Thyme-scented oatcakes and the pursuit of the perfect cheese board
Do you visit supermarkets when you go on holiday? Do you thrill to the news of a street market or food stall opening up? Do you make a detour to find a shop rumoured to stock a much longed for ingredient? You may not be surprised that I answered yes to all those questions and when I found out that a) Galleries Lafayette had opened a food hall and b) that it had been open for months without an encounter from me; something had to be done.
Dubai has a large and varied expat community which means that most foods can be found. I know that if a recipe calls for a fairly obscure ingredient I am usually able to find it. The limiting factor is that most of the food is imported and air-freighting fresh ingredients is expensive (so small importers tend to ship packaged goods with long-shelf life) and meat must be halal. That is why, for instance, there is a large range of frozen meals at Waitrose or Marks and Spencer but they are all fishy. Fresh, local, seasonal produce of good provenance can be a challenge to source as well as foods from artisan producers so new sources of food shopping are always an attraction.
I’d already popped into Harvey Nichols (in Mall of the Emirates) for some foodie stocking fillers for KP and expected something similar from Lafayette Gourmet i.e. a small section of premium teas, coffees, biscuits, chutneys, chocolate, oil, vinegar and the like.
As I rounded the corner (on the second floor) I was astonished to find cafes and counters of dishes and delicacies flanked by everything you need to do a really comprehensive food shop from yoghurt and biscuits, to a great selection of pasta, to meat, fish, a walk in cavern of pork products and cheese. The assistant picking out over-ripe tomatoes for disposal confirmed my initial impression that the copious array of fruit and vegetables, would not be bought in sufficient quantities to ensure a fast turn over of fresh goods. The meat and fish looked superb however, and I made my way with excitement to the cheese section.
With my slight obsession with cheese well documented, no surprise it was this counter I made a bee-line for and the helpful staff were enthusiastic and knowledgable, letting me taste my way through many. French and Italian cheeses dominated but I also bought a small truckle of cheddar and tasted a variety of really interesting Italian sheep’s cheese including one that reminded me of a farm produced Caerphilly (Gran cru di grotta). Clutching my parcels of beautifully wrapped bounty I knew these would make a wonderful Christmas cheese board and that they deserved some special biscuits to go with them.
My pots of thyme are doing well in the garden and I did a fairly comprehensive raid on the leaves. Christmas cutters came out of the cupboard once again. These oatcakes are a doddle to make and keep for 2-3 weeks in an airtight tin. Fresh rosemary makes a great alternative or any woody herb. They were a great partner for the soft cheeses in particular – especially an oozing Vacherin Mont d’Or (which I bought from Carrefour).
During my blogging dearth, I also prepared a batch of one of my favourite stuffings, lemon, herb and pistachio, which you can read all about on Femina – an online womens’ magazine. Thank you to fellow UAE food blogger Rajani from Eat,Write, Think for helping me relive happy memories of Christmas past.
I hope that, if you celebrated, you had a very Merry Christmas and a relaxing and happy time with friends, family and delicious food.
Adpated slightly from BBC Good Food Magazine
Makes about 20 oatcakes
200g (8oz) fine oatmeal
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1.2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
approx 8 tablespoons boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180C. Measure the oatmeal, oil, salt and 2/3rds of the fresh thyme into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz until everything is combined well and keeping the motor running, pour in the boiling water. After 30-45 seconds the mixture will begin to come together and look sticky and thick (switch off, scrape down and repeat if it doesn’t). Add the remaining thyme and pulse a few times to chop it roughly.
Gather the dough up into a ball, with your hands or a spatula. Place on a floured board and roll out, while still warm, to about 2mm thick. Cut out 6.5cm rounds or any festive shape and place on baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake for 15-17 minutes until lightly coloured. Cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight container.