Here is an exotic dish that is very easy to make. You can use either chicken or tofu, if you wish it to be vegetarian. I found this chicken recipe years ago in the Jerusalem Post. Growing up in a Yemeni house I could never imagine eating sweet chicken. The reasons I still chose to make this dish were: A. I was vegetarian at the time and had no intention of eating it. B. I figured that my husband being Ashkenazi, growing up eating the atrocious gefilte fish, might like it. I was right. The Iraqi style chicken is a great dish for the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah when it’s the custom to eat sweet food, as a symbol for having a sweet new year.
I taught this recipe in my “Chicken Around the World” class at Sur la Table. The Yemenite Chicken Soup was also included in this class. It was during the American war in Iraq and I was asked to omit the “Iraqi” word from the recipe, because it could hurt some people’s feelings. I called it Middle Eastern chicken. It was a great and fun class. By the end of it I whispered to the coordinator’s assistant: “By the way, I’m vegetarian, but don’t tell the students.”
Three years ago I became a carnivore again, after 23 years of anemia. It was time for me to try all those chicken dishes I had been feeding my husband all those years. He is still alive and doing well, so I figured it was safe. To my surprise I really liked this dish. The chicken is so succulent, aromatic, and delectable. It’s a real treat of a dish and very different from the piquant and savory protein dishes I’m used to from home.
In one of my experiments I found that this traditional Iraqi dish does great with an Asian twist – by adding coconut cream to the broth. I substituted one cup of broth with one cup of coconut cream. Because of the heavy consistency of the coconut cream I had to double all the spices quantities and add two more tablespoons of honey to the original recipe. If you want to make this dish vegetarian, simply use tofu instead of chicken and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. I find that the coconut cream really complimented the tofu well; when I tried substituting tofu in the original recipe, using only broth, I found the dish to be bland.
I simplified the cooking process from the original recipe to only three simple steps: cooking all the ingredients, beside the liquid, together, adding liquid, and simmering. There is no sautéing here. The original Iraqi recipe uses dates or raisins for the dry fruits in the ingredients. I used half a cup of dates and half a cup of blueberries and it worked well. Feel free to use any dry fruit you have in your pantry – cranberries, prunes, peaches, or apricots. I don’t think dried bananas would work here, because of their starchy consistency, but you are more than welcome to try.
Since this dish is so rich with flavors, I prefer to serve it on plain rice that soaks up the sauce. You can also serve it on a piece of toasted challah bread. I love to have vegetables in my meal and I have found that steamed spinach compliments this dish the most.
Cooking time: 45-55 minutes.
4-8 chicken legs/thighs/drumsticks or two packages of extra firm tofu cut to cubes
2 large onions – chopped
5 garlic cloves - chopped
1 cup dried fruits (pitted and chopped, unless they are small)
2 cup chicken/vegetable broth
1 cup coconut cream
5 tbls honey
3 tbls oil (olive or coconut)
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground clove
½ tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
Place chicken/tofu, onion, garlic, oil, honey and spices in a wide pot. Cook on medium heat with the lid closed for 20 minutes. Mix occasionally.
Add broth and coconut cream. If you use chicken cook for another 20 minutes with a closed lid. If you use tofu cook only for 10 minutes. Mix occasionally.
Remove the lid and cook for another 5 minutes. The dish is ready.
Serving Suggestion: Rice topped with steamed spinach and toasted coconut sprinkled on top (shaved or shredded).
1lb/ ½ kilo frozen spinach.
Boil water with salt.
Add Frozen spinach to boiling water. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until spinach is warm.
Drain and serve.
½ cup of shredded/shaved coconut.
Toast in a wide pan on a medium heat, mixing constantly, until coconut starts to brown.
Remove coconut from the hot pan, it will become crispy as it cools down.