Photo and article by Phil Iddison
Chobab cooking at the Heritage Village, Dubai
There is a good range of traditional breads cooked in the UAE, this is
perhaps the easiest for a novice to try. At my first attempt I had edible
results and a few repetitions have consolidated the recipe into my repertoire.
The end product is not very different to ataif which is a Ramadan specialty
introduced from north Arabian cuisine.
Just how long the tradition stretches back is an interesting point. Three of
the ingredients were not generally available 50 to 60 years ago. Milk powder is
not essential and there is a traditional substitute, dried milk solids or
yoghourt called kami. Cooking oils are also a recent introduction to the UAE.
The obvious traditional substitute would be samn, clarified butter, readily
available in the past and even in today's suq. The presence of yeast is a little
more problematic. Possibilities in the past would have been a sourdough
technique relying on wild yeast, perhaps associated with the reservation each
day of some of the batter as a starter for the next day's production.
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 2/3 cup of whole wheat flour
- 2/3 cup of No 1 flour
- 60 ml thin date syrup
- 40 ml dried milk powder
- 40 ml corn oil
- 3/4 teaspoon of dried yeast
Beat all the ingredients together, either keep in a warm place for 2-3 hours
or in the fridge overnight if you want breakfast chobab! The batter will have a
good patina of fine bubbles. Heat a large non-stick pan (250 mm dia.) and pour
in enough batter to produce a thin chobab, either pouring out from the centre in
a spiral or by tilting the pan. If the chobab is more than 3 mm thick, thin the
batter slightly with more water. Cook until the underside is well toasted, the
bubbles will burst on the top surface to give a spongy texture. Toss the pancake
and cook the second side again to a toasted colour, the date syrup helps the
browning process. When cooked, toss again and slide onto a plate and keep warm
as you cook the rest of the batter. It will produce 5-6 large chobab. These are
traditionally eaten after drizzling them with samn and assal, pouring honey. To
keep some control on the calories we usually eat them rather plain with just a
thin spread of dibbis (date syrup) or thin honey. This soaks into the spongy
surface and the chobab can be rolled and eaten with a knife and fork to prevent
getting sticky fingers.
For non-cooks, visit the Heritage Village during the Dubai shopfest or the
Dubai Friday market: at both events I have watched national women cook chobab
for sale and sampling, succulent and delicious. They are a little smaller than
our home made efforts and cost 1-2 dirhams. You will get very sticky fingers!
Phil Iddison 26/1/2001