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The making of Omani shuwa during Eid Al Fitr
July 14, 2015 | 10:56 AM
by Felicia Campbell
Photo - Cio Datan/Times of Oman
 
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Nothing says “celebration time” in Oman like shuwa, the unique Omani specialty for which meat is slathered in a thick blend of oil and spices, wrapped in palm fronds, and cooked over hot embers underground. Some villas have their own shuwa pits, but most neighbourhoods and villages have communal pits where each family can place their palm frond meat package to cook along with the others for a day or more.

During Eid Al Fitr, many families in Muscat start their shuwa roasting on the first day and enjoy the celebratory meal on the second evening.

For this special dish, each family has their own custom shuwa spice blend. Some are fiery with extra crushed red pepper and chilli, while others are heady with Zanzibari cloves, and all of them share an earthy intensity thanks to a menageries of ground spices including cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and nutmeg that are mixed into a potent rub with oil and vinegar. Lamb, goat, or even camel meat may be coated with the spice rub before being wrapped in banana leaves and tucked into a palm frond roasting bag.

By the time the meat parcels are hoisted out of the ground on the second or the third day of Eid, the smoky flavours have permeated the meat and a nice, crisp crust of spice will have developed on the outside of each piece.



The meltingly tender meat is enjoyed with a large platter of rice and tangy Omani-style tomato sauce for one of the most anticipated meals of the year.

If you want to share in this tradition, but you haven’t been invited to taste the delicacy at a local home, there are a few restaurants around the capital where you can sample authentic versions of it.



For the industrious types who want to make shuwa at home but lack access to a big underground pit, try our oven-roasted adaptation.

Eid Mubarak. Sahtein!

Photo - Cio Datan/Times of Oman


OVEN SHUWA

Omani Pit-Roasted Meat In Palm Leaves

SERVES 6 TO 8

This recipe is adapted for the oven for those of us without access to a smoker or cooking pit who nonetheless want to enjoy the meltingly tender texture and spice-infused flavour of shuwa.

Ingredients

SPICE PASTE

• 1/4 cup cumin seeds

• 3 tbsp coriander seeds

• 8 to 10 cloves garlic

• 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp red pepper flakes

• 1 tbsp kosher salt

• 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

• 1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

• 1 1/4 tsp ground cardamom

• 1/4 tsp ground cloves

• 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

• 3 tbsp distilled white vinegar

• 6 tbsp vegetable oil

LAMB

• 2 1/2-3kg of lamb shanks or other small bone-in lamb cut,

about 8 pieces

• Kosher salt

• Palm or banana leaves, thawed if frozen

• Cooked basmati rice for serving

Preparation

• To make the spice paste, toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Place in a blender or small food processor with the garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, salt, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, vinegar, oil, and 2tbsp water; pulse or purée until relatively smooth (there can still be some texture from the seeds). Transfer to a bowl or jar, cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit overnight at room temperature.

• The next day, remove the lamb from the refrigerator and allow the meat to rest at room temperature 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 177 degrees C. Generously season the lamb with salt; massage each piece with the spice paste, being sure to completely coat every surface but not slathering it on too thick (you’ll want it to harden and dry a bit as it cooks). There should be little to no paste left over.

• Wrap the lamb pieces separately in banana leaves, completely enclosing each and making little parcels. Line a roasting pan or baking dish with a large whole banana leaf, letting it hang over both sides of the pan. Place the wrapped lamb parcels, seam side down, in the pan and tightly enclose with the overhanging banana leaf.

• Roast until the lamb is cooked through and falling off the bone, 2.5 to 3.5 hours.

• Some of the spice rub should caramelise and form a bit of a crust. Let rest 10 minutes before removing the lamb from the banana leaves. Discard the leaves and serve with steamed basmati rice.

Recipe courtesy of TOO Executive Features Editor Felicia Campbell’s forthcoming book, The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia (Simon and Schuster, October 2015)

Photo - Cio Datan/Times of Oman


Al Maida/ Qurum Street in front of the Al Qurum Natural park - +968 9826 1999

Al Maida offers a good, basic shuwa served over a yellow-tinged, mandi-style rice with ghee and fresh tomato salsa. The portions are more than enough for two people. (OMR3.500 per order)

Bin Ateeq/ On the Al Khuwair service road, behind the McDonald’s and Shell Gas Station - +968 2447 8225

Hunks of tender, spicy roasted meat are served with a veritable mountain of rice (your choice of plain steamed basmati, kubsa, biryani, or machboos) along with a tangy Omani-style salsa. Bin Ateeq offers perhaps the most authentic version of the dish in the city, with dine-in meals served in the traditional way, on the floor of the restaurant’s run-down family rooms. Or you can take your shuwa and go. (OMR3.500 per order)

Kargeen/ MSQ; behind the Al Fair - +968 9631 3313

Kargeen’s might not be the most authentic in terms of size or presentation — beautiful parcels of miniature shuwa, portioned out for one to two people — but their piquant spice blend is fantastic and quite authentic. The dish is served in a copper pot atop steamed rice with Omani tomato salsa, ghee, and dates on the side. It is a great introduction to the dish, and the ambiance in their lovely garden is hard to beat. (OMR4.500 per order)

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