Monday, 1 February 2016

Meal 57. Somali Surbiyad

Zahrah is British born, of Somali parents, and we met in Holland, where we shared a meal, cooked by our mutual friend Rahma's Egyptian husband...which included an adventurous avocado chocolate mousse. So far, so international! Back in London, Zahrah kindly agreed to make a traditional meal for the blog, while her (Kenyan-Somali) husband and three of their four kids are visiting Kenya. So it is an intimate affair with just us and her youngest, the adorable two year old Zaki.
Zahrah professes to mainly cook non-Somali dishes at home, and she gets her protein from legumes, beans, eggs or fish most of the time. She says not eating red meat or chicken more than once a month is an emulation of how the Prophet Mohamed ate, and an added benefit is that not eating Somali food all the time keeps her weight in check. Though the fact that she is a keen yoga practitioner and teacher might also have something to do with that!

Surbiyad with zebeeb and a mixed salad
Anyhow, it makes it extra special that today we are getting a truly traditional meal of surbiyad, which is a combination of white basmati rice with extremely tender mutton. The vegetable component consists of courgette, aubergine, tomatoes, onions, garlic, ghee and Indian sounding spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander and cumin seed as well as garam masala. Many of these spices make a return appearance in the chai tea served after dinner! The surbiyad is especially tasty to me as it is accompanied by zebeeb, a combination of raisins, onions, garam masala and coriander powder. I love the combination of savoury and sweet with the aromatic spices. It brings to mind the flavours of Indian and Tunisian meals I have enjoyed in the past. Oddly, the only nugget of information I carried with me on Somali cuisine is that spaghetti was very popular due to the former Italian colonists, so much so that there was even a local pasta factory called Somalpast.
Zahrah with the zebeeb
However, Zahrah gently enlightens me by explaining that her parents were from North Somalia, known as Somaliland, which was a British protectorate till 1960, whereas the rest of the country was an Italian colony. So the spaghetti story only really applies for part of the country. The British saw their protectorate as a good source of meat supplies...and the most important varieties are still mutton, goat and camel meat. Zahrah herself worked in Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland) for a year just after finishing her Arabic & Islamic Studies at SOAS. It was a WHO posting, and she saw it as a good opportunity to get to know her roots better. She mentions fresh cow milk was actually available, brought round by a lady in a metal urn every morning...the only thing was it would need to be finished in the evening or it would go off. This milk would also be used to make chai tea like we have after dinner, where the milk, water, sugar, black tea and spices are all boiled together and then strained for a reviving drink. We sip the tea and discuss a myriad of subjects, from what British food she missed while away (butter on toast and proper tea) to council housing and the schisms forming within poor communities in the UK due to perceived preferential treatment of newcomers.
I am very impressed by where her life has taken her, with her newest challenge being the exciting opportunity of serving as a muslim chaplain for the UCL hospitals in central London.   
The tupperware with spices (cardamom, cloves and cinnamon) for the after dinner chai tea

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