x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Tasty and traditional

The Kuwaiti chef Arafat Al Arbash is cooking up a storm at the Sharjah Book Fair.

Arafat Al Arbash cooking at Sharjah International Book Fair. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Arafat Al Arbash cooking at Sharjah International Book Fair. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Always wanted to learn how to make hammour and rice in the authentic Arab style? Then the Kuwaiti chef Arafat Al Arbash is the right personfor you. At the Sharjah International Book Fair, Al Arbash whipped up one of the favourite fish dishes from the region.

The ingredients included a medium-sized hammour cleaned and cut into pieces, basmati rice boiled for 10 minutes, tomatoes, red onions, green capsicums, crushed ginger, garlic and – interestingly – soy sauce.

In a departure from other cooking styles, Al Arbash sautéed onions to a golden brown without a trace of oil. The oil comes in only after the capsicum, garlic and ginger are added.

As she added black pepper, salt, turmeric, soy sauce and special Arab fish spices (which she stressed are very different from those used for meat or chicken), she said she never bought spices from the market as she preferred them made fresh.

Adding tomato slices and bringing the mix to a boil in water, Al Arbash then dusted the fish, already rubbed with salt, lemon and spices, in flour for frying. Becoming a chef was never planned, she said, as she studied economics at Kuwait University.

With 30 years of culinary experience, Al Arbash says she owes it all to her husband’s encouragement. Al Arbash wrote her first cookbook 10 years ago and she now has 10 books to her name.

The fried fish went into the onion mixture and while it cooked, she made the other layer separately – sautéing more onions with ginger and garlic while slowly drizzling oil in. In went salt, pepper, fish spice and a pomegranate.

In a little oil, she layered the mix of rice and fish and then the onions with garlic, then more layers of each.

Once the steam rose, the dish was inverted onto a plate for all of us to taste. And it certainly was uniquely flavourful.

• Arafat Al Arbash will present more of her speciality dishes on Tuesday at 4.30pm, Thursday at 7.30pm and Saturday at 4.30pm. Visit www.sharjahbookfair.com for more Book Fair events