• Michael

#0014: From One Peninsula To Another

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

25.3217501, 51.5334078

I’ll always favour cold climates over warm. Tundra. Ice fields. Glaciers. There’s an inescapable feeling of adventure to be had in such inhospitable climes.

However, even those of us who live in paradise need to escape to the heat from time to time. And so it is that I found myself in Doha, capital of Qatar, on the Arabian Peninsula.

Crescent moons. Prayer call. Clouds turned pink with dust, pierced by shafts of filtered light. The breeze that picks up when the sun sets over the endless sand.

The desert inspires a romance that even the most hardened cryophile will struggle to resist.

Somewhat lost in the shadow of Abu Dhabi and Dubai over the past fifteen years, Doha is having its moment now.

For a start, the city has made a big deal of supporting sport, from the Pan Asian Games to the pending World Cup. This enthusiasm has trickled down so that it seems that everybody wants to get outside and get moving.

It’s five thirty in the morning and I’m jogging down the Corniche against a backdrop of forked lightening fracturing a waking, brooding sky. I’m surrounded by every skin colour you can imagine. We’re all out to make better versions of ourselves. We’re all in this together.

Far from being an endless parade of shopping malls like its Emirati cousins, Doha has a thriving cultural scene. There are world class museums here, including one devoted to Islamic art and another, only just opened, charting the history of the nation. There’s a real recognition of heritage here. Qatar has an unwavering sense of its own identity. Of self respect. This country is no sell out.

That said, Doha isn’t trapped in the past either. Skyscrapers have sprung from the minds of world renowned architects, spearing the shore to create a neon lit backdrop to the traditional dhows heading out onto the turquoise water. Sure, like other modern, Arab cities, it’s a little too much, but there’s a lot to like.

Wandering through the city and beyond, it’s difficult not to be charmed by the date palms, rustling gently in the breeze and providing some much needed shade. Right now, the dates are barely there at all; small, yellowish beads growing in bunches from the crown of each tree. Later in the year, however, the same trees will be heavily laden, nets fixed in place to stop the fruit from falling free under their own weight.

Down in the souk, the air smoky with incense, trays are piled high with dried dates. The health benefits of these high calorie, naturally sweet fruit are pretty well documented, so it would be rude not to bring some home so I can share my recipe for date and walnut sourdough.

First, combine 95g of organic, strong white bread flour, 30g of organic, wholemeal bread flour, 75g of 35°C water, and 100g of sourdough starter (take a look here for more on sourdough). Cover it with a tea towel and leave it for about four hours.

Meanwhile, soak 150g of chopped dates and walnuts in 15g of water.

After about four hours, mix 150g of strong white bread flour, 50g of wholemeal bread flour, 6g of freshly ground salt, and 150g of 35°C water by hand, or in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Once it's mixed, let it rest for about 10 minutes, then add 150g of your refreshed starter and knead it well. Once the dough is thoroughly kneaded, knead in the soaked dates and walnuts, flour your hands and turn the dough out onto a clean, flat surface. Shape it into a round and put it into a well floured brotform proving basket. Cover your dough with a tea towel and leave it in a warm place to prove for three to five hours to prove.

You'll have some refreshed starter left over, so add this back to your starter pot to freshen it up.

Pre-heat your oven to about 250°C. When you're ready to bake, put a tray of hot water in the bottom of the oven; this will create steam which will encourage your bread to rise, and will give it a really great crust.

Turn your dough out onto a pre-heated baking tray, slash the top of it deeply to allow it to expand, and bake it on the middle shelf for about 25 to 30 minutes or until its core temperature is at least 95°C.

Once baked, transfer your loaf to a wire rack to let it cool.

And there you have it; a little taste of the Arabian Peninsula on Argyll's Secret Coast.

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