Reaching towards the Middle East

I am on the place as I type this, headed back to Michigan from a week with the kiddies in New York.  What a pleasure it has been!  I feel like I am renewed in my soul and ready to tackle the fall.  Before I do that though, let’s reach towards the Middle east for a delicious late summer dinner.

Since moving to Michigan I have been amazed at the variety of foods I have found from the Middle East.  My town, Dearborn, has the highest Arab population in the world, outside the Middle East, and so it’s no surpise you see the foods everywhere.  A few years ago I posted some Valentines Day items I made for the Hubby from Yottam Ottolenghi’s book Jerusalem.  The colors are exciting, the flavors so vibrant and all super healthy to boot, who could ask for more?  I have become a bit addicted to a spice blend called zatar.  It’s a combination of dried thyme, dried parsley, sesame seeds, dried mint and a spice that’s called sumac.  It’s the dried berry version of lemon, or at least that’s what it taste like.  It’s bright brick red, and has a texture that’s a tiny bit woody, but the punch it packs flavorwise is POW!  If you have ever had fatoosh salad, the lemon and oil dressing has a ton of sumac in it, it echos the fresh lemon.  The best description I have seen for it is is pleasurably sour.  YUM!

A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe in the New York Times food section that is a fresh take on the dried zatar in a chicken dish, and I was intrigued, and so I tried it.  All I can say is WOW!  All those flavors but a fresh, herby version.  With the addition of a lot of garlic, the chicken was rich and flavorful, and easy to make.  And it’s delicious cold the next day.   It’s a great way to, once again, grab all the herbs of summer and get them in your mouth!

For my version I used chicken thighs, bone in, skin on, and I cooked them on the grill.  I find that thighs are higher in fat, and therefore in flavor.  I also allowed mine to sit for several hours in the fridge, to really get the full flavor impact.  You can bake the chicken at 350º, for 35 minutes, which I imagine would give you a nice sticky texture, and some really good pan juices.  However, you can use any kind of chicken, I also think this would be great with a butterflied leg of lamb, on the grill again.  You can use different herbs too, but the garlic and sumac are a must.  Ah, the possibilities!

Ingredients:

  • 6 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
  • 6 cloves of garlic minced, grated on a microplane or cut small
  • 1 large bunch of thyme
  • 1 small bunch of mint
  • 1 small bunch of flat leaf parsely
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (plus more if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds (toasted in a dry pan until they start to brown, cooled)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper (optional)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground sumac

Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry with paper toweling, and set them aside.  Place the garlic and all the herbs in a food processor or blender and pulse 5 – 10 times to break down the herbs.  Add in the olive oil and continue to pulse and process until you have a loose paste, more liquid than paste.  Remove the paste to a large zipper bag, and add in the sesame seeds, salt, pepper and sumac.  Squish everything around in the bag so it’s all well combined.

Place the chicken in the bag of marinade and use your hands to make sure everything is well covered. Zip the bag closed and allow this to sit for several hour, or overnight.

Take the chicken out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook it, and allow it to come close to room temperature.  If you’re cooking this on the grill, light the grill 20 minutes prior so it’s very hot.  Place the chicken skin up for 15 minutes on high heat, then lower the temperature to medium and turn them skin side down.  Because you have olive oil in the mix, it will flame, but don’t panic, that’s fine.  Allow the chicken to cook for an additional 15 minutes, checking occasionally to see if they are charring and adjust the heat.  Take off the grill and allow to sit for 5 – 7 minutes, then dig in!  I actually served this with the Egyptian Tomato Salad from 2 blogs back, and it was great!!  Enjoy!

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