I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, usually right after some event involving massive human bloodshed or promise of same, that I hate the part of my job that forces me to pay attention to events involving massive human bloodshed or promise of same.
I think it’s fair to say the US attacks on that Syrian airbase qualifies as one of those events.
Whether you think the strike was right or wrong, whatever you think the motivation may have been, or however suspicious the timing may seem to you, there is at least one thing that’s certain: this will do about as much to heal the situation as all previous attempts by
America the world to bring about peace by bombing the shit out of the bastards.
Jesus. I wish I could bury my head in a good book or a bad redhead and pretend like none of this is happening. Or rather, happening again. Ignorance really is bliss.
But of course, ignorance is also cause for termination when you’re a news anchor. And I like being able to buy food more than I hate knowing ocelots might be starving. So I immerse myself in the story, again and again and again, until the numbness of repetition brings its blessed release of feelings. Other than feeling the need to drink, that is.
Wait a sec here. Did I really just write a lengthy ode to empathy fatigue as a preamble to a cooking entry? Apparently I did. But why? Was it cathartic? Was it the grappa? Maybe I just have a massive ego….
Actually, there is a bit of a tie-in. Back in 2011 when the wider Arab Spring uprising spread into Syria I knew I had to do something drastic. I had to get to the A&P Supermarket on Rt.46 in West Paterson.
The A&P Supermarket on Rt.46 in West Paterson, NJ was the only supermarket in a camel journey’s radius that had an entire section devoted to foods imported from Syria. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Syria has (had) as large and as rabidly devout a food culture as any other nation you can name, and the comestibles they exported rivaled all of them.
And I knew when I heard the news in 2011 that I was about to be cut off from my supply. It’s tough to package preserved lemons in glass jars and ship them out when your jars keep getting blown into billions of jagged shards by government air strikes. Along with your factory.
So I basically wiped out all three shelves of Durra and other products from that once fair country in one trip, and have been doling them out in a very miserly fashion ever since.
Now that Syria is front and center in the news again, I thought I’d dip in to some of my last remaining stash as a show of solidarity. Not that it will do any practical good by any stretch of the imagination. For fuck’s sake, the Women’s March on Washington was the largest protest in US history…and marital rape is still not rape. So do I think making a chicken dish with the last of my Syrian paprika is gonna stop Dr. al-Assad from killing his patients instead of curing them? No. Of course not. But…but…I’m just tired of being sad all the time, you know? This is the only thing I can think of that allows me to contemplate what’s happening over there without breaking out in dry heaves.
So here’s what I’ve decided. I’ve decided to reproduce the dish I made a few years ago that used that same Syrian paprika to great effect. Back then I just winged it, having been inspired by a palate of dates I found on sale on my way home from work. This time, though, I’m actually going to work off the pictorial I posted of the process. I’ll finally get to see how good a teacher I am!
Ok, so this is the tutorial as I posted it:
Step 1. Mise en place. (As I wrote) “The chicken marinated for two days in rose water (plus a little orange blossom water I had left), ginger slices, saffron threads, and Syrian paprika. The stuffing was made with dates, almonds, saffron, a touch more rose water, and a drizzle of olive oil to bind. ”
Step 2. “The halved chicken, backbone removed. For the paste, the dates soaked in hot water to soften, then were pounded in the mortar with the almonds, a few more saffron threads, a bit more rose water, and a little olive oil. (Keeping the almonds rather chunky, not pounded to dust.) I slid the paste under the skin of each half and massaged it in, reserving some for service“:
Step 3. “On cabbage leaves, dusted with more paprika, and into steamer baskets“:
Step 4. “Steaming in the wok. About 35 minutes (breasts to 160 degrees), rotating top and bottom baskets halfway through. The steaming liquid was water plus the drained marinade, a few fresh ginger slices, the chicken back, and another shot of rose water. It smelled like a Moroccan spice bazaar in my house….“:
Step 5. “Out of the steamer and onto a half sheet. Brushed with olive oil, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, then under the broiler to brown“:
“Done. I saved some of the paste to serve on the side, which turned out to be a good idea. A very nice spread not only for the chicken, but later chilled, formed into balls and rolled in coconut shreds as truffles. Dinner AND dessert. What more could you ask of one dish?“:
Not the greatest pictures (my little Nintendo DSi called into service there), but you get the idea.
I’d forgotten I made the leftover paste into truffles. What a stroke of genius, eh? Actually, I was just jonesing for some sugar. Desperation forced my hand.
I remember this being a very flavorful dish. I think it’s a go. I have a chicken in the fridge, so I’ll start marinating that tonight as I also have both rose water and orange blossom water stocked (they carry them at Walmart!). Tomorrow or Monday I’ll scope out dates, and probably Tuesday after work I’ll assemble it all.
It’s a date! With dates!
I just wish Syria could join me….