Chicken with Apricots and Prunes, A Sultan’s Feast

by Sarah on February 12, 2010

In the Middle Ages, fruits made up the sweet repertoire of the royal chefs in Bagdad, which at that time was the center of culinary innovation. Food from that period, at least for the sultan, was heavily fussed over-dishes were heady with exotic scents, dusted with spices and prepared with surprising flavor combinations, which even after hundreds of years would still be considered novelty. A few weeks ago on a night out with friends at Lilith restaurant in Tel Aviv, we ordered the most unusual appetizer on the menu, liver with bananas, a prime example of nouvelle cuisine. It would have surprised the chef that the idea was a ancient one, written in a 13th century  Arab cookbook (in the recipe lamb is used instead of liver) and since it is made for royalty and the style of the day, it also includes rosewater, pistachios, hazelnuts, Cinnamon, saffron and mastic to keep it lively for eternity. There are many more examples of fruits used in savory dishes such as mishmishiya, a dish of meat cooked in apricot sauce, a popular dish in the Middle Ages and which can still be made today using the exact same recipe (but you will have to figure out what jujubes are):

“Take fat meat. Boil it in a little water and take its scum away. Take dried apricots and remove their pits and replace them with blanched almonds. And when the meat is done, throw the apricots on it, and raisins, a stick of Chinese cinnamon, mint, mastic saffron and jujubes, and sweeten it with sugar and honey. It comes out well.”1

Jujubes? or something else

Chicken with Apricots and Prunes

This is a recipe which I adopted from Israeli cookbook author Levana Rosenfeld. The sweet and sour flavor preference is found even in the most ancient of all cookbooks, written on clay tablets around 1700 BC in Babylonia. The recipe uses soy sauce, a distinctive Asian ingredient, to add an umami flavor boost to the dish, replacing murri, a similar rich fermented sauce which was used in the Middle East until the 16th century.

This may well have been a dish that a Sultan would have ordered, at least this is what I tell my children.

10-12 chicken drumsticks

200 grams dried prunes

200 dried apricots

Sauce:

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce (this is to add a bit of umami)

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup vegetable oil (this can be omitted)

3-4 crushed garlic cloves

1-2 teaspoons paprika

Mix all the ingredients for the sauce. Arrange the chicken in a baking dish and add the apricots and prunes between them. Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake for about one hour.

It is also possible to add all the ingredients to an oven proof pot and bring it to a boil first. Continue cooking in the oven at 180 C. This method shortens the cooking time and helps to keep the chicken from drying out.

References:

Delights from the Garden of Eden, Nawal Nasrallah

1Medieval Arab Cookery, essays and translations by Maxime Rodinson, A.J. Arberry and Charles Perry

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Yael February 12, 2010 at 2:34 am

Morning dear!
love the new design, Titchadshi! The dish looks very yummi. hope you’ll a nice weekend.
Shabat Shalom!

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Jay P February 12, 2010 at 3:15 am

Another recipe we can try. This one really appeals to my taste buds. ‘Share the love.’ Nice addition!

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Celeste February 12, 2010 at 10:21 am

Going to try this next week. Feed it to my sultan.

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Nawal Nasrallah February 13, 2010 at 7:38 am

This just a quick comment. Re jujube, they are known as Chinese dates in Western Markets, usually consumed dried. In the Arab world, they are called ‘unnab. You can have them fresh (look like olives, kind of dryish in texture, sourish sweet, green when unripe, and redden as they ripen, if you google images for jujube you will find plenty of images). What your photo depicts, I believe, is not jujube but medlar fruit of the lote tree, what we call in Arabic nabq.

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Sarah February 13, 2010 at 10:30 pm

There are three species of jujube growing wild in Israel (in Hebrew: shezaf) from the Rhamnaceae family
Zisiphus nummularia (rare, grows in the south)
Z.lotus
Z.spina-christi
the fruits are not as elongated as I see in pictures on the web but like the picture I have here, with small round fruit
my relatives also call the tree above Nabq, like you mentioned, and when the fruits are in season they used to eat it right off the tree. I am pretty sure it is the same tree but perhaps a different species (also called dom, sider)

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Nawal Nasrallah February 13, 2010 at 9:50 am

I also forgot to add, that in Iraq, the dried form of jujube only is available today, and it is known as nabuq/nabug ‘Ajam (Persian medlar fruit).

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Nawal Nasrallah February 16, 2010 at 3:34 pm

It seems to me now that both nabq and jujube belong to the same family, albeit of different varieties. I read that jujube (‘unnab in Arabic) is Ziziphus zizyphus. Could nabq/sidir be Ziziphus lotus (from Mediterranean) and Ziziphus spina christi (from south eastern Asia)?

I also withdraw my identification of nabq as medlar. It turns out Naples medlar is the name of what is called in Arabic za’rour, which is a red or yellow small fruit similar to nabq but has three conjoined pits. do any of your relatives recognize this fruit? its English name is azarole.

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Larry February 18, 2011 at 8:33 am

Greetings:
I remember my mother’s delightful culinary treats, although from Northern Lebanon many of her dishes had the flair of Homs and Halib in Syria. Looking for a dish or treat that she fested us with. It was chunks of white meat chicken, prunces, appricots in a light aromatic sauce over rice. It was to die for. Any ideas I am going to try to come close to it but any help will be appreciated.
Thank you!

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Sarah February 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I will look in my cookbooks to see if there are any recipes that you describe.

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maria July 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm

this is an Iraqi recipe, not Israeli, probaby Iraqi Jews introduced it to their new home in Israel

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