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saffron chicken

winter break

Hello again! In 3 years of writing this blog, don’t think I’ve ever taken such a long break from it. When I say break, I don’t mean a break as in a holiday, although I was away from Jerusalem.

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I mean a break in wintry Sydney, escaping from the never-ending Middle East news cycle, in an all-hands-on deck effort to finish the Food is Love cookbook. Some projects need your complete focus, and some calm. This book, combining history and recipes, is definitely one of them!

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My one indulgence / lifesaving behaviour was going to yoga every morning. The yoga studio around the corner from my mum’s continues to be beautiful, calming, and restorative. Yep, that's the view from my yoga mat. The garden's more luscious and shiny in the summer, but it's a wonderful winter view too.

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I could easily become a yogi 😊 and yoga each morning enabled me to sit at my computer for the rest of the day. This has turned out to be one of those jobs where just when you think you're finished - there's more to do! Working hard with me were Food is Love photographer Dave Mane and tireless graphic designer Amanda Hampel.

Finally printed out our first draft before I left. Just at Office Depot, just in black and white, but we all felt a huge sense of achievement.

PRE-ORDER

There will be an opportunity to pre-order this lovely book soon! More updates on pre-odering in the next few weeks. 

  Black and White sneak peak... recognise anyone, Judy Kolt?

Black and White sneak peak... recognise anyone, Judy Kolt?

CHICKEN AND ADVENTURES

This week it's two fabulous chicken recipes, both using that magical ingredient saffron. As long-time readers will know, I've been searching for saffron recipes in order to use up the industrial quantities I bought in the markets in Akko – smugglers’ quantities was the reaction of one friend when she saw the size of the bag, saying she fully expected me to be arrested. (See the blog post here)

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Since we're using saffron, these are Middle Eastern recipes. One is with rosewater honey and hazelnuts, the other with lemon, garlic and turmeric. Both are truly delicious, and I predict they will become staples in your kitchen.

ACHIEVEMENTS

And to go with the food, adventuring achieving astounding grandmothers! 

Two women, one in her late eighties and the other in her early nineties, who don’t let their age stop them thinking, travelling, and doing. Prepare to be inspired.

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Food is Love grandmother Sarah Saaroni has just published the second part of her autobiography, Hope for a Better Future, at the age of 91!

“My first book stopped at the end of the War. That was the choice of the publisher. Now we have gone back to tell the rest of my story, including how I reached Palestine after the War, and took part in Israel’s War of Independence, before coming to Australia.”

Sarah  is a sculptor as well as an accomplished cook. She keeps fit by swimming every day. She launched her book in Melbourne, where she has spent the majority of her long life, at the Jewish Holocaust Centre where she is a guide, telling her story to school children. 

When I talked to her beforehand about whether she planned to give a speech, Sarah replied,

“I don’t know, I haven’t decided. I won’t plan it. I will just speak from the heart.” 

And that’s what she did. (After doing her daily one kilometre swim in the morning first.)

It won’t surprise you to hear that although there was an array of accomplished speakers on the stage, Sarah was the best; the most relaxed, the most natural and the most engaging. She explained the process of having her story published, and how at first no publisher would touch it. Even the man who ultimately did publish her book said to her, “Is this history, is this biography? If it’s biography, who knows you?"

  Sarah Saaroni with her son Dr Gideon Saaroni in her organic garden. She is still growing her own veges. 

Sarah Saaroni with her son Dr Gideon Saaroni in her organic garden. She is still growing her own veges. 

Once the publisher took her on, she had to fight to tell her story herself.

“It was perfect English, but it wasn’t my voice. It became so they were telling my story, not me.”

She insisted on her own authentic voice, in her own often idiosyncratic English. And here it is, part two of her riveting life told in her unmistakable Polish Jewish cadences, as distinct as the flavours of her cooking. 

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I went to Sarah’s home after the book launch and she entranced me, as she always does, with her energy and sense of humour, not to mention her sharp memory. I found myself telling her what an awesome 91-year-old she is.

“It’s just numbers. What is 91? I look at the numbers and see them backwards like in Hebrew, so now I’m 19,” Sarah laughed. “Soon, when I turn 92 in a few weeks, then I will be 29. It’s all good.”
  One of Sarah's sculptures. She took up this work late in life, after her husband's death. 

One of Sarah's sculptures. She took up this work late in life, after her husband's death. 

ADVENTURE

The other lovely counterpoint to my time in Sydney, sitting studiously at the computer, was following the Outback Adventure of Food is Love grandmother Ruth Hampel and her grand-daughter Natalie Hampel

They left wintry Melbourne to set off on a Road Trip. Where else would you go in your late 80s, but up to Australia’s beautiful rugged north west? 

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They dove up the coast of Western Australia to reach Broome. Ruth in her 80s and Nat in her 30s were companionable travel partners over several weeks and hundreds of kilometres, as Nat filmed and photographed their trip. 

They drove, 4WD that is.

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And they flew. Light plane and chopper. (Natalie is not a passenger, not a pilot! Someone has to take the photos... )

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And they went swimming. 

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They saw turtles and dolphins. 

Ruth even got up close and personal with a dolphin -- something she had wanted to do for years, but had never achieved (including on a previous holiday with her late husband.) In fact, Ruth saw things she'd never seen, went places she'd never been, and did things she'd never done -- perhaps, along with a life full of love, the secret to staying young? 

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Ruth and Nat saw the beautiful Indian ocean coast and also went inland to remote national parks, till 3 tornadoes came in and the weather shut them down. 

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They continued  though the red earth that had turned into red mud, sharing photos and stories on a family WhatsApp group, ‘Omi on Tour’, to which they kindly added me.  The ping of another message - What are they up to now? - was pure pleasure. It was so wonderful to see them out in the world, experiencing so much together. Keep fulfilling your dreams, at every age, was the message of this wonderful trip. 

