Dina Macki's book Bahari means ocean in Swahili. It's a beautiful collection of recipes that tell the story of the ingredients and influences that set Omani cuisine apart. It is the first Omani cookbook, written by an Omani chef.
British-born Omani-Zanzibari Dina Macki sits down with Sous Chef for an exclusive Q&A. And explores the influences behind her recipes, spanning Pakistan, Iran, India, the Swahili coast, and Portugal.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten recently?
I finally visited a newish Sri Lankan restaurant called Rambutan in London Bridge, I love the founder Cynthia Shanmugalingam and her book, so this place has been on my list for so long.
You have to make sure you go with friends who can handle the heat as a few dishes are quite spicy.
The menu was just filled with delicious Sri Lankan recipes and I ordered quite a few but the starters stole my heard especially the deep fried roti with anchovy katta sambol and jaffna-style lamb skewer.
The rotie was perfectly soft yet crisp with this fiery, sambol that cut through nicely with the anchovies. Where as the skewers literally just melted in your mouth!
What’s the one dish to make anyone fall in love with your new book?
I would say Omani Qabooli its a dish which is traditionally made with meat but can be made vegan/veggie too! My favourite way is with lamb on the bone, especially the shank!
You boil for a couple of hours it with around 6 different spices such as bay leaves, dried limes, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper. Once the meat is practically falling of the bone you remove it and brush with saffron before roasting in the oven.
Keeping that luscious stock water you cook your rice in it. Then lastly for the dish we caramelise onions with chickpeas, cashews barberries or cranberries and pomegranate molasses which we then layer on top of the rice before adding on top the meat.
This dish is very homey and comforting to us, we eat it weekly and personally I think its a brilliant way to elevate your rice dish.
What ingredients are always stocked in your pantry?
How do you balance tradition and innovation in your cooking?
I think the balance comes naturally. Sometimes when I am testing recipes they can be way too intense in a flavour and that's when I realise the balance is off.
For me playing, not being too rigid and trusting the process is my way of balancing them both. I either try to make sure tradition vs innovation is 50/50 in a dish or I decide which element I want to shine through most and go with that.
Sometimes making a salad with hints of traditional flavours is better, while other times making an Omani rice dish with complete innovation is what the mood needs. My cooking is usually centred on who I am feeding too.
What are the components of a fantastic meal for you?
Sweet and salty in everything. I also love fruit in savoury dishes, especially pomegranates, so if someone includes it in a clever way I am sold.
Oh and lemon! Anything tangy with good amounts of lemon is heaven!
What dish do you make most often?
Who do you most like to cook for?
Anyone who loves to eat and appreciates culture.
When I started my cooking journey and until now, it has never been about being in the kitchen and cooking, actually most of the time I hate being in the kitchen. For me, my passion within cooking and food is the final outcome, feeding people and seeing how happy they are to be eating my food.
Growing up my friends at school were never interested in my Omani culture or our food so when I first started sharing recipes from Oman I was worried people wouldn’t like it, but when I saw how much people enjoyed everything, I became so proud of my heritage.
So those are the people I love to cook for and want to cook for everyday.
What’s your favourite ingredient to cook with right now?
Coconut! Its always been a favourite but recently I am enjoying it in all its forms more. In Zanzibar and at home we tend to use coconut milk in bread as it helps to keep it softer for longer.
I think it its more versatile than we realise! Coconut in rice will forever be the best thing too!
Where do you find inspiration?
Literally everywhere! Through travel, talking to people, wondering into peoples homes and looking in their kitchen cupboards. Eating out. Everything is a source of inspo.
Once I was walking back from the supermarket and my raspberries opened up and squished in my bag against the parsley. I was so upset and didn’t want to waste it that I just ate the raspberry and parsley together.
I ended up loving the combination and it became a source of inspiration for other dishes!
What’s your favourite kitchen tool - do you go in for gadgetry?
I love gadget! I think my best investment and something I used consistently is my Magimix blender. I have the XL one and its a beast! But honestly a game changer in the kitchen.
Then my non-electrical gadget has to be my Qasa Qasa lemon squeezer. It’s made by Tanzanian wood carvers and each piece is unique in its colour. This lemon squeeze gets every bit of lemon out and I just love how pretty it is!
(See a similar Qasa Qasa spoon here)