Chapter Seven – “But what’s the seventh vegetable?” “Meat.”

Today it was Mohammed and Mohamad’s turn to step into the kitchen and teach us how to make Arabic Sabah doal, having both phoned their parents the night before to compare recipes. Mohammed is Mohamad’s flatmate, and they live together with another Mohammed. There used to be a fourth Mohammed (don’t worry, they all have nicknames formed using their future sons’ names, so it isn’t an issue…)  Sabah Doal means seventh (or seven, we can’t quite work it out) country/countries. As we prepared the different elements (listed below), Daisy counted them out and, noticing there were only six on the table, asked what the seventh vegetable was. Mohamad swiftly replied, “meat”. Having already discussed on numerous occasions the lack of vegetarian options in Syrian cuisine, it was perhaps naïve of us to think the dish would be completely meat-free. As you’ll see in the recipe below, we had to fight hard to stop the guys from sneaking meat in, arguing for far too long that chicken is not a vegetable. But the end result was delicious and they both conceded that it was very tasty, even without the seventh country.

Lunch barely off the table, there was a hammering on the front door and Isra burst in, laden with celebratory cakes for everyone, as she had passed her first accounting exam. The children ran at her, squealing “Ishra! Ishra! Ellareh, Ishra!” and the whole room was more than happy to celebrate over a slice (or two) of cake and baclava.

Mohamad & Mohammed’s Sabah Doal, or Seventh Country (made three trays, served 30)

  • 1) 13 potatoes
  • 2) 4 aubergines
  • 3) 5 courgettes
  • 4) 2 large onions
  • 5) 14 (or was it 7? No one remembers. You decide) tomatoes
  • 6) 6 green peppers
  • 7) …
  • 3 gloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 stock cube
  • Salt, pepper, cumin
  • Olive oil
  1. Slice all the veg into rounds. For the aubergine, cut in half lengthways and peel one strip of skin off the middle of each half. Mohammed insisted that this was to minimise the bitter taste of the skin. We are still unsure
  2. Layer in 3 dishes, in the following order: first potato, then aubergine, onion, courgette, tomato, pepper and finally garlic (sprinkled)
  3. Season and drizzle with olive oil
  4. Crumble a veg stock cube over each dish. Make sure they are indeed veg stock cubes, and you’re not being duped by Mohammed and Mohamad, who seem set on sneaking meat into the dish somehow
  5. Lock the chicken stock cubes back in the storage room.
  6. Bake for an hour, heating at first from below (you know that setting on the oven where the line is at the bottom of the square?) and after 20 mins or so, top and bottom (both lines)
  7. Serve with flatbreads, which we cut into quarters, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and cumin and baked in the oven for 10 mins


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