Warming winter food for a colder Kingdom

Warming winter food for a colder Kingdom
Traditional southern meal.
Updated 23 December 2016

Warming winter food for a colder Kingdom

Warming winter food for a colder Kingdom

Winter is here — or, at least, the Saudi version of it. Cooler weather has hit the country in waves, with cold dry fronts in the central region, chilly breezy conditions in the east, and occasional snow in the north.
After the long hot summer, no wonder many Saudis welcome winter with open arms — and hungry stomachs. Each region has its own version of winter weather foods, which both please the taste buds and help us keep warm.
For some reason, the season sees many people reminisce and crave special foods they are used to having in colder weather, including many traditional dishes passed down from one generation to the next.
The western region is known to be a mix of cultures — forming, when it comes to food at least, one delicious melting pot.
My aunt once said that, in the old days when there was winter rain in Jeddah or Makkah, my grandfather would bring home fish, and my grandmother would fry it and serve a side dish of browned rice mixed with lentils called ma’doos. She said it kept them warm and toasty. Many families in the area have held on to that tradition, and wait until the first rainfall of the season to have fish and ma’doos.

Taif winter warmers
The city of Taif is best known for the winter dish of saleeg, a mix of rice with stock and milk cooked with fish or meat on the side. During the chillier months, carbs can be your best friend given the cold weather outside.
Another Saudi tradition would be to drink a warm cup of almond coffee or white coffee. This is usually made in the Islamic New Year, but seems to have become a tradition during the colder months, after the period in which the new Hijri year fell over winter. Contrary to its name, white or almond “coffee” does not contain any coffee at all; it is made from milk, rice flour, sugar and toppings such as ground cinnamon, roasted ground almonds or pistachio.
A little further south, in the Asir region, wheat flour, dates and margarine form the base of many of their specialty dishes. There is fattah, made of wheat flour bread cut into small pieces, and mixed with honey and margarine, or sugar and goat’s milk. There is asida, which is a mix of wheat flour, corn flour or barley cooked with water on medium heat while continuously stirred until no lumps can be seen. The dough is rolled into what looks like a small cup or tiny bowl, with added stock or milk. Talk about simple goodness.

Wheat is for dinner
Innovation and creativity lead many in Al-Qassim region to use an abundance of wheat in their favorite winter dishes. There is matazeez — a hearty pasta dish — as well as margoog, masabeeb and other simple, yet rich foods.
Haneeny is made of barley; the seeds are plucked and pounded, grounded to be made into a dough then made into bread. Margarine is added, with a heap of deseeded dates, and mixed. It is served in a bowl with another heap of margarine, this time surrounding the flour-date mix topped off with a squeeze of lemon.
Margoog has to be one of Al-Qassim’s finest traditional dishes. There is meat (good) butternut squash and zucchini (yum!), margarine (oh the melted goodness of fat… it keeps one toasty, I guess) with the right spices, and is cooked for a while.
Garsan is a large round brown wheat bread, which is cut into large pieces and added to the rich combo to thicken the water. It seems heavy, but residents of the region swear by it, and it is especially popular during the colder desert winter months.
In the central region, jareesh is probably the most famous of winter dishes. There is a saying that nothing beats a home-cooked meal. And this dish is a simple traditional one made using crushed wheat mixed with yogurt or milk and cumin and salt, topped off with onion and powdered black lime that gives just about the right amount of sourness to it; the two combinations go very well together. Shredded chicken pieces are added, thickening the texture, and with the added margarine, jareesh is one very tasty dish.
The winter months are something many residents of Saudi Arabia look forward to as a much-needed change from our otherwise warm — and, at times, sizzling — climate. And the traditional food of the season warms the heart.