The Saudi Culinary Arts Commission has joined forces with Cassi Edition to release a new book Saveurs d’Arabie. The tome offers delectable Saudi recipes that invite for a journey to the four corners of the Kingdom to discover dishes centered around rice, cardamon, lamb, dates, and wheat. “Because stories are transmitted orally, we even looked to our poetry heritage to find cues to recipes,” shares Mayada Badr, CEO of the Saudi Culinary Arts Commission. Her team traveled door-to-door documenting ancient family recipes—dishes like Aish Al-Jazar conjured by Abdullah All Alhajri or almond coffee by Duaa Khalid Saleh Fadhul to in turn invite the world to discover and cook Saudi cuisine steeped in ancient history from Jeddah to Al Ula.
Below, a recipe from Saveurs d’Arabie shared exclusively with Vogue Arabia.
Hassawi Rice Kabsa
Cook’s name: Abrar Ahmed Alomair
Hassawi rice, with its short red grains, is one of the country’s greatest regional delicacies, and is called “red life” (aish al-ahamar) by locals. It is a symbol of hospitality in Al-Ahsa, and the recipe given here has deep roots in the region’s culture. Today the dish is offered to personal guests as well as tourists visiting the famous historical landmarks of the oasis, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The rice was traditionally crushed in a mortar, then cooked in a copper vessel, which was like a pressure cooker, in a process called um al-kaak. These days, it can be cooked in the same vessel that is used for the quintessential Saudi dish kabsa – either a pressure cooker or a regular metal pot. In fact, it is very similar to kabsa, except that kabsa uses long-grain white rice. Another dish made from Hassawi rice is madrouba, meaning “beaten”, because once the rice was cooked, it was beaten with a wooden mallet to reduce it to a porridge-like consistency.
Hassawi rice is also a typical dish for suhur, the last meal eaten by Muslims before the dawn prayer and fasting begins during Ramadan, because it is both filling and has a low glycaemic value, making the day’s fast more bearable.
If there is any Hassawi rice left over, it can be served for breakfast the following day by adding curdled milk or yoghurt to it. The rice is also cooked in wintertime with beans, fenugreek, and garlic in “rice of the tal’a”, a dish that used to be taken on picnics when visiting hot springs or nearby countryside.
The people of Al-Ahsa have many songs about Hassawi rice and its twin, cracked rice, which is served only with shrimp. These melodies are a treasured part of the area’s folklore. A popular saying illustrates the place the grain has in its people’s hearts: “Al-Ahsa will always be yours, even though time keeps you away.”
The recipe here is often prepared to celebrate the good health of a mother and newborn after a birth. Rich in nutrients and fibre, it is also given to them during the nifaas period, when they stay with their families to restore their energy and increase the flow of breast milk. Traditionally the husband would go to the market to buy the meat and rice needed to prepare the dish and take them to his in-laws, who first boiled the meat to give some of the broth to the new mother. Then once the dish was ready, it was shared with all those who came to congratulate the family on the new arrival.
1 hour 25 minutes to 2 hours
• 2 medium onions (300 g [⅔ lb.]), finely chopped (1¾ cups)
• 3 tablespoons ghee or 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 garlic cloves, minced into a fine paste
• 2 medium tomatoes (300 g [⅔ lb.]), diced into small cubes (2 cups)
• 3 tablespoons tomato paste
• 500 g (1.1. lb.) lamb from the shoulder on the bone, cut into medium chunks
• 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 2 medium unpeeled aubergines (400 g [0.88 lb.]), cut into large chunks (4¾ cups)
• 2 peeled squash (400 g [0.88 lb.]), cut into large chunks (3 cups)
• 2 medium courgettes (250 g [0.55 lb.]), cut into large chunks (2 cups)
• 500 g (2⅔ cups) Hassawi rice, soaked in water for 15–30 minutes
• Sea salt to taste
1. Put the chopped onions and ghee (or oil, if preferred) in a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring regularly, until golden – about 10 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, fresh tomatoes, and tomato paste, and mix well. Then add the meat and spices together with 2 litres (8½ cups) of hot water. Cover the pan and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 1 hour 25 minutes.
3. Add the vegetables to the meat and onion mixture – you can use any vegetables of your choice. Drain the rice and add it to the pan. Season with salt to taste, then cover the pan firmly and let cook on a low heat for 30 minutes, or until the water is fully absorbed and the vegetables and rice are cooked through. Serve hot.