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Old 08-16-2013, 05:37 PM   #1
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Question Help me find the missing ingredient?

Hello friends!

About 10 years ago, I had a broiled chicken dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Lexington, KY called Aladdin's. The place has since gone out of business. For whatever reason this week, I've been thinking about the chicken.

I'm pretty sure it was called Athenian Broiled Chicken. It didn't seem particularly "Greek" to me though, and the restaurant served all Middle Eastern foods--shish kebabs, falafel, fatoosh...

I seldom order chicken when I eat out because I make it so often at home. My dad ordered the dish the first time we were there. I tasted it and it was amazing! Whenever we went back, I ordered it. It was served with rice and little pieces of pickled vegetables.

This week I tried to re-create the dish, and something's missing. This is where I need your help.

I made the dish with Moroccan spice blend, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. It was close, but something wasn't bitter enough. The lemon juice was right, I think. But there was something else in the spices that I missed. Today, I bought sumac and added it to the chicken when I warmed up a piece. The missing ingredient isn't sumac.

The taste I'm looking for was bitter but zingy. As you ate the chicken and rice, your mouth almost felt like it was drying. I know that sounds unpleasant, but the chicken from Aladdin's was amazing. It was juicy on the inside, crisp on the outside--which I captured. But the spices made it taste like nothing I'd ever had.

The rice had the same dry, bitter spice in it. Or maybe it was the pickled veggies on top of the rice that had dripped the flavor onto the rice.

I'll be honest--I'm more a pastry person. I love to cook and bake, but I don't know much about Middle Eastern food. Hopefully one of you uses the exotic spices that I'm unfamiliar with more often and can help. That chicken makes me think of being young and dinner with my Dad.

Much thanks!


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Old 08-16-2013, 06:28 PM   #2
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Howdy!
Welcome to D.C.!
I wonder if the missing ingredient is saffron. We had a discussion recently about it.
Saffron thread
It has a bitter constituent that may be what your taste buds are missing.
Note: True saffron is quite expensive. I have read that turmeric is use as a substitute but by all accounts, it is a less than adequate replacement.
I am sure others will be long shortly to offer suggestions.
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Old 08-16-2013, 06:32 PM   #3
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Hoot, saffron was my initial thought too. I don't have much experience with it, but apparently a little goes a long way.

Welcome to DC, Stacy!
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Old 08-16-2013, 06:45 PM   #4
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Preserved sour lemons:

how to make preserved sour lemons

the recipe it goes into: Moroccan Chicken with Lemons & Olives

My advice is purely intuitive. I've been studying Moroccan cooking and I've bought the preserved sour lemons at local import stores, but I haven't put it together and made any of the recipes yet.

If you want to try it I could arrange to visit the store I bought it at and get some brand information, then you can Google it and buy it online, or you can follow the recipe I linked above. (It's going to take you at least 3 weeks to make them yourself.)

Stacy, I'm pleased you started this topic. It reminded me of a cooking pursuit that I had entirely forgotten about. I bet you had a Moroccan chicken tagine. I bet that's the recipe you want to recreate.
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Old 08-16-2013, 06:47 PM   #5
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Great suggestion!
I hadn't thought of preserved lemon!
I need to make some more. Haven't made any in a few years.
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Old 08-16-2013, 06:53 PM   #6
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My suggestions would be to:

1) try using whole spices, then roast them and grind them yourself to maximize the flavour, rather than buying a pre-ground spice blend.

2) try adding a very, very light sprinkling of saffron, but make sure you are using the real saffron threads (ie, the stigmas of the saffron crocus flower), because unscrupulous people do use other vegetable fibres and dye them orangey-red to look like real saffron stigmas. Or

3) try using preserved lemons instead of fresh lemons.

Your search for the missing ingredient reminds me of this passage from Marcel Proust's Remembrance Of Things Past, which has wonderful insights into the lasting links which bind Memory to our senses of Taste and Smell:

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?


I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing it magic. It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself. The drink has called it into being, but does not know it, and can only repeat indefinitely, with a progressive diminution of strength, the same message which I cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call it forth again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down the cup and examine my own mind. It alone can discover the truth. But how: What an abyss of uncertainty, whenever the mind feels overtaken by itself; when it, the seeker, is at the same time the dark region through which it must go seeking and where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not yet exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.

And I begin to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof, but the indisputable evidence, of its felicity, its reality, and in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished. I decide to attempt to make it reappear. I retrace my thoughts to the moment at which I drank the first spoonful of tea. I rediscover the same state, illuminated by no fresh light. I ask my mind to make one further effort, to bring back once more the fleeting sensation. And so that nothing may interrupt it in its course I shut out every obstacle, every extraneous idea, I stop my ears and inhibit all attention against the sound from the next room. And then, feeling that my mind is tiring itself without having any success to report, I compel it for a change to enjoy the distraction which I have just denied it, to think of other things, to rest refresh itself before making a final effort. And then for the second time I clear an empty space in front of it; I place in position before my mind's eye the still recent taste of that first mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been embedded like an anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed.


Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, is trying to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too confused and chaotic; scarcely can I perceive the neutral glow into which the elusive whirling medley of stirred-up colours is fused, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter, to translate for me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste, cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, from what period in my past life.

Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has traveled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very depths of my being? I cannot tell. Now I feel nothing; it has stopped, has perhaps sunk back into its darkness, from which who can say whether it will ever rise again? Ten times over I must essay the task, must lean down over the abyss. And each time the cowardice that deters us from every difficult task, every important enterprise, has urged me to leave the thing alone, to drink my tea and to think merely of the worries of to-day and my hopes for to-morrow, which can be brooded over painlessly.


And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.


And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.
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Old 08-16-2013, 07:04 PM   #7
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I think the consensus is saffron and preserved lemons, HAHAH! Can't wait to hear from StacyH to see if these are the missing links!
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Old 08-16-2013, 07:06 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dawgluver View Post
Hoot, saffron was my initial thought too. I don't have much experience with it, but apparently a little goes a long way.

Welcome to DC, Stacy!
Yes, welcome to DC, Stacy.

Definitely a little goes a long way. Remember Margi would often post a recipe that called for a specific number of saffron threads, to be softened in warm water before use. Okay, maybe I'm misremembering the part about softening them.
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Old 08-16-2013, 07:14 PM   #9
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Did the rice have a yellow tint to it? If so, there was probably saffron in it, and in the chicken also.
If the chicken and rice had a Greek slant, they may have been flavored with Greek oregano.
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Old 08-16-2013, 07:16 PM   #10
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It may have been Turmeric too, that also makes rice go yellow
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