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Counting the nights with preserved lemon chicken

October 17, 2010
Preserved lemon chicken

Chicken with preserved lemons

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.

Monthly mingle

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.

  1. Tricia Evans permalink
    October 18, 2010 8:28 am

    Another great post Sally, & what a lovely idea to combine food with the book. Tricia x

    • October 18, 2010 8:30 am

      It was a good book too Trish.

  2. October 18, 2010 10:45 am

    Lovely blog. Happy to find you! The chicken dish looks delicious!

  3. October 18, 2010 11:41 am

    Always while reading a book I think of myself as if I were one of the characters. And the book related food deffinitely exalts this feeling. Nice club you have, Sally.

    • October 18, 2010 12:53 pm

      It’s great fun Silvia – food, friends and great conversation.

  4. October 18, 2010 12:47 pm

    I love preserved lemons and this recipe looks brilliant. I was intrigued by the saffron in it! Sally so glad you are making it to the Monthly Mingle – hope to see you regularly at the events now!

    • October 18, 2010 12:52 pm

      So glad to be part of this lovely event Meeta – and a great theme to start off, especially as we are surrounded by Lebanese staples here in Dubai. Great to explore some of the home cooked dishes. The saffron adds a lovely depth – it’s really tasty.

  5. October 19, 2010 7:25 am

    Sally – thank you so much for visiting my blog and your lovely comment. Your book club sounds wonderful and I really like the idea of your monthly “book-inspired” feast. This chicken dish sounds great – I love preserved lemons so I’m eager to try this one.
    Sue 🙂

    • October 21, 2010 6:07 pm

      Your blog title is so relevant to the evening!

  6. October 19, 2010 3:26 pm

    Aww… I wish I was @ your table, good food and good read, nothing could beat that… and the dish look absolutely delicious, never cooked with preserved lemons before… sounds interesting 🙂

    • October 21, 2010 6:07 pm

      I wish you could join our table too. Preserved lemons are really worth trying. I’ll post a recipe soon.

  7. October 19, 2010 4:31 pm

    This dish sounds really really delicious. The feast is making me want to come over. I love mediterannean food. As for the Moroccan part – I think there is a whole lot of similarity between the two cuisines, as I see the similarity with Indian cuisine too 🙂

    You have a beautiful space here. Thanks for finding me to find you. Subscribed!

    • October 21, 2010 6:09 pm

      Since I posted this I’ve been told that preserved lemons are not in Lebanese cooking by my friend – actually North African food is quite different from the Levant – all very delicious though. Thanks for dropping by.

  8. October 19, 2010 9:35 pm

    preserved lemon sounds great. i cant wait to try this out. thank you for sharing.

  9. October 19, 2010 11:12 pm

    Food and books, two of my most favorite things 😀 Wish we had a book club like that in Tripoli, maybe I should get one started. Love preserved lemons and saffron. Will have to try your recipe soon!

    • October 21, 2010 7:18 pm

      Your food club is a good start – good luck with it. The recipe is worth trying – although I say it myself – it was delicious.

  10. nightcounter permalink
    October 20, 2010 8:52 am

    Dear Sally and Group, Glad you enjoyed “The Night Counter” and the food sounds delicious. It’s wonderful that you combine books and food. So much of the novel was guided by the importance of food to who we are and what we do–and how we deal with life in good and bad times. Continued happy reading and eating, Alia Yunis,

    • October 21, 2010 7:22 pm

      I can’t tell you how thrilled we all were to get a comment from the author! Thank you so much for commenting and giving us so much to discuss in the prolific and vivid characters, interwoven tale and of course the food. My Father emigrated from Poland to UK during WW2 and I identify with the essential role that cooking and food plays because of that heritage. If you are ever in Dubai and want to draw up a chair at our table…. Thank you again.

  11. October 21, 2010 8:08 pm

    Right up my street Sally. I’m lovin’ this, and have just remembered that I’m down to the bottom of my preserved lime jar. More to be preserved soon, and then chicken, here I come!

    • October 23, 2010 1:29 pm

      Preserved limes – that’s a great idea. I’ve had such a good response from my lemons that I think some home-made Christmas presents are in the offing.

  12. October 24, 2010 11:27 am

    This looks and sounds lovely Sally. I want to thank you so much for your participation 🙂


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