As much as the cold and dark have challenged me this winter I believe I am clinging to it as much as it has clung to me. Change and transition don’t come to me easily and yet here we are, speeding toward spring with all of its wonders and promise, Carnival, king cakes, Passover, spring rituals. As my head turns toward spring am I mirthfully and secretly gleeful that winter’s grip is still strong? That I can hide under my coat’s hood and crawl further inside myself as I muster all my strength just to get to the subway in the morning–pushed on by my own willful and stubborn refusal to capitulate in the face of another dismal and cold winter day? It means I can wallow in the frigid cold and stay hunkered down, surviving, even hiding in winter’s cold grip.
Am I afraid to come come back into bloom? To celebrate life and everything the world-with its traditions and surprises-has to offer? To go away on the weekends, explore the beauty of the woods, to awake from my hibernation, my “at least there’s skiing and fires” consolation? The ice is about to melt and the rapids are being unleashed. Am I ready? To let go of the constant testing of my strength and fortitude, the battle with the sloth that hangs heavily and warmly around my neck? There’s still time to hide, but also ways to transition slowly into renewal.
I come alive in the spring and summer. A more fully realized version of myself. I suspect this hesitation has something to do with commitment. I get this same feeling right before I embark on reading a book from a favorite author, before resuming a TV series with which I’ve been smitten, before I commit to the Mets once again with an eye on spring training (though with the Mets I know there will be disappointment) or before I travel. A great journey lies ahead and I need to be prepared for it. To be fully in the moment, to be taken once again with the beauties and intricacies that make life a joy.
And so, I’ve adapted and recreated a hopeful meal from The Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies by Najmieh Batmanglij. This Persian cookbook is an amazing ode to Iranian culture, life and living and all the magical things that keep us going and renew us.
There’s a ton of citrus and acid in these kebabs to awaken the senses–, lime, mint, tomatoes and sumac cut only by the earthiness in the spices, saffron and turmeric and the coolness of the yogurt. I threw in some mint leaves for good measure. This meal is overloaded with flavor and then charred. I took liberties to make this manageable on a weeknight and served it over (Persian-esque?) rice and kale. One day I’ll find the time to make bread or naan or actual Persian rice. But until then, I do what I can.
Also, one last thing! I’ve been invited to a virtual fiesta. Over at the Novice Gardener there’s a pot luck fiesta going on every Friday. I’ve decided to bring this dish and mingle with the most talented community of cooks I know! I hear she’ll be serving some killer beignets.
Chicken Kebab (Jujeh kebab)
For the chicken and marinade:
- 1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
- juice of one fresh lime
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled, and crushed
- zest of 2 fresh limes
- 3 oz yogurt
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground sumac
- 1/2 tablespoon ground turmeric
- 1 pound boneless chicken breast cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
- 20 cherry tomatoes
- 6 flat, swordlike skewers
- 1 cup rice (I used arborio, but I think jasmine or long grain or basmati would be best)
- 2 limes, cut in half
- Parsley sprigs
- mint leaves
- a dusting of sumac
For the kale
- one head of kale
- juice of one lemon
For the rice:
- 1 cup of rice
- 2 cups of water
- pinch of saffron
- cumin (optional)
- turmeric (optional)
- one onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon butter
- mint leaves for garnish
- almonds for garnish
- figs or dates chopped for garnish
- sumac powder for garnish
For the chicken:
In a large bowl, combine half the saffron water and the lime juice, olive oil, onions, garlic, lime zest, yogurt, salt, spices and pepper. Beat well with a fork. Add the pieces of chicken and toss well with marinade. Cover and marinate for as long as possible, up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Turn the chicken twice during this period.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Skewer the tomatoes. Spear the chicken onto different skewers and bake for 40 minutes.
Spread the cooked kale on a platter. Remove the grilled chicken from skewers and arrange the pieces on the kale (or bread or rice). Garnish with lime juice and sprigs of parsley or mint.
For the kale:
Put kale into a shallow pan. Cover with 1/8 cup water and the juice of one lemon or lime. Saute on low heat until leaves begin to wilt. Turn off heat and cover. You are essentially steaming it after the initial saute. Serve.
For the rice:
Add the butter into a medium sauce pan on medium flame. Saute the onion in the butter for about five minutes until brown. Pour the the rice into the pan. Begin incrementally adding the water one ladle at a time. Wait to add another ladle until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed by the rice. This gradual addition of liquid is key to getting the rice to release its starch and create its own delicious sauce, so don’t rush this step. Ideally, you want to use just enough broth to cook the rice and no more.
Begin tasting the rice after about 12 minutes to gauge how far it has cooked. Add salt and saffron or even a touch of cumin or turmeric as needed or desired. The risotto is ready when the rice is al dente (when it still has a bit of chew) and the dish has the consistency of thick porridge. If you run your spatula through the risotto, the risotto flow slowly to fill in the space. To serve, top with dates or figs, mint leaves, almonds and sumac.