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Monday, 14 November 2011

Bulgur today means mango milkshakes tomorrow...

What a lucky, lucky girl I am! As you know I need my three holidays per year and the most important one in terms of my mental health is definitely the January one. The old Seasonal Affective Disorder hits nobody harder than poor oul Funkyknuckles and the long, hard stretch of dark days between Christmas (yay!) and Birthdays (woo!) is impossible to countenance without a little winter sun to break it up.

Two years ago I spent a surprisingly lovely week in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, but it bore no comparison to last year's holiday in Dahab. It's a little hippy enclave about an hour's drive north of Sharm el Sheikh and it couldn't be more different from the all-inclusive griefhole that Sharm has apparently become. Dahab is a laidback paradise with a lovely lazy bedouin vibe. The thing to do in Dahab is do nothing. And the very best place to do nothing is in the Dahab Paradise Hotel.

Dahab's got its own little rash of AI hotels too but they are well away from the fun, down at the Laguna. The way to go here is to choose a boutique hotel and the best one is the Paradise. I so wanted to go here last year with my aunt but the funds weren't up to it, so we ended up in the Dahab Plaza - a brilliant backpackers motel with free tea, coffee, shisha, wifi and laundry! And of course Emad, the incredibly hospitable hotel manager.

We spent the most wonderfully relaxed week there - listening to George Harrison and Nouvelle Vague, drinking good coffee by day and lovely local wine by night...I read so much, ate so well and met so many lovely, friendly people while all the time the Arab Spring was hotting up in Cairo... I really wanted to bring my husband to Dahab this winter to show him what a beautiful place it was, but the bank manager would not allow me to do it in the style required and I knew that for all the Plaza's charms it's not what you'd call romantic. No point travelling all that way for a week unless you're going to do it right.

This is where my luck came in - the Dahab Paradise Facebook page runs a monthly draw for a week's stay for two, and guess who this month's lucky winner is? I nearly died of excitement when I got the email as I never win anything. My prize is a week's B&B for two with transfers, a bottle of Aida (Egyptian "champagne" and not at all bad!), a day's snorkelling and a candlelit dinner for two in the desert. How fantastic does that sound? The only drawback is that Thomas Cook stopped doing direct charters between Belfast & Sharm last year and the Dublin flights are over €500 each! Skyscanner came to my rescue though with a not-too-complicated bit of hopping around allowing us to leave Belfast and arrive in Sharm on the same day (no mean feat) for half that price. Don't let me down, Easyjet, don't let me down.

Dahab lobster is a good incentive - this was dinner
last January......
So tickets are bought, arrangements are made and I need to make only a few extra economies to ensure complete happiness at the end of January. I'm spending too much on not-very-pleasant tuna sandwiches and actively nasty coffee in our canteen. So in the interests of taste and economy I've switched to karkady (a delicious hibiscus flower tea from Aswan which tastes like spicy Ribena) and bulgur salads, which I never get bored of and which cost half nothing to make. This one features lovely roasted peppers and mint and was so easy to put together and so delicious you'd never think it cost about a pound to make (thanks to a glut of reduced peppers at Tesco) and I got 4 lunches out of it. Every canteen coffee I avoid here will magically transform itself into a mango milkshake in Dahab, while five soggy tuna sarnies equal one lobster dinner. I am powerfully incentivised, as they say.

Bulgur salad with peppers and mint

8oz coarse bulgur
16 fl oz boiling stock (I used Marigold)
2 nests of vermicelli or 1oz orzo (optional but really adds to the texture)
1 tbsp olive oil
small bunch of mint chopped finely
3 large peppers, roasted, skinned and cut up
2 tsp any warm spice mix (I went for a Turkish one this time but Ras el Hanout or Garam Masala would be good too)
1/2tsp aleppo pepper (or other chilli flakes)
1 tsp soy sauce
Salt & pepper to taste.

Fry the vermicelli in the oil on a medium high heat till it colours, then add the bulgur and stir and fry till it's golden brown (about 2-3 more mins). Add the hot stock and cover immediately, turning the heat down to medium. After 10 minutes turn the heat off completely but don't lift the lid! When it's cold toss through all the other ingredients.