Friday, November 16, 2007

Goin Plum Crazy

store A popular way to shop for sundry items here are at small local stores, which are located in every neighborhood. Some residents just call the store and place their orders. In a few minutes a bicycle riding employee will deliver the items to their home. Another way is to drive right up to the store and honk. An attendant will come out, take your order them deliver the items in a few minutes. They are similar to 7-11, but with car hops. Tipping the workers is optional, but many do so.

PlumsI frequently go to these shops, mainly when I am out of something specific and I don’t want to drag myself though a major grocery outlet. On a few occasions (such as when I am by myself in sweltering 120 degrees heat) even I have honked, though not without guilt. The workers are very polite, especially towards women. But I mainly go with my eldest son in tow, who goes out and gets what I need. To sweeten the deal, I often give him a few extra riyals to purchase whatever he wants. To cover all bases, I usually tell him what I need in English, Urdu and Arabic (if I know it), so that I am not surprised at what he brings back. Though not fluently, the workers know all three languages.

ingredientsA few weeks ago I stopped by my local produce store to get some garlic & mint (Urdu- lehsun & podina, Arabic- thum & nana). Since I try to convince my children to eat as healthily as possible, I also told H to get any fruit he wants. A few minutes later out he comes with the items I asked for along with an entire crate of plums. Apparently they only sell specific items by the crate. Many people here not only have larger families, they also have an entire staff of maids, nannies, drivers etc, and therefore purchasing in larger quantities makes sense.

cooking chutneyFor the next few days I pushed the plums. Every day I would put a few in lunch boxes, and every day everyone would angelically claim to have eaten them. After a few days I had enough. The plums, which were very ripe to begin with, were beginning to look unappetizingly soft. Yet I was left with almost 1/2 of a crate of soggy plums that were inedible in their current state. I was now in a quandary to what to do with them. They were too mushy to make a tart (or a cobbler, grunt, fool, brown betty…). And being the frugal person I am, throwing them away was also out of the question. After deliberating for a while, I decided to make chutney out of them. Needless to say, I had never made plum chutney before. If it turned out into an inedible mess, then along with the plums I would have to throw out many other ingredients. This thought did briefly cross my mind, but in my rabid determination to be prudent, I did not allow myself to go there.

Thankfully this did not happen. The final result surpassed my expectations. Even K, who is no chutney fan, admitted that it was not bad. And whoever has tried it has requested the recipe.

plum chutney

Plum Chutney

This jewel colored chutney explodes in the mouth with its complexity of flavors, being sweet, tart and spicy all at once. If properly stored, this will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.


12-15 very ripe small plums
2 cups sugar
½ cup good quality vinegar, such as apple cider
3/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 1/4 teaspoon salt


Wash plums thoroughly. Place all ingredients in a medium sized non reactive sauce pan, such as stainless steel. Cover and bring to a simmer over very low heat. Stir occasionally. The plums will break open and release their juices. The chutney is done when it starts to thicken and look like jam. This will take about 1 hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove the pits. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container. Makes approximately 2 cups.

Note: With the exception of plums, all remaining ingredients can be adjusted according to taste.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Friday Ritual

FANAR Center Here in Doha, the weekend comprises of Friday and Saturday. Friday is the Muslim Sabbath, a day when Muslim’s go to a distinct afternoon prayer called Jumaa (which literally means Friday) at their local Mosque (or Masjid in Arabic). Though it is recommended that every able bodied man attend all 5 daily prayers at the Masjid, there is a great significance for the Jumaa prayers. These payers start with a Khutbah (or sermon), which lasts about 20-30 minutes. After this the traditional prayer takes place. The topic of the Khutbah can range from many diverse subjects, though they always adhere to strict Islamic guidelines. We regularly go to the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam, also known as the FANAR center, since the Khutbah’s are in English.

Caravan RestaurantPrayers end at about 12:30 pm. Afterwards we frequently go to a Friday lunch/brunch buffet, held at many hotels & restaurants. We have gone to many places, but our perpetual favorite is called the Caravan. It is mainly an Indian restaurant but they also serve a few Chinese, Thai, Filipino & Japanese dishes. The food is good, but we go there mainly because it is extremely family friendly, with a comfortable dining room and exceptional service. Someone spill something? No problem, always cleaned up with a smile. A wants more bread after the bill is paid? A fresh basket appears. With 3 kids, these things are very important to us. Like many restaurants here, they also have a separate dining room designated for families only. The clientele is diverse, and the prices are reasonable.

Gulab Jamun We don’t eat much breakfast on Fridays since we want to do justice to the buffet. When we get there, H makes a beeline to the dessert table. Ever since coming here, he has developed a tremendous sweet tooth for Indian desserts. His preference is the perennial favorite, the Gulab Jamun, of which the Caravan provides him with a copious supply. Due to its excessive sweetness, I personally can not eat more then one.

I start with the soup, chicken-corn which I spice up with the chili/vinegar mixture present at the table. Then I progress my way towards the appetizers and main dishes. The buffet itself is extensive, with various soups, salads, appetizers and a wide variety of curry’s, both vegetarian and non vegetarian. There are also, as aforementioned, many Southeast Asian dishes as well. In order to please all palates, the food is not terribly spicy. My favorite items are the chicken curries such as Kashmiri Chicken cooked in a mild cream sauce and lentils called Daal Makhani. Fresh baked Naan continues to be replenished at the table. A, who is on a minimalist diet these days, is content with bread and plain white rice. But since his older brother was eating dessert, he also expressed is desire to try “Pulam Jamoo”. After taking one bite he said “that’s enough”. After lunch we usually go straight home. K and I then fall into a food induced coma, while the kids occupy themselves with their various electronic games or watch TV. In the evening we may go out, sometimes to see friends or just window shop in one of Doha’s many colorful and diverse neighborhoods.

These days however, our Friday routine is in hiatus. H has joined baseball and the games start right after the prayers. But when baseball season ends, we shall resume our ritual with great gusto.