Oh, how we suffer when our children are not well, when they stumble and fall or when life deals them an unjust card. As mothers we do everything in our power to right the wrong but sometimes… well, it’s just not up to us. And when our hands are tied we support them in every possible way we can. Often food is the tool to bring comfort, the sense of safety, the warm blanket of security and sanctuary. Whether it be a long day or week for our precious ones or something more serious, I find I turn unwaveringly to comfort food . No matter what, the old American diehards, chicken and dumplings, biscuit, mashed potatoes, pot roast, often take the leading role. A cake, a pie, spinach artichoke dip… any number of dishes make the perfect offering. These offerings are our way of saying, “I want to help.”, “I understand.”, “I’m on your side.”. Many years ago when my husband, Jimmy’s, mother died, an extended family member baked some blondie-like bars, beyond belief luscious. Here’s the relationship. Jimmy’s brother-in-law’s brother’s daughter. The family came from New York to Boston to give comfort and this young girl, Anastasia, baked that sweet to offer comfort. I’ve never forgotten that kindness, or how crazy scrumptious they were, and when I thanked her she replied, “It’s nothing. It’s what I do when I’m sad.” Today she is the head of a successful company which produces only American-made chocolate sauces and candied nuts by the name of Old School Favorites. When she ships out her product she still provides comfort and happiness to countless kids who arrive home to the delights of an after-school hot fudge sundae to the person who wasn’t promoted and needs a late night, emergency chocolate shot while wrapped in their flannels alone in the kitchen. Anastasia’s Blondie Bars were the best I have EVER tasted. I cannot forget them after all these years, but sadly, she has forgotten and has no earthly idea what it was she baked. So here’s the thing. When you’re in trouble, when things have gone terribly wrong, when your world has come crashing down and you’re hurting, LET YOUR FRIENDS HELP YOU. When your girls, your posse, your circle, reaches out to you accept their offering. They want to help. They want to make things better. To ease your pain. And so often dinner and a bottle of wine in a basket is the only comfort they can provide. As I write this I have a best friend, divorced, whose son suffered greatly this past week with some highly critical medical issues. He’s somewhat out of the woods but the stress and worry are monumental. Lack of sleep and the feeling of helplessness compound her physical and mental exhaustion. Her son spoke of dying…and heaven. Tough words for a mother to hear. I can’t, no, I don’t want to imagine what it was like to be in her shoes this past week. I texted her that I was still out-of-town and that I’d be home the following night. That I’d like to take them dinner several nights a week. I asked if I may do that for her, that it would be one small chore she didn’t need to bother with. And then I held my breath watching the little “bubbles” moving about my cell phone screen indicating she was replying. “YES!!!” was her answer. I’m elated. I can’t heal her boy but I sure can feed him! Gladly, GLADLY I can do that. And this is what I’m taking. Shawarma-style chicken. Rich, oven-roasted chicken thighs well-seasoned with a warm middle-eastern touch using, along with other aromatic spices, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon, the chicken then cut into strips topping a cold, crisp salad of organic greens dressed with a homemade creme fraiche dressing. And to heighten the flavors of the chicken I’ll throw in some sweet and tart apple…maybe a chopped Macoun. Did I mention the crunchy, savory lardon, (fancy French term for bacon bits or match sticks), I’ll be scattering over that salad? Or the warm, homemade pita bread I’ll tuck into the basket? Well, that’s what I’m taking. It’s all easy and pretty. So when you want to do something for a friend that’s hurting, take an old classic and make it a new classic. Prepare one of your favorites you know your friend will appreciate. Or make this outrageous dish of chicken thighs. And keep on giving. It’s the season!
Shawarma is an Arabic meat preparation popular all through the Middle East including Greece (gyros) and Turkey (doner). Traditionally large chunks of chicken, beef, lamb or pork are roasted on a rotating, vertical spit. As the meat rotates, crispy, thin shavings are sliced and served on pita bread or plated with all manner of fresh and pickled vegetables and, of course, yoghurt sauce, tahini or hummus. When we order gyro in Greece often they are prepared with lettuce, tomato, tzatziki, mustard, ketchup and hot, salty french fries all wrapped up in a warm pillow of pita. Somehow it all works! Often I serve these chicken thighs whole over a salad or sliced on soft pita bread with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, the caramelized onions the chicken baked on and tzatziki, that mouth-watering, garlicky yoghurt dip. I thought I had posted a recipe for my tzatziki but, apparently, slacker that I am, I haven’t. I don’t have set amounts but it’s an incredibly easy and forgiving sauce/dip. Peel a cucumber and, over a clean tea towel, shred the cucumber using the large holes of a box grater. Gather up the tea towel and, over the sink, squeeze the water out of the cucumber. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Transfer the cucumber to a medium bowl. Grate one or two garlic cloves into the cucumber. Add 2-3 tablespoons of good olive oil and 2 cups of Fage brand plain Greek yoghurt. Here’s the deal. I’ve found that a “Greek-STYLE” yoghurt is, typically, thin and watery and your tzatziki will be proof of that. The only yoghurt brand I use is Fage. It’s what they use in Greece. It’s thick and creamy the way yoghurt is supposed to be. If you can pour the yoghurt you don’t want it! And I use fat-free. It’s so rich and lush you’ll not see the difference. Mix the tzatziki well and season to taste with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until serving. There. You got a two-fer!
Shawarma Style Chicken Thighs
- 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 3 medium onions, sliced and set aside to line the baking sheet
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 large clove of garlic, grated
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon cardamom
- 1 tablespoon coriander
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, (I use 2 but we like it spicy)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- In a large bowl drizzle olive oil, lemon juice and grated garlic over chicken and mix well so the chicken is covered evenly.
- In a small bowl combine all the spices: cumin, cardamom,coriander, paprika, turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt and cinnamon. Mix well and sprinkle on chicken, turning the chicken over to coat evenly.
- Cover chicken with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator allowing flavors to marry at least one hour but better overnight.
- Remove chicken from refrigerator 30 minutes before preparing to bring to room temperature.
- Pre-heat oven to 425°.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
- Place onion slices in one even layer on baking sheet and chicken thighs on top of the onions. Leave space in between thighs.
- Bake 35-45 minutes depending on the size of your chicken thighs. Check at 25 minutes for doneness. You want little crispy edges.
- Remove from oven and let chicken rest 10 minutes if slicing for sandwiches or serve immediately topped a spoonful of the onions from the roasting pan.