If there is one dish that is quintessentially Somali this is it! I call it meat jerky Somali style. For the nomadic Somali people, food at its most basic is all about meat and milk (hilib iyo caano) and muqmad or odkac is up for there for my people.
The harsh desert climate and the constant travel meant that Somalis had to invent ways to make foods that would last for long periods of time, such as muqmad or odkac– which is preserved meat. The muqmad would keep for up to one year, which made it a wonderful source of continuous protein and energy for the ever roving nomads.
Huge amounts of meat would be cut into thin strips and then sun dried. After a couple of days in the sun, the meat would be cut into tiny half a centimetre cubes and then deep fried and preserved in ghee.
Once the meat was cooked it would be kept in a wooden container. Muqmad is also prepared for weddings and placed in a special container called xeedho (in the picture), which is decorated with leather and sea shells. The xeedho is then be wrapped in cloth and given as a gift to the groom’s family members.
As a child I remember my grandmother slicing the meat in our backyard and hanging it on the washing line! It was my job and that of my siblings to sit by the clothesline and shoo the birds away, much as my uncles and aunts did in the desert, except of course they didn’t have clotheslines to hang their meat on.
This muqmad recipe is from my mother via her mother and grandmother – ladies who were true nomads or reer guraa as we say in Somali. My grandmother always liked to flavour the ghee with a bit of onion, garlic and cardamom. She said it gave the meat a wonderful depth of flavour, and everyone who tastes it agrees!
This recipe doesn’t require you to cure the meat by drying it in the sun, and takes a short cut by simply deep frying it. Our local butcher has many Somali customers and has learnt to cut the meat in muqmad or odkac style. If you aren’t as lucky as we are, dice the lean beef into tiny quarter centimetre cubes.
Muqmad is a favourite breakfast food and is usually eaten with sabaayad bread or anjero.
Muqmad (Preserved Meat)
2 kg of lean beef or camel if you can get it (ask your butcher to cut it muqmad or odkac style or dice it finely yourself into ½ cm cubes)
1 cup of sultanas (optional, but it adds a sweetness that enhances the meat’s flavour)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of vegetable oil for frying
Salt to taste
1. Heat up the one cup of oil over medium heat and fry the meat until the meat’s natural juices has evaporated. This should take about 30 minutes. The meat will look like dried raisins or sultanas.
2. Drain the oil and keep the meat in a large bowl to cool. Add the sultanas. Keep the oil in a container and use to cook other meals.
3. Fry the onion, garlic and cardamom powder in the 500g of ghee over medium heat until the onion is nicely browned.
4. Sieve the fragrant and spiced ghee over the muqmad, which is now ready to be stored in an airtight container.