Coming back to a favourite cookery book after a little excursion into others – albeit in this case, not for very long! – is like coming home, meeting up with an old friend, being with family; familiar and cosy and you know everything will work just fine. My lovely daughter cooked a great meal from Moro East when I visited her in Birmingham for Mother’s Day; recipes new to me, despite my having tried so many in the book. So I got it out again at the weekend and decided to find another recipe I hadn’t yet tried and settled on Roast Chicken with Sumac, Onions and Pine Nuts. Now part of the ‘sumac’ decision was because I thought, Oh yes, I bought some sumac from Ottolenghi’s when I was buying a collection of their spices and seasonings for my son’s Christmas present to go with his copy of Ottolenghi’s fabulous Jerusalem book.
What I’d forgotten was that in a slight mix-up with buying the things, I’d bought him some sumac, but not myself! Fortunately I got started on supper fairly early yesterday, thinking I’d do most of the preparation in advance. Thus at about 5 p.m. when the chicken was being browned in a pan and a search of my kitchen cupboards didn’t uncover any sumac, I had to jump in the car and dash round to my son’s and beg for a few spoonfuls.
The chicken recipe was quite straightforward, relying on great flavourings to make the chicken shine. I was going to serve some couscous with it but then remembered I’d bought a mix of grains from Waitrose – introduced to me by my daughter – that contained red and white quinoa and bulgur wheat.
The pack promised a nutty flavour and I decided to add some small cubes of courgettes fried in a little olive oil, chopped hazelnuts and parsley.
I adapted the chicken recipe slightly for one serving rather than 4 and left my chicken leg in one piece rather than chop it into two (the original recipe jointed a chicken into 8 pieces). Warm about 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan – I used a Spanish terracotta dish that could go on direct heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and then brown nicely all over in the pan.
Remove to a plate and tip away the oil. Add a new tablespoon oil and put in about 4 small onions, skins removed (I used shallots), 1 teaspoon sumac and some salt and pepper.
A wonderful fragrance burst up from the sumac as it hit the warm pan. Wow! I decided it was going to be a great dish if that was going to flavour my chicken. Mix it all together a bit then return the chicken to the pan and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon pine nuts and another 1 teaspoon sumac.
Put in a 200C/180 Fan oven for about half an hour or until your chicken is cooked through. The recipe suggests adding a couple of tablespoons water at the end to make a sauce but I added this earlier in the cooking as I thought the spices and pine nuts were starting to burn. Meanwhile I’d been preparing the quinoa and bulgur accompaniment. I cooked half a cup of the grains according to the instructions on the pack. I diced 1 medium-sized courgette and fried gently. I toasted some hazelnuts in a hot oven for 10 minutes, removed and once cool enough to handle, rubbed off the skins and then roughly chopped the nuts. I chopped a good handful of fresh parsley.
I then put them all in a bowl, drizzled over some olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon and mixed together. I then transferred to a warm bowl.
I made a green side salad and then everything was ready. I transferred the chicken to a shallow serving bowl, poured over the juices and spooned on some of the grains and courgette. It was all really gorgeous. Sumac is a red powder made from the berries of a sumac tree and has a citrusy-lemony flavour, which makes it an ideal flavouring for chicken. The little onions brought a sweetness and the pine nuts a satisfying little crunch.
I was really pleased with my grain side dish too. Another lovely dish from Moro East. And I’m sure I’m going to be using sumac lots so I’d better go and buy my own! It’s a wonderful spice.