healthy snack - of course limited to 1 or 2 a day and not the entire batch in one go since that would be rather too much sugar!

For my crispies I used organic spelt flakes. Spelt is the original wheat before it was selectively bred and modified into modern day wheat. Spelt has approximately one-third the amount of gluten of regular wheat (according to Judy Coles' The Body Talks) - it is the gluten in bread that makes it so light and fluffy so spelt bread is much denser and heavier. Due to the fact that it contains less gluten, spelt is much easier to digest and according to Coles' research most people who are intolerant to wheat can eat spelt with no problems - a food intolerance is of course not the same as an allergy.

Similar to wheat, oats have also been highly modified over time and for those of us suffering from IBS and trying to follow a low-starch diet they are less easy to digest than spelt or rye. The spelt flakes could be substituted for jumbo oat flakes and in that case I would try to get organic ones. Buckwheat flakes are entirely gluten-free but they are tiny little flakes that I don't imagine would work quite as well as the large spelt or oat flakes - if you can't have gluten then it would be worth giving them a try though.

Putting the crispies together is extremely quick and easy, all you need is:
100g dark chocolate
8 tablespoons spelt flakes
4 tablespoons mixed dried fruit (you can buy packets of ready-mixed raisins, sultanas and cranberries)
11 cupcake holders (you may make a few more or less depending on how chocolate-y you want them)

1. Melt the dark chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water, once it's melted then take off the heat.
2. Add the flakes and fruit and mix together.
3. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake holders and put in the fridge to go hard.

Voila! Yummy little treats ready in moments.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dubai Restaurant Review: Hatam Restaurant, Ibn Battuta Mall

In a nutshell: rough and ready service, acceptable food ... great bread.

Hatam bills itself as serving 'Original Iranian Food' and if this is what you would find in Iran then you would eat well, although you wouldn't be blown away. At just Dhs 45-60 for a main course, your wallet won't feel the pinch either. Located next to Zyng and Japengo's in Ibn Battuta's China Court, the first thing to strike you when you sit down are the tiled tables which appear rather garish to Western eyes. The menu provides a photo of each item to help you make your choice but the simple layout and plastic feel of the menu was in line with the rather rough and ready feel of the restaurant.

All the staff were friendly and the service was certainly very quick, but nobody except one Indian waiter spoke much English. We were served a plate of herbs and cheese but when I asked what everything was the response of, "It is for you...appetiser" didn't elaborate very much! An Iranian salad is certainly better presented than a Lebanese one (which consists of a plate of uncut salad vegetables) and whilst it was very simple, it was fresh and crispy. The best part was the Iranian bread which is provided on the table free of charge. Closely resembling Indian naan bread, after my first little bite I could not resist eating an entire piece myself - wheat and yeast intolerances notwithstanding, any after effects were well worth this delicious fresh, warm flatbread.

Simon opted for the tikka mix for his meal which consisted of a skewer each of chicken, lamb and hammour marinated in a tikka sauce and served with french fries or rice (don't think the chips are quite the original Iranian food though). Spiced, but not hot, he found the flavour overly-buttery and a bit sickly after a while - this from the man whose favourite Indian meal is Butter Chicken. My grilled shrimp were very dry as they had perhaps been a little overcooked, although I'd rather have them over- than under-cooked of course. Served with rice, this was a very simple meal that could have been delicious but that failed to tickle my tastebuds due to being so dry and chewy.

I won't be eating here again but I may very well go back to buy some takeaway bread to gorge on!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heritage and Diving Village, Shindagha Area, Dubai

After two previous failed attempts to visit the Heritage and Diving Village in Dubai, we finally made it there this weekend. Located next to Sheikh Saeed's House, there is plenty of parking (free on Friday) and entrance is free but sadly although it does open at 16:30 on Fridays, even by 17:30 it seemed most of the people working there had decided not to turn up for work so it was all a little deserted.

Of those who had come to showcase Emirati heritage was one burqa-clad lady making pancakes over a small stove. With minimal English but great hospitality, she made us each a pancake - 3 pancakes for just Dhs 10. I wasn't 100% convinced of the hygiene of her 'kitchen' but figured eating a pancake burning hot from the oven should be safe...and it was delicious. A word of caution to any tourist though: never photograph a local lady without first asking her permission or you could land yourself in hot water. Luckily, she was more than happy to be photographed. It's actually very rare nowadays to see anyone wearing the burqa (gold coloured mask to cover the face) and you will generally only see it on old ladies in the predominantly local areas. Younger women tend to not cover their face and when they do they are covered with the same thin material as their headscarf - I'm sure it's a lot more comfortable and cooler than the hard burqa mask.

The village has replica stone houses and areesh houses (areesh is made from plaited palm fronds) which I think would normally have housed little shops but these were all locked up. There was an area with a sign 'Bedouin Life' but nobody was there demonstrating the bedouin traditions, perhaps that part is only open at night. Performances of some kind must be staged at certain times because there was a large open area with rows of chairs but there was nobody to ask for information. For children, there were 2 ponies for trotting about on and unlike in many parts of the world where you can find the animals in a very sorry state, these both looked very healthy and well-fed.

Next to the Heritage Village, we entered the Diving Village (also free entrance) but this was even more deserted. When it's in operation I believe that there would be men demonstrating how the pearl industry worked as well as museum-style displays of photos and information on the hazards this profession suffered. According to the displays at the Dubai Museum, some divers could hold their breath for up to 5 minutes while they braved jellyfish and dangerous seas searching for the perfect pearls.

All along the front, looking out on the Creek and the passing dhows (these wooden boats are still a key means of transporting goods between India and Dubai), are a multitude of restaurants that we never knew existed. Although the number of tables and chairs gave the appearance that they were very much aimed at busloads of tourists, on this Friday afternoon there seemed to be a lot of Arab nationals as opposed to tourists so the food is presumably of a good standard. Numerous people seemed to be eating from small table-top BBQs with skewers of meat grilling over the coals; it looked very authentic and interesting. We will need to plan an evening or lunch-time visit next time so we can sample some of the food.

We ended our visit at the house of Obaid Al Thani which is very similar in style to Sheikh Saeed's House but didn't hold the same appeal for us. It is primarily a religious museum with rooms devoted to quotes from the Holy Quran on subjects such as The Creation of the Universe, The Creation of Man etc. Again, entrance was free to the house. The central courtyard was dominated by a stage and seating where we presumed religious lectures or debates must be held. There were a few men working there who I believe would have been happy to explain any questions we might have had about Islam so for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of the religious traditions of the UAE, this could be a good place to start.

During the week the villages open at 10, although whether that means all the shops and displays will be open at that time is another matter! Maybe next time we'll try on a Saturday and see if we have better luck.