Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Last Dance

Some of your may have noticed that I have been posting about the kitchen less and less in the past few months. This is because I have been absent from the kitchen for the better part of a month and a half. My year there is up and I'm being phased out. And even if my year weren't up-due to financial strain we're down to two women shifts again. There are simply too many women and not enough shifts.
The news that I wouldn't be working in the kitchen on a weekly basis anymore came rather suddenly. One evening, I came in for a workshop to learn from a chef a bit and to hang out with the women from my business management course and was then informed that I wouldn't be assigned weekly shifts anymore. If I had it my way, life would continue this way for another year at least: kitchen work and laughter-filled gatherings. It didn't even occur to me that it wouldn't. But by the next morning I was dragging myself out of my bed for what would be my last regular shift in the kitchen. It wasn't my last day- I have been, and will be back in the kitchen for occasional shifts, but the day did seem to carry extra emotional weight.
I walked in that Tuesday morning and donned my apron and cap. C. greeted me as usual, and as usual, I asked what needed to be done. She pointed me to the sink and pile of dirty fennel. At that point, I teared up a bit remembering my very first day in the kitchen and how overwhelmed I was, my fingers turning numb as I washed dirty fennel under a stream of cold water at the very same sink. My last day and first day in symmetry.
That day, R. stopped by the kitchen and I hovered as she made meatballs, looking for tips and recipes and stories about her time in Amsterdam. That day, L. turned the Middle Eastern music up high as he washed dishes and belly danced in his thick apron and rain boots and the few people lingering in the dining room laughed and laughed at the sight of him and came to dance with him. I don't remember what we served. I do remember that N. ate schnitzel and it felt like a victory. I do remember that M, with her flowing red hair, came up from behind me and threw arms around my waist and I held on tight. I said goodbye to everyone a million times that day. I said, see you next month. I said it to L and to R and to S and C. I said it even though I didn't have a shift scheduled for the next month, but there would have to be one. I wasn't ready to go. I wasn't ready to stop being tired and dirty and cranky from waking up to early. I wasn't ready to be cut loose; to do this whole cooking thing on my own. There was still too much to learn. There is still too much to learn.

I didn't plan on sharing  a recipe when I first conceived of this post. I couldn't remember what we cooked in the kitchen and I couldn't think of any recipe that seemed to resonate with the words in my head. Then I received Ottolenghi: The Cookbook from my friends as a birthday gift. Ottolenghi (the cookbook), is Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi's first cookbook. Plenty, Ottolenghi's vegetarian follow-up, has gotten a lot of press, and not a little buzz. I do not yet own it, but I am glad that I got Ottolenghi (the cookbook) first. Without it I would not have met roast potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes with lemon and sage, or beef and lamb meatballs baked in tahini, or the star of this post, roast chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemon.
Sumac and za'atar are relatively new spices for me. Before moving to Israel I don't think I even knew what sumac was and it wasn't until just a few years ago that I actually started using it myself. But these two spices play a large role in Israeli cooking. You will find za'atar on bread and sprinkled over yogurt and labaneh- a soft white cheese. Sumac, bright red and tangy is dusted on salads and hummus.  These two spices, to me, symbolize my new kitchen- a kitchen I've built and am building far away from my mother's and grandmother's kitchens. It is filled with new tastes and techniques; influenced by different foods and different growing seasons.
The first time I made this recipe, though, I used a technique that was entirely from my mother's kitchen.  While making the chicken I was faced with the prospect of two extra, unexpected guests. Needing another side-dish, I grabbed some potatoes, sliced them and stuck them under the chicken before it went in to the oven to roast. For many years, this is what my family ate every Friday night- roast chicken with potatoes underneath. My mother used mostly paprika, salt and pepper for her spice mix, but the idea is the same-potatoes soaked in the flavor of roast chicken.This too, is part of my own kitchen.

I'm not going to stop blogging just because I'm no longer working in the community kitchen as often as I once did. There are still stories to be told. There always are. Now, however, the stories will most likely be about my own kitchen- this thing I'm building out of za'atar and sumac; paprika and potatoes; the very stuff of home.

Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za'atar and Lemon

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi

1 large chicken cut into 8 pieces
2 red onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
11/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp sumac
1 lemon, sliced
200 ml water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp za'atar
4 medium potatoes, sliced
50 g pine nuts
4 tbsp chopped parsley

1. Mix the chicken with the onions, garlic, olive oil, allspice through sumac, lemon, water and salt and pepper. Cover and put in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or (even better) overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 200 C (about 400 F). Place the potatoes at the bottom of a roasting tray large enough to accommodate the pieces of chicken so that they can lay flat without touching one another. Lay the chicken (skin side up) and onions over the potatoes and then add the marinade. Sprinkle the za'atar over the chicken. Roast for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through.

3. In a small frying pan, toast the pine nuts until they are slightly brown and fragrant.

4. Serve the  hot chicken topped with the parsley and pine nuts.

1 comment:

  1. I had been wondering what was going to happen when the year ended. Cool beans.