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Today we travel to the Arab nation of Oman, officially known as Sultanate of Oman. Unlike other Arab nations, Oman has modest oil reserves. In 2010 United Nations Development Program ranked Oman as the most improved nations in terms of development in last 40 years and is also categorized as high income economy. (Source Wiki) Coming to the cuisine of the country, like with any cuisine, the food varies from region to region. Staple food of the country is meat, rice and vegetables. Soups are common, made with chicken, lamb and vegetables. Main meal is usually eaten midday and dinner is light. There were many interesting preparations but when it comes to Middle East and Arabic cuisines, I only wanted to do desserts. Since I am off desserts for now, Shuwa caught my eye. This preparation is made during festivals and is a delicacy from the region.
Shuwa is roasted meat cooked in a special oven, a pit underground. Meat rubbed with spices is wrapped in dry banana or palm leaves, placed in sacks and cooked in an oven until tender. The special oven is prepared by putting a drum or metal container in a pit. Fire is made in this container and then the sacks of meat are dropped in to it. The container is closed with a lid and pit is covered. The meat is let to slow cook in the fire for 1 – 2 days. This is usually a communal activity by the entire village. I found this video and it was quite interesting watching how the shuwa is prepared. It was amazing to watch how the meat cooked underground in a backyard makes to an elegant formal dining table!
In modern kitchens, the same can be done in the oven though I am sure it would lack the flavor the meat gets by slow cooking in an airtight container under the ground. This is one of those recipes that needs to be planned ahead and requires lot of cooking time. I first made the shuwa with a goat leg and it was too much for two people. Also, I was not really happy with the spices I used. Store bought cardamom flavor was too strong for my taste. I did not like the taste of the shuwa and wanted to do something else from this country. I considered other recipes but came back to Shuwa again. The second time I made it with 2 lamb shanks and adjusted the spices to my taste. I totally loved the taste this time and U thought it was ok. According to him, with all the pre-planning and a 4 hour affair (cooking time), he thought it tasted average. He is not a big fan of kebabs or grilled meats. If given a choice between curries and grilled food, he always prefers meat curries. I on the other hand love grilled meats and prefer it over meat curries. Also, I like grilled meats where there is less meat such as ribs and shanks. Lamb shank though looks big has very little meat on it. Also, I liked that part of the bone with little meat to it. Again, this is not one of those recipes which required marinating for at least overnight and at least 3 ½ – 4 hours of cooking time.
Adapted: Cooking with Thas
Marinating Time: Overnight or 1 – 2 days
Baking Time: 3 ½ hours
- 2 Lamb Shanks (I used New Zealand shanks from Whole Foods and each shank around 0.7 lbs.)
- 2 tsp. Garlic crushed
- 1 tsp. Ginger Garlic Paste
- ¾ tsp. Black Pepper Powder
- ¾ tsp. Cumin Powder
- 1 tsp. Coriander Seeds, powdered or 1 ¼ tsp. Coriander Powder
- 10 Cloves or approx. ¼ tsp. Cloves Powder
- 1 ½ tsp. Chili Powder
- 2 tbsp. Vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
- 1 Lime, juiced
- 2 – 2 ½ tsp. Salt (adjust to taste. I think I used 2 tsp.)
- 2 ½ – 3 tbsp. Oil
- Banana leaves (I used frozen leaves that I picked up from a Latin store)
- Wash lamb shanks and make big and deep gash. This is very important if you want a flavorful spicy meat.
- Mix all the ingredients except lamb to a paste.
- Rub this spice paste on to the lamb and into the gashes. Use your fingers to rub the meat as deep as you can.
- Take a baking dish and place a banana leaf in it. Place the lamb on the leaf and pour any remaining spice mixture over the lamb. Fold the banana leaf over the lamb to cover the lamb and it should look like a packet. Cover the baking dish and marinate the lamb in the refrigerate overnight or 24 – 48 hours.
- Remove the lamb from the fridge and leave it on the countertop for 30 – 60 minutes before cooking it, to bring it to room temperature. This is an optional.
- Preheat the oven to 250F and place the baking dish in the oven. Do not forget to remove the cover/lid of the baking dish. Bake the lamb wrapped in banana leaf for 3 hours or until the meat is tender. Turn the meat around very 1 – 1 ½ hours. It took 3 hours in my oven and the meat was tender. Depending on the size and thickness of the meat, one may have to cook it longer.
- Change the oven temperature to 350 F, open the banana wrap and cook for another 20 minutes until the meat is dark brown. After cooking for 3 hours, banana wrap will dry up and will begin to fall apart. I left the leaf in the dish itself and opened /removed the leaf on the top before roasting it at 350 F.
- Remove from oven and let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
- I served it with flavored rice.
- I used lamb shanks but leg would be ideal for this preparation. Goat leg can also be used.
- If you do not have a banana leaf, can wrap the meat in an aluminum foil. I think the banana leaf gave the meat a unique flavor.