Lebanese inspired Chicken
Middle eastern flavours Dish by Wonki Ware
Sitting forward, heads bent, shoulders relaxed, fingers nimble with thick chunks of freshly baked flat bread, we scooped the gravy heady with toasted cumin and earthy flavours fused during hours in a tagine, a circle of content.
Communal eating in North Africa and across the Middle East is the literal translation of food bringing people together. You’re huddled together in close proximity, all sharing food off one platter, dancing politely in step -his scoop, her scoop, his scoop, her scoop…a breaking of bread.
When I read Robyn of the blog Koek!’s post last week, I knew that the destiny of the chicken pieces in my fridge would be to end up lavishly coated in her Lebanese marinade, to conjure up those happy memories of Marrakech and Lebanese restaurants we’d frequent in Bayswater in London.
Tragedy! I had no pomegranate molasses. What does a cook do, when faced with a curve ball? Adaptation. This is my adaptation of Robyn’s recipe, and never a happier chicken you will find. (Apart from Robyn’s, of course). Freshly ground cumin, lemony sumac, the boldness of garlic, the smooth earthy nuttiness of the walnut, all balanced with a drizzle of honey and the sweet nibble of a pomegranate aril.
I purchased the sumac and zaatar from Ghenwa at the Heathersage market in Somerset West.
850 g chicken pieces (I used Elgin skinless thighs and drumsticks)
2 tsp toasted cumin seeds (1 heaped tsp cumin powder if you don’t have seeds)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 tsp sumac
2 tsp zaatar
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp allspice
2/3 cup thick natural yoghurt
2 tsp runny honey
1 T lemon juice
salt to taste
small handful dried pomegranate arils
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Spray and Cook (grease) a roasting tray.
Use a pestle and mortar to grind all the spices, starting with the cumin seeds and adding the garlic, nuts, zest and all the powders once the cumin is fairly fine. Add oil and continue to pound till the paste is smooth. It needn’t be ultra fine in texture- small lumps of nut or garlic are perfectly acceptable.
Add the paste, honey, lemon juice and yoghurt to the chicken. Season with salt. Mix thoroughly and leave to marinate for at least one hour, covered.
Scatter 2/3 of the pomegranate arils over the chicken pieces.
Bake for 30 minutes. Turn and bake for a further 25- 30 minutes.
Chicken is done if a skewer is pierced through the thickest part of the chicken, closest to the bone and the juices run clear.
Serve with a scattering of reserved arils and minted couscous.