What’s under that lid– for Ramadan?
One of our efforts at this website is to do to Islamophobia what was done to anti-Semitism over the last century: making its expression unacceptable in American mainstream culture. And while I can claim no position of leadership on this issue– I’ve had to be educated– some of our readers are leaders, and one wrote to me the other day from Europe with this insight:
Ramadan begins Wednesday. The French papers all have feature stories about the quotidian aspects of the festival, and the French food pages and bloggers all have articles. It is the occasion of wonderful food journalism, as the Ramadan menus are very elegant, and many dishes are unknown, the constant quest of food writers. So where are the features in the US papers, food magazines, blogs?
Let me repeat that great sentence: “Ramadan is the occasion of wonderful food journalism, as the Ramadan menus are very elegant, and many dishes are unknown, the constant quest of food writers.”
So where are those questing foodies in the Washington Post and New York Times? Absent. The festival is mentioned in countless news stories, but it hardly exists as a source of cultural exploration.
Food & Wine: Recipes for Ramadan. — Jeff Gordinier
The Washington Post does a little better. It has a three paragraph story urging readers to break their fast at Darna, a restaurant in Arlington, Va. But there is not a recipe in sight. (Last year the Post did offer a story about Ramadan food, with links to recipes, including dates with vermicelli.)
This omission is evidence of Islamophobia. It demonstrates that Muslims don’t register for the gatekeepers of American public culture. Imagine Christmas or Hanukkah coming in without a recipe in our leading papers.
This will change, and we aim to be part of the change.
So, drumroll please! From my friend in Europe:
This is a recipe for Circassian chicken from the great Kamal Mouzawak’s as yet untranslated cookbook, Delices des Mille et Une Nuits.
Kamal Mouzawak created the elegant Beirut restaurant Tawlet, which uses produce from farmers from all over Lebanon, and features the whole range of Lebanese cooking. Circassian chicken is cooked in varying versions in all the countries that were once part of the Ottoman Empire. It was one of the great dishes of the Turkish Imperial harem, supposed to be the creation of the Circassian women who were highly prized acquisitions.
Jordan has a number of distinctive versions, having received large numbers of Circassian refugees from the Russians (Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad), in the nineteenth century. You can see the relationship between this and a famous Georgian chicken and walnut dish, though this is a real palace dish, much more refined. I don’t need to tell you that you need the best walnuts you can find, the best milk, the best chicken.
For six: Preparation: 30 minutes Cooking time: one hour
One three pound chicken
4 slices of stale bread
10 tablespoons milk
4 cloves garlic
2 cups walnuts, plus 6-10 nuts for garnish
1 bouquet garni
1 stalk of celery
2 bay laurel leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon paprika
2 sprigs of fresh coriander leaves
(Metric measures: 1 chicken, 1.5 kg, 15 cl milk, 250 g walnuts)
1. Bring the chicken to boil in just enough water to cover it. Skim the foam from the surface of the water when it comes to a boil. Add the bouquet garni, the onion, and the peeled carrot, the celery, the salt and the bay laurel leaves. Reduce the heat, and let the chicken cook over a low flame for 40 minutes.
2. Remove the cooked chicken from the broth, and allow it to cool. Then remove all the skin, and with your hands, shred the meat into fine threads. While you are shredding the meat, reduce and concentrate the broth over a high flame for about 15 minutes.
3. Grate the bread slices into crumbs, and soak them in the milk for 15 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, pound the garlic and the walnuts together, until they form a paste, then add the milk-soaked bread, and incorporate it into the paste. Add the chicken broth to the paste, until you have a somewhat liquid mixture, the texture of yogurt. Add the shredded chicken, and mix until fully incorporated.
4. Spread the mixture on a platter; decorate with the paprika, walnuts, and coriander leaves. Serve at room temperature, accompanied by toasted pita or breadsticks.