Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sweet & Tart (and loving it)

I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite books, A Fistful of Lentils by Jennifer Felicia Abadi.  People, meet book; book, people.  It's a cookbook, obviously (and can be purchased here).  It reveals the delectable secrets of Syrian-Jewish grandmother cooking, while also giving the reader little glimpses into the history of the author's own family, as told by her grandmother and other elder family members.  It's a fun read, the recipes are straightforward and well-tested, and once you get the hang of the cooking style, with the words of all these relatives swimming around your head, you kinda start to feel like one of the family!

Below is a pretty close interpretation of the book's Dja'jeh Mish Mosh.  My minor changes are the addition of a marinating step with spices for extra oomph, using honey instead of brown sugar, and leaving the dish uncovered for the final 30 minutes of baking.  Otherwise, full credit goes to Ms. Abadi and her Grandma Fritzie.

Sweet and Tart Chicken with Apricots

Recipe adapted from, "A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes From Grandma Fritzie's Kitchen," 
by Jennifer Abadi. (c) 2002, used by permission from The Harvard Common Press.

Serves 4

3 pounds chicken pieces (white and/or dark), skinned
1/4 cup kebab spice (or whatever spice blend you prefer; optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons oil
2/3 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
One 6-ounce can unsalted tomato paste
1-1/4 cups cold water
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins is best)
3 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1-1/4 cups dried whole Turkish apricots

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Marinate the chicken: Rinse the chicken pieces under cold running water, pat dry, and sprinkle with spices, salt and pepper and place in a casserole, covered, for 15 minutes to marinate.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is quite hot, add the chicken pieces, a few at a time, and brown, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Repeat with the rest of the chicken and set aside.

Prepare the sauce: Heat the oil in the same skillet over medium heat and cook the onions until golden and soft,  3 to 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, an additional 1 minute, being careful not to burn it.

Combine the remaining sauce ingredients except the apricots in a  bowl and pour into the skillet with the onions and garlic.  Bring the sauce to a boil over high heat.  Turn off the heat and set aside.

Arrange the chicken pieces snugly in one layer in a roasting pan.  Cover the chicken with the apricots and pour the sauce over the apricots, reserving 1/2 cup for later.  Cover with aluminum foil or a tight lid and bake for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, pour the remaining sauce over the chicken and continue to bake, uncovered, until the chicken is tender and almost falling off the bones, another 30 minutes.  Serve hot over rice or your favorite grain (I like this with freekeh, smoked green wheat.

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