Yesterday's flavors, today's food.
That has been on my mind the last few months, as I've been pondering what to do next on this blog. Since I don't always have the time to cook traditional recipes, but my kitchen is always stocked with the basics of a Middle Eastern pantry, when it's time to cook dinner, I often find myself staring at cuts of meat, and a whole lot of blank slate.
That's when I throw open my pantry and reach for The Secret Weapon of Arabic Meat Dishes: pomegranate molasses. And when I need to add more flavor to a roasted vegetable, I reach for one of the basic Arabic sauces - tahini and lemon.
It's really funny, if you think about it, because Arabs are dead against mixing sweet and savory, and yet, they use pomegranate molasses, a syrup made of cooked down pomegranate juice (recipe here). My mother tells of her tongue's culture shock when she first came to American and was served chicken cooked with pineapple, pork cooked with apples, lamb served with mint jelly. Sweet, fruity with meat? It just didn't make sense to her palate.
And yet: pomegranate molasses. This remarkable tart-sweet syrup is a miracle worker in the meat department. Arabic cooks drizzle in a little into their meat stuffing, or over roasts or chickens. Pomegranate has that tart acidity that the Arabic palate enjoys, and only a very slight sweetness, so I imagine that is what they enjoy. In this recipe, though, I play up the pomegranate's slight sweetness, and bath the chicken in pomegranate molasses, to create a barbecue-like flavor that my more Western tongue enjoys.
(This marinade also makes a divine glaze for a pork roast.)
I paired this dish with a side of roast Brussels sprouts, a vegetable that my children enjoy immensely, and that I love, even though I never had it when I was growing up in the Middle East. To make it feel a little more at home next to the tray of chicken, I added the tahini-lemon sauce, and a sprinkle of pine nuts on the sprouts. And just like that, I think we have a new family favorite way to eat our Brussels sprouts.
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
1 orange, zested
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp olive oil
4 lbs chicken drumsticks
Salt and pepper
(1) In a small bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the marinade, and set aside.
(2) Arrange drumsticks in a roasting pan, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Pour most of the marinade (reserve about 1/4 cup) over the drumsticks, cover tightly, and refrigerate for two hours or overnight.
(3) Roast at 400 F for 20 minutes, turn down the oven to 350 F and continue to roast until chicken is cooked thoroughly, and no longer pink, about 30 minutes. If you would like them to be crispy all over, turn once or twice during the cooking time to crisp up the skin, and brush additional marinade over the drumsticks.
Optional pan sauce: Remove chicken from pan and drain off the excess marinade into a small sauce pan. Cook down and reduce, and perhaps thicken with a little cornstarch slurry. This makes a tasty dipping sauce.
Brussels Sprouts with Tahini-Lemon Sauce
2 lbs Brussels sprouts, halved
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup tahini
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup cold water, approximate
1/2 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, minced finely or pasted
3 tbsp pine nuts or almonds, toasted
(2) While the sprouts roast, prepare the sauce. Scoop tahini into a bowl, and add lemon juice, salt and garlic, and whisk vigorously until it becomes creamy and lightens to a pale beige color (you can also do this in a food processor, or blender). Gradually add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until sauce thins out to desired consistency.