Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Matchbous is a classic 'Khaleeji' dish, a lamb, rice and tomato stew that comes from the same school of thought as 'kuchery', 'mensaf' and the other meat and rice mixtures that are cooked around the Middle East, including the famous bedouin 'mutton grab'.

Like many Gulf dishes, it uses ‘loomi’, or dried lime, as a seasoning. If you can’t, for any reason (for instance, if you're not actually living in the Middle East or on the Edgeware road), find true loomi, then grate the rind from a fresh lime, and use this instead. It's also based on a 'masala' or spice mixture, known in the Middle East as baharat - the ingredient links to a baharat recipe.

By all means substitute olive oil for the ghee if you're worrying about the health aspects of this recipe. But, honestly, a couple of tablespoons of clarified butter ain't going to make a huge amount of difference if you're planning to wolf down this mega-meal!

Using tinned chopped tomatoes, especially the kind mixed with garlic, not only cuts down on the workload, but improves the flavour and texture of the matchbous as well. Yes, I know Wilfred Thesiger wouldn't have done it like that. But I wouldn't do many of the things he probably did...


  • 1.5 kg lamb shoulder, in 4 pieces on the bone
  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tbsp baharat
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tins chopped, peeled tomatoes
  • 5 cloves
  • ½ tsp powdered loomi
  • 3 pieces cassia bark
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 750ml water
  • ½ cup chopped coriander
  • 2 cups basmati rice

Fry the onions in the ghee using a large pan over a medium heat, until they turn transparent. Add the baharat and turmeric, and cook until the spices and onion are thoroughly mixed. Add the lamb pieces, and turn to coat with the spices, Cook until the lamb browns. Add the tomatoes, the other spices and the salt. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the water and the coriander to the pan, cover tightly and cook over a low heat for 2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Add the rice, bring the pan to the boil, then reduce the heat to low again, to simmer the matchbous for 20-25 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Remove the cover, turn off the heat and stir the mixture once. Pile the matchbous onto a serving platter, placing the meat on top. Serve with a green salad and yoghurt or laban.

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