Counting the nights with preserved lemon chicken
I simply love going to my monthly book club meetings. This is not an exaggeration and the rest of the group feel the same. We’re nine women of many different ages and nationalities united by a passion for reading and wanting to extend that experience by talking about it. I’ve been part of this club for over eight years and although the members have changed (in a transient, ex-pat community) the pleasure hasn’t. We take in turns to choose the discussion book and the chooser hosts the next meeting and provides the food and drink – if possible to linked to the book.
Food linked to reading
Some memorable meals have included African style with cassava chips (The Other Hand – Chris Cleave), filled pasta in a sarcophagus of pastry (The Leopard – Giuseppe Lampedusa), a Trinidadian feast (A House for Mr Biswas – V.S. Naipul) and a daube of beef cooked by Mary even though she is vegetarian (To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf). Our book choice this month was The Night Counter by Alia Yunis (who happens also to teach at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi). It’s the story of Fatima, a Lebanese octogenarian who lives in Los Angeles, who has been visited for the last 992 nights by Scheherazade of the Arabian Nights mythology. This time it’s Fatima who has to recount her life stories and she knows that after 1001 nights she will die. She wrestles with the problems of her extended family of four generations in an entertaining, interwoven and sometimes rather ludicrous way.
Our Lebanese feast
For our Lebanese feast, this time we bucked the usual trend and did a ‘pot-luck’ dinner. My appointed dish was chicken and I conjured up thoughts of preserved lemons (I happened to have made a jar) and saffron. I couldn’t wait to see what everyone else had brought especially as the author herself had published some Lebanese recipes online linked to the food in the book. You will not be surprised if you know anything about Lebanon or the Lebanese that food is central to the story.
This all coincided neatly with the Taste Lebanon theme chosen by Dirty Kitchen Secrets for the Monthly Mingle a sort of virtual dinner party organised by the lovely Meeta of What’s for lunch Honey. You can read all the Lebanese recipes here.
So our feast included hummous (of course), tabbouleh, mutabal, manoushe, fatoush, a lovely couscous dish, vine leaves, little balls of fried kofta, fluffy rice and my chicken with preserved lemons.
I have a bit of a confession about this recipe. It was handwritten on a scrap of paper in my recipe file and called Lebanese lemon chicken but when I looked in Claudia Roden (after I’d bought all the ingredients) I found a nearly identical recipe called Moroccan chicken. Monthly minglers and people from the Levant, let me know if I am committing a great travesty by submitting this as Lebanese. Whatever its cultural origins I urge you to make it ; it’s not beautiful to look at but sublime to taste – the poaching stock is deeply flavoured with the saffron, herbs and spices contrasted with the almost candied preserved lemon.
Chicken with preserved lemons
Serves 8-9 people
2 x chickens (approx 1kg each)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 onions chopped finely
1 teaspoon of saffron strands
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Sea salt and black pepper (ground)
a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
a large bunch of coriander, chopped finely
4 preserved lemons, chopped into small pieces
Put all the ingredients except the preserved lemon into a large pot (a cast-iron one is ideal). Add water to come half-way up the chickens , bring to the boil then simmer gently, uncovered, for about 1 1/2 hours or until the chicken is cooked through and soft enough to part from the bones. Remove the flesh from the bones (or keep in pieces) and return to the sauce (which has now reduced) along with the lemon. Reheat, garnish with some coriander or parsley if required and serve with rice.
Let me know what you think. The book club girls loved it.