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DEATH METAL GRANDMA

And talk about doing things for the first time! American Holocaust Survivor Inge Ginsburg is putting her poetry to music. Just an unexpected type of music. Yep, that's right. Death Metal.

"Old age is a beautiful land, there is total freedom. Inge Ginsburg, the oldest rapper in history. Look me up on youtube.”

Go here to read about this extraordinary 96 year old and to see Leah Galant's short film.

  Inge Ginsburg performing 2014, photo: Luther Clements (wikic)

Inge Ginsburg performing 2014, photo: Luther Clements (wikic)

RECIPES

If you can tear yourself away from these inspiring women, it’s time for this week’s cooking. Both dishes require 2 steps. You make a marinade / paste and let the chicken rest in it and then cook it later, even the next day. Once you factor that in, both are pretty simple to prepare. 

The first dish is from Claudia Roden's classic book, Tamarind and Saffron (Viking, 1999) - what a beautiful title! It’s one of her favourites because it has a delicate and exotic combination of flavours, producing a slightly sweet cinnamony saffron sauce.

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Chicken with Saffron, Rosewater and Hazelnuts

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 chicken, divided into pieces. You can also use 4 Marylands ie leg plus thigh, or 12 chicken legs
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  •  4 tablespoons cold water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  •  4 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated
  •  1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • generous pinch of saffron threads
  • grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  •  1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup / 100 g hazelnuts
  •  3 ½ tablespoons / 70 g honey
  • 2 tablespoons rose water
  • 2 green onions, coarsely chopped for garnish
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METHOD

1. Mix saffron with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and then add 6 tablespoons water. Chop onions and grate ginger. Grate and juice lemon.

2. In a baking dish large enough to fit the chicken pieces comfortably, mix onions, olive oil, ginger, cinnamon, saffron mixture, lemon rind and juice, water, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken pieces, make sure they marinate and leave in the fridge for 3-4 hours, or overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 150°C/ 140° C fan forced. Spread the hazelnuts out on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. They burn quickly, so watch them! Chop coarsely, using a knife or a quick burst in the food processor. Careful if you choose that option - you want pieces, not hazelnut meal. Set aside.

3. When you are ready to bake, heat oven to 180 C / 170 C fan forced. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up and bake for about 35 minutes.

4. While the chicken is roasting, mix the honey, rose water, and chopped nuts together to make a rough paste. (Resist temptation to eat this with a spoon, say over some Greek yoghurt.) Remove the chicken from the oven, add a generous amount of nut paste onto each piece and add any left over to the onion sauce. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the nuts are golden brown.

5. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with coarsely chopped green onions. Serve with brown rice or couscous, or a mix of grains. 

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MAKE A PASTE 

The second dish comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Guardian column – a good place to go hunting for inspiration with saffron – and it’s another of his delicious, fail-safe recipes.

And when I posted a photo on Instagram it got a like from him. <sighs with delight>

Yes, yes, I know, more likely ‘his people’, but still …

Saffron Lemon Chicken

Serves six

Paste

  • 3 small whole preserved lemons (60g), chopped, pips discarded
  • 12 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
  • 1½ tsp sweet paprika
  • 2 – 3 cm knob fresh turmeric, or 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 60 ml / 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt
     
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CHICKEN

  • 6 chicken thighs (skin on, bone in) and 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 2 large onions, peeled and cut into six
  • 1 large lemon, cut in half lengthways and thinly sliced
  • ¼ tsp saffron strands
  • 30 ml/ 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup / 250 ml cold water
  • 50 g pitted green olives, crushed with the flat of a large knife
  • 2 tablespoons coriander leaf, chopped
  • Serve with brown rice or plain couscous to soak up the aromatic sauce.
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1.     Put the preserved lemon, garlic, cumin, paprika and fresh or dried turmeric in the small bowl of a food processor, add four tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt, and blitz to a paste. Transfer to a large bowl, add all the chicken and use your hands to rub the paste all over. Set aside in the fridge to marinate for at least four hours, preferably overnight.

2.   Next day, use your hands to wipe the excess marinade from the chicken back into the bowl. Use a large casserole dish for which you have a lid, add 1 tablespoon olive oil on a medium-high heat. When hot, add the chicken in batches and sear for about seven minutes, turning once halfway through, until brown and crisp on both sides. Remove from the pan and stack on a plate while you sear the remaining chicken.

3.   Once all the chicken has been seared, remove any burnt bits from the pan, then tip any oil from your plated chicken back into the pan. Add the last tablespoon of oil and fry the onion for 10 minutes, until softened.

4.   While the onions are cooking, pound the saffron strands with a quarter of a teaspon of salt, using a mortar and pestle or just the back of a spoon. Add ¼ cup warm water and leave to steep.

5.    When the onions are done, add the chicken, the remaining marinade, 250 ml cold water, the sliced lemon, the saffron and its water and half a teaspoon of salt. Stir, cover and cook on a low heat for 40 minutes. Add the olives, if using, and cook, uncovered, for a final 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce nice and thick. If it’s not thick enough, you may need to reduce it for five minutes or so. 

6.   Serve at once, with the coriander sprinkled on top and the grain of your choice.

NOTE ON OLIVES. I've made this dish twice, once with olives and once without, and it was great both ways. So don't stress if you don't have olives on hand. 

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In my last days in Sydney, I scrambled down to the beach, to admire the city's hardy winter swimmers – h/t David Mane – and so my nephew could do some rock climbing. There's nothing like the sea… whether it’s the Pacific, or as Ruth Hampel can tell us, the Indian Ocean. 

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