x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Emirati recipes for National Day

A UAE-based chef teaches us three Emirati dishes to serve at a National Day feast.

Traditional Emirati harees from Al Hadeerah restaurant in Bab Al Shams Desert Resort. Duncan Chard for The National
Traditional Emirati harees from Al Hadeerah restaurant in Bab Al Shams Desert Resort. Duncan Chard for The National

If you’re hoping to sample some traditional Emirati fare on National Day, look no further than Dubai’s Al Hadheerah restaurant.

The vast open-air venue, nestled in the dunes of Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, will also stage an authentic music, dance and horse show on December 2 to mark the ­occasion.

According to Mohamed El Aghoury, the resort’s general manager, bookings have flooded in for the evening’s event, with Emirati families and groups of expatriates keen to share the same celebratory space. As the UAE’s 42nd birthday approaches, we asked Al Hadheerah’s executive chef, Karl Blunden, to reveal three of his restaurant’s signature Emirati dishes.

Cut out and keep our easy guide to cooking them in your own home as you dine with friends and family next week, or head to the chef’s restaurant to enjoy the cuisine under Arabian skies.


The Emirati staple of harees or harissa varies in consistency from a porridge to a dumpling.

It is popular at engagements, weddings and during Ramadan and Eid, when it’s customary for the dish to be shared between neighbours.

• Top tip Make enough for two dinner parties as the dish freezes beautifully.


2 cups of harees (wheat berries)

1 kilo of locally sourced lamb

2 sticks of cinnamon

Samen (locally made clarified/melted butter)

Salt and pepper to taste


1 For the best results, soak the harees overnight.

2 Boil the meat until tender, then debone. Save the stock for later use.

3 In a large pot, add the harees, deboned lamb, cinnamon, salt, pepper and the stock. Add water if needed. The stock/water will need to cover the harees by about two to three inches.

4 Bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer until the mixture reduces to a watery oatmeal-like consistency. Continue to cook for about one hour, checking and stirring every 10 minutes.

5 Using a hand mixer, blend the harees in the pot until smooth and thick in ­consistency.

6 Serve on a small platter and spoon melted butter over the top. Decorate the dish with patterns of powdered cinnamon.


A much-loved dish in the UAE and throughout the Gulf, it’s the perfect meal for sharing at family gatherings.

It can be made from chicken, lamb, fish or shrimp; and ready-made mixes of Baharat (Middle East) spices can be sourced from specialist Arabian food stores across the UAE.

• Top tip Add a dash of rosewater to the rice for depth of flavour.


1kg of lamb stew meat on the bone

2 cups of chopped onions

4 cloves of grated garlic

1 inch cube of grated ginger

2 cups of chopped tomatoes

½ cup of chopped coriander

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 teaspoon of Madras curry powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp of dried black lemon powder

½ tsp cardamom powder

½ tsp cinnamon powder

¼ teaspoon red Kashmiri chilli powder

2 chicken stock cubes

1 green chilli pepper

1 whole dried lemon ball

3 cups of water

2 cups of Basmati rice (rinsed and soaked for at least 30 minutes)



1 In a large pot, sauté the onions and lamb until nicely browned.  

2 Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, coriander and bell pepper. 

3 Add all the spices and stir well. Turn the heat to low and cover with a lid. Leave to cook for about 10 minutes.

4 Add the green chilli, whole dried lemon and water. Stew gently for 1 hour, 45 minutes until tender.  

5 Strain the stew and put the meat mixture back into your cooking pot. Add the rice but do not stir.

6 Measure three cups of stock, add to the pot. Stir gently so as not to break up the rice kernels.

7 Bring the machboos to the boil and turn the heat to the lowest setting. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and lift the lid so the steam escapes; this ensures the machboos doesn’t become soggy.

8 Place the machboos onto a large platter and gently break up the rice with a fork.

9 Serve with pickled onions and a plate of fresh greens.


A treat of an Emirati dessert; light, crispy and deliciously sweet thanks to the date syrup.

Often eaten during Ramadan, these doughnut-like balls take no time to make and less time to disappear.

• Top tip If you can’t source date honey make a simple syrup by boiling – without stirring – one cup of sugar and a quarter cup of water.


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon dry yeast

1 ½ teaspoon sugar

A pinch of salt

½ teaspoon cardamom powder

½ teaspoon saffron

1 ¼ cup warm water

Sunflower oil for deep frying

Date honey syrup


1 Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, cardamom powder, saffron and warm water together to make your dough. Use an electric blender with a hood or paddle attachment for the best results.

2 Leave the mixture in a warm place for 10 minutes to prove and rise.

3 Take small pieces of the dough mixture and make little doughnut balls.

4 Ensure your cooking oil is hot then gently drop in the balls and cook for two to three minutes or until golden brown.

5 Remove from the frying oil and place onto paper towel to absorb any extra oil. Serve the dessert with drizzled black or date honey and garnish with pistachios.

* feast your eyes

Chef Blunden recommends this blog for Emirati recipes: www.emiraticankitchen.wordpress.com. From the tastiest UAE fish to how to cook camel meat, this is an easy-to-read guide by an Emirati-married American lady who lives in Sharjah.


Did you know?

A favourite dish at Al Hadheerah restaurant in Bab Al Shams is ouzi. Traditionally cooked in the UAE using sheep or goat from local farms, the meat is herbed and spiced before being covered in palm or banana leaves. It is then cooked for up to 14 hours in charcoal oven underground before being served with rice and roasted cashew nuts.


On decor

How to decorate your National Day dining table? Accessorise using Emirati runners, tablecloths, placemats and woven bowls made by artisans.

Sougha has suppliers across the UAE; visit www.sougha.ae or call 02 696 0000.


The UAE National Day celebrations at Al Hadheerah will be held from 7pm on December 2. A traditional buffet, inclusive of water, soft drinks and Arabic coffee costs Dh495 per person. Children ages 5-12 are half price; children under 5 dine for free. Live entertainment will include a camel/horse show, traditional Emirati music and dancing, falconry and fireworks. For reservations, call 04 809 6194 or visit www.meydanhotels.com/babalshams