Next week, I celebrate five great years in Dubai. Where has all that time gone? I often ask myself. Okay, I’ve done loads of things during these years here — I’ve visited all seven emirates, kayaked in Hatta dam, visited the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the capital, ballooned over the desert at some unearthly hour… I can also boast that I pretty much know my way around the city. Don’t believe that last one? Ask my sister and her kids who spent a week with me here recently.
So, when I’m asked what I miss about London or the UK in general, my answer has pretty much been the same since I first arrived: nothing. Let me put it this way — the thing I really DON’T miss is the weather (last week’s downpours were nothing compared to having to commute in the pouring rain and where wet weather is part of city life).
My first few months here were like, for many, hectic — new job, flat hunting, trying to figure out where everything is including grocery stores and easily accessible malls. This all seems so long ago now, but as a keen cook even while I was back in London, I was used to dropping by my local stores where I would pick up pretty much all the ingredients I needed.
Spices, meats and fresh herbs were stocked in every corner shop, in every neighbourhood. So shopping for the first time in Dubai was a fun challenge. While most of the items on my list were available, some were in different packaging while some familiar brands I was used to weren’t available. A few key ingredients I just couldn’t find. So when I returned from the UK after my first holiday, my suitcase was full of those missing ingredients — coconut block (solid concentrated coconut butter used in Caribbean cooking), Oxo cubes (a brand of meat stock cubes), Jamaican ginger cake and ginger biscuits… The good news is that I have discovered pretty much many of the missing items or have found replacements in stores across the city.
These may seem strange things to miss, but they are all things I’ve grown up with. A ginger cake, thickly sliced with hot vanilla custard poured over the top was a delicious weekend treat; crushed ginger biscuits were the perfect base for a cheesecake or key lime pie. Most recipes use digestive biscuits, but in my recipe, ginger biscuits work really with lime. Key lime pie gets its name from the small Floridian limes traditionally used in the recipe. You can use any small limes; they don’t have to have arrived from the Florida Keys. A chemical reaction between the proteins of the egg yolks and condensed milk plus the lime juice causes the filling to thicken. This dessert is best served chilled, so I try to make it the day before so it has plenty of time to set.
If your piping skills aren’t too hot, just add a layer of whipped cream over the filling, then grate over some lime zest and sprinkle chopped fresh mint. If your skills are on point, you can pipe fresh cream around the edges and a blob in the centre. This recipe is a favourite with my dinner guests — and looks pretty impressive too.
AMERICAN KEY LIME PIE
Serves 8, prep time 10 minutes, cooking time 30 minutes
250g of ginger biscuits
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp honey
¼ tsp salt
14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
½ cup fresh lime juice (from 10 limes)
1 tsp lime zest (keeping some to serve)
2 cups whipped cream
Fresh mint leaves and lime zest to serve
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Blitz the biscuits into crumbs in a food processor. Heat the butter honey and a pinch of salt over medium heat. Pour the biscuit crumbs into a bowl, add the melted butter and combine. Grease a 9-inch flan tin, pour the crumb mixture into the tin and press evenly into the bottom and the sides to form a case. Bake in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, add the condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice and zest to a mixing bowl and whisk. Pour the mixture into the biscuit base and bake for 15 minutes until set. Allow the pie to cool then chill for at least 4 hours, or even better overnight. Pipe some whipped cream around the edge and in the centre, top the lime zest and fresh mint leaves.
— Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield, follow him on Instagram @gasmarksix