Al-Hasa Cookbook

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine was due to host dinner for her husband’s golfing buddies. The day before the dinner she telephoned the outside caterers to check everything was in order and discovered she had given them the wrong date. It was impossible for the caterers to prepare the food in time. She called me in a panic.

Between us, we concocted a menu which you might find helpful if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. It was based on the logic that the dinner was primarily for men and no fancy cuisine was required! If there’s one thing I’ve learned on reaching the ripe old age of thirty-something it’s that men love pies – any type of pie will do as long as it’s surrounded by pastry and preferably accompanied by baked beans (hot or preferably cold straight from the can). Bearing this in mind we commenced our task.

Have you ever tried making hot water pastry? It’s one of the easiest pastries to make and the following recipe, which I’ve made many times, makes 11 good size individual pies in medium ramekin dishes:

Pastry: Combine 4 cups sifted plain flour and 1 tbs. baking powder in a bowl. Cut in 250g Crisco (use lard if you can get it) until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sufficient boiling water (about 1½ cups) to form a stiff dough. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.

While the pastry’s resting, make the filling. Place 425g minced meat (original recipe uses pork but you can use chicken, chicken and ham, lamb or beef), 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1 small onion (grated), 1 tsp. ground coriander, ½ tsp. ground nutmeg, 1 tsp. ground thyme and ½ tsp. ground sage in a mixing bowl. Stir in 1 beaten egg and 2 tbs. milk and mix well to combine.

Divide pastry into two parts, one portion two thirds larger than the other. Roll out the larger portion and cut 11 circles (using a saucer or something similar as a guide) to fit your (greased) ramekins. Spoon in filling. Roll remaining pastry and cut 11 circles to fit the tops of the ramekins. Brush the rim of each pastry case with a little cold water and top with the pastry circles. Crimp edges to seal and cut steam vents in tops. Brush with beaten egg and bake at 400°F for 40 minutes or until golden brown.

We made a few batches of these pies and cut them into quarters to serve. We also made four French loaves of garlic bread, opened (and heated) four large cans of baked beans, and made a large dish of chicken divan, primarily for the ladies, or for any of the men who were a little more in touch with their feminine side.

A little while after I arrived here I was given a copy of the first Al Hasa Cookbook that was published in 1976. This was compiled by the expatriate women’s groups of Saudi Arabia, including the Aramco areas, Northrop, Fluor, UPM and Bechtel. Many ladies contributed their tried and tested recipes using the limited products that were available in the Kingdom at the time. This has become one of the most useful cookbooks in my collection. The recipe for Chicken Divan is unsurpassable. I’ve made this dish time and time again and it’s always very popular. The recipe serves 6 but works well if you double or even quadruple it.

Arrange a suitable amount of cooked broccoli to cover the bottom of your casserole dish. (The original recipe calls for frozen broccoli but I always find this makes the dish very watery.) Place 2 cups (or more) of cooked chicken on top of the broccoli. Combine 2 cans cream of chicken soup (or cream of chicken and mushroom soup), 1 cup of mayonnaise, 1 tbs. curry powder and 4 oz. sliced mushrooms (fresh is best but use a small can if you want to but drain well), and pour over chicken. Sprinkle 1 cup of breadcrumbs mixed with 2 tbs. melted butter over all. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes.

Our dinner was a great success particularly with the men – and guess what, they really loved the baked beans especially after they were left a little while to go cold!