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How to prepare Zarb, the Bedouin barbecue, in 7 steps

guide getting zarb dinner out of the oven

Zarb is one of the delicious treasures of Bedouin culture. For centuries Bedouins in the whole Arabian Peninsula cooked their food underground in earth ovens. This way of cooking did not require much equipment, which was important as Bedouin traveled a lot as they roamed the desert searching for water and pastures. Over time a few things changed. For example, nowadays, we use metal barrels instead of stones. And if we wrap the meat, we use foil instead of palm leaves. In this blog, we explain how to prepare Zarb in 7 steps. Depending on your skills, it will take you between 4 and 5 hours to make your Zarb. Using chicken will save you an hour.

Step 1: Make the Zarb oven

If there is no pit available, the first step is to dig a big hole in the sandy soil. Put the metal barrel casing in it and carefully put the sand around the barrel. Leave the top edge above the sand. There you go, you made your Zarb oven.

Step 2: Prepare the coal

Start by making a fire with small pieces of wood. And when the fire is burning well enough, put in the rest of the wood. It will catch fire, and the only thing you need to do is to let it go. Once the flames are gone, the wood will change into hot coals. Put the hot coals on the bottom of the casing.

Step 3: Prepare the meat

Traditionally we make Zarb with meat like chicken, goat, or sheep. First, you cut the meat in roughly the same size pieces. Then you wash the parts and put them aside. Time to create a yummy marinate. Put water, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl and mix them. Now add the meat and put it aside for about an hour to absorb the flavors. As we have no fridge in the desert, it is impossible to let the meat marinate for a longer time.

Step 4: Prepare the vegetables

Step 4 is an easy one. Prepare the vegetables. We use vegetables like potato, tomato, carrot, onion, cauliflower, eggplant, and sweet pepper. First, clean the vegetables with water. Then chop the potatoes, carrots, and eggplant into the same size pieces. Lastly, the tomatoes and onions can stay whole like cauliflower.

Step 5: Fill the barbecue rack

The barbecue rack has 2 or 3 layers. You usually put the vegetables on the top. And the meat below. This way, all is prepared well and is fit for vegetarians and vegans alike. Sometimes you will see the meat mixed with the vegetables on both layers. Most of the time, the meat is then cut into small pieces. If you want a dark, crusty layer on your meat, you should put it on the top layer. Get some coal out of the oven and put these on the lid before putting the pile of sand.

Step 6: Let’s barbecue!

Put the rack over the coals in the oven and put the lid on the oven. Then cover the lid with a blanket, and put sand on it. This way, you ensure that all the heat stays inside. If you prepare Zarb with sheep or goat meat, the cooking time will be about 2,5 hours. For chicken, 1,5 hours will do.

Step 7: Prepare the side dishes

While waiting for the meat and vegetables to be ready to eat, you can prepare the side dishes. Cook the rice, make tasty salads with tomatoes, onions, and cucumber, and make hummus and baba ghanoush.
Once the food is ready, remove the sand and the blanket and open the lid. The delicious fragrances of the slow-roasted meat and vegetables fill the air rapidly. And if you are not hungry, this will make you hungry instantly. Pull up the rack and place it next to the side dishes.
Enjoy the tender and smoky meat and perfectly ready vegetables. Saha! Enjoy your meal!

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