Thursday, October 25, 2007

Middle Eastern Freak

my kids and i like a lot of different foods from a lot of different countries. for me, i seek them out. for my kids, they have no idea, just that they like the food. greek food is big for us, indian food, asian (a si've said), italian and middle eastern. yum yum yum yummer. i have been known to build a whole meal around this turkish bread snack called lebneh which is a flat bread baked with ground lamb sprinkled on it as a seasoning. i like how middle eastern cooking is this amazing mesh of scents, flavors and experience. there's such a depth of history, a weight to it all -- so biblical in its essence (and i'm SOOOO NOT religious, believe me) that it seems to just jump off the page when i read about it. it's also the kind of food that is long simmering, slow roasted, infused with an extraordinary grandeur because of the simple steps it has inside to make the dining experience that much better. spiced olives, lovely relishes and flat breads all have the same priority and are treated with the same reverence as a main course. so, tonight, i made this one pot dish called WHEAT BERRIES WITH CHICKPEAS AND CHICKEN from FEAST OF THE MIDDLE EAST by Faye Levy.

2 tbs olive oil or veggie oil
2 lrg onions, coarsely chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1-1/2 to 2 pounds chicken thighs, with or without the skin
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-1/2 cups wheat berries, rinsed
1 cup dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans), sorted and rinsed
1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
7 to 8 cups water (more if necessary)
One 14-ounce can tomatoes, coarsely chopped

what to do:
1. heat oil in stew pan. add onions and saute over medium heat for 12 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. add paprika, cumin and turmeric and stir briefly over low heat. add chicken to onions, sprinkle it lightly with salt and pepper, and turn it over to lightly coat it with spice on both sides.
2. add wheat berries, chickpeas, pepper flakes, and 7 to 8 cups water, or enough to generously cover ingredients. bring to a boil. cover and cook over very low heat for 45 to 60 minutes, or until chicken is tender. remove chicken. add tomatoes to casserole. cover pan and continue cooking, adding hot water 1/2 cup at a time, if necessary, for 30 to 60 minutes, or until wheat berries and chickpeas are tender. skim excess fat from sauce.
3. if casserole is too soupy, remove wheat berries and chickpeas with slotted spoon and boil sauce until it thickens. remove chicken from bones, cut it in strips, and return it to pan. taste and adjust seasoning. serve hot.

here's what we did:
our chicken was skinless and boneless and i used fresh tomatoes instead of canned. i also used only one onion, because my older son is not a fan of onions and it still gave the stew a great flavor. but otherwise we kept it pretty faithful and stewed away.

report card states, per my sons and some others, that this is yum. severely yum. it's hearty, warming and just wonderful. that evening, i took it to my book club with some warm pita wedges and it worked GREAT as a dip. a little chevre, creamy goat cheese, sprinkled on top.

this was a great meal. really great. it's getting cold and it was exactly what worked for an evening of chill. this is one of the many dishes we've been able to play with in our middle eastern cooking vibe. we've got our share of cookbooks from the region and our share of love for the food. we did pretty good with this or well or... hell, whatever.

we made a good meal. oh, and here's the cool thing of it all. brandon decided he wanted to make his own sauce to go on his portion and he cut about 1 tbs of white onion, about 1 tbs of sweet red pepper, about 4 leaves of basil, a dash or so of hot sauce, a 1 inch piece of peeled ginger. he mashed it in our mortar and pestle, really pressed it and i left for book club figuring he was going to use it. when i got back, he hadn't put it on his stew, feeling it wasn't going to be any good. i tasted it and it was AMAZING. just the right about of heat, just the right amount of sweet from the bell pepper and a great taste. he hadn't even tasted it. he took one taste and his eyes widened in delight. HE had done this. him alone just on passion and instinct. we agreed a little pinch of salt might be okay, so he did that and it was wonderful. i was so proud of him. both of my kids just go for it, paint with their cooking, so that their personalities shine through.

it was lovely. really lovely.


Sarah said...

Ooooh, this sounded really yummy. Brandon's sauce, too. Sorry I missed book club. I tried to call you, but I think I called your home number by mistake : ( Had the best gyro today -- huge and (as Thomas said) the right tahini-to-lamb ratio. I've really been loving this blog. Keep it up!

PalateScriber said...

definitely will keep it up. and i'd LOVE to know where you got that gyro, because i ADORE them and tahini. i rarely find the correct ratio, except for the shawarmas at falafel king in l.a. and this amazing place on pico blvd. in l.a. where they would add french fries (yes, i said french fries) to their HEAVY DUTY shawarmas. this place was awesome.