Middle Eastern food and all of its glory
A couple of weeks ago, Saveur magazine hosted their fifth annual summer barbecue, which after years of attending, I had the pleasure of working and experiencing the rush from the other side.
With the Hudson River boasting the perfect backdrop, the barbecue kicked off just before sunset, lending a perfect light for the photo booths and “selfie stations” that were set up throughout the venue.
Prior to the doors opening, there was a quiet buzz all around as 15 of the nation’s best chefs and their teams prepped their stations, making sure everything was perfect and would go off without a hitch.
Our booth was ready, but more than anything – we were ready.
Gloves on, hair pulled back and eager to serve, the crowd came in, slow at first, then what seemed like all at once.
We could hardly keep up with demand but the repeat customers and endless praise for our dish made the time fly by, giving us a wonderful satisfaction.
The theme for the night was “favorite summertime dishes,” so the Saveur test kitchen chose to represent Middle Eastern food in all of its glory, pulling recipes from some of their most talked about stories and combining them all on one plate for what would become the most talked about dish of the night.
The star of the show was an Iraqi yellow spice-rubbed chicken, which with a quick glance at the recipe may seem long and tedious, but the combination of all of the spices creates a truly unique and flavorful dish that will take your chicken to the next level.
(I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe and storing it in an airtight container, so you always have some on hand.)
Along with the chicken, we served a traditional tabbouleh salad, pickled onions, and a wedge of warm pita drizzled with za’atar dip, a spice heavy cilantro and garlic dip.
As everyone’s night slowly came to a close, chefs from each station bounced around, surveying others dishes, what was most popular and what was not.
As we cleaned, we all talked and shared what food and drink was left.
It was one of those nights, perfectly balanced with the high energy of service and the calm that comes after, which helps you remember why you got into the food industry in the first place.
The food that night brought complete strangers together and inspired me to re-make this dish for a Fourth of July party I was attending, where much like the barbecue, many people would meet for the first time.
I made tabbouleh, but rather than traditional cracked wheat, substituted quinoa for a healthy, gluten-free version. I pickled way to many red onions in hopes that I would have some leftover, which was just that – a hope (they were all eaten).
Last but not least, I marinated chicken breasts and thighs overnight in my new favorite spice rub, which made the day of easy, as all I had to do was grill.
Once again, this dish managed to please everyone and was the perfect conversation starter.
Iraqi yellow spice-rubbed chicken
(Adapted from Saveur, June/July 2013 issue)
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons whole black pepper corns
6 cardamom pods
4 dried chiles de ‘rbol, stems removed
4 allspice berries
4 whole cloves
4 dried rose hips
1 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoons ground sumac
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
8 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 chicken halves (about 3 pounds)
Heat coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cardamom, chiles, allspice, and cloves in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until seeds pop, 1-2 minutes; let cool.
Transfer to a spice grinder with the rose hips and grind, then transfer to a bowl.
Stir in curry, cinnamon, sumac, ginger, nutmeg, fenugreek, garlic, salt, and pepper.
In a large Ziplock bag, add the chicken and coat it in the spice mixture. Seal and refrigerate overnight.
When ready for the chicken, heat a charcoal grill or gas grill to high, and bank coals or turn burner off on one side.
Grill chicken on hottest part of grill, flipping once, until slightly charred and cooked through, about 20 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh reads 165 degrees.
If outside starts to burn before chicken is cooked, move to cooler side of grill until done.
Rest the chicken for 10 minutes, then enjoy!
Green was first diagnosed with gluten intolerances as a teenager. Soon after, she developed a blog to share her struggles and successes of adapting to a gluten-free life. Over the years, her passion for wellness has turned into a profession. A 2012 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in New York, she is continually networking with other gluten-free experts and expanding her knowledge. Her goal is to make gluten free an option for everyone, not just those in need. Green may be reached at email@example.com. Her column is published on the second Wednesday of each month.