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Middle Eastern Chicken

Lisa’s gift of friendship ... utterly delicious Middle Eastern Chicken.

What's cooking with Lisa Brink

Growing up, I had a penfriend called Michelle Groebler, who lived in the Colored settlement of Mitchell's Plain just outside Cape Town.

I make mention of the fact that she was Colored because this was Apartheid South Africa, where I attended an all-White school, played in parks that were strictly sign-posted "Slegs Blankes – Whites Only", and only ever interacted with children of color when our domestic worker's kids came to stay in the December holidays.

Through our carefully penned letters, and frequently exchanged gifts, I learned that Michelle was a teenager with the same interests and aspirations as mine, and that skin-tone and proximity needn't be obstacles to friendship.

I'm often reminded of that first experience of virtual friendship, when I think of the many penfriends I've gained through my avid Facebook posts, the regular newsletter I write for Meatland, and through eight years of writing this ESRAmagazine column.

I've met a sizable number of these followers through the years, but if I had the chance to gather everyone together in one place, I'd use this opportunity to implore you all to please make the recipe featured below for Must-Have Middle Eastern Chicken.

(Because true friends share.)

Out of all the dishes I make most often and implicitly trust, this is undoubtedly a favorite, and one of the most versatile.

Toss chicken breast strips in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and easily obtained spices, leave to marinate as long as possible, and then stir-fry. You can also leave breasts whole and barbecue or oven-bake, or cut into cubes and cook on wooden skewers.

The resulting chicken is aromatically spiced, and utterly delicious when crammed in pita with tahini and shredded cabbage, piled atop a green salad, served on whole-wheat bread to make gourmet sandwiches, or eaten straight from the grill with roast potato wedges and vegetables.

It's my gift of (virtual) friendship to you...and you didn't even have to wait in line at the post office to collect it.

Must-have Middle Eastern Chicken

Ingredients

Juice of 2 lemons (approximately 1⁄3 cup)

¼ cup olive oil

3 teaspoons crushed garlic

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon sumac (see notes)

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch chili flakes/hot paprika

800 grams chicken breasts

(see notes alongside)

Method

1. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, sumac and chili flakes in a large bowl, whisk to combine, then toss in chicken and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 8 hours.

2. Remove from marinade and stir-fry in a wok if you are using chicken strips, cook in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes if using whole chicken breasts, or cook on a barbecue if using thighs or cooking in cubes on skewers.

Serving ideas

■Pile stir-fried strips into pita with sliced red onion, parsley, humus, chopped cabbage, chopped tomato, cucumber, tahini etc and enjoy the best ever shawarma.

■Serve atop salad green/shredded cabbage with a tahini dressing.

■Serve on whole wheat bread/whole wheat bread roll with salad greens and mayonnaise to make the ultimate sandwiches.

COOK'S NOTES: Sumac is a deep red, lemony spice sold at all spice shops in Israel. It isn't hot at all and adds wonderful zesty flavor. Instead of chicken breasts – which may be sliced, cooked whole or cut in cubes and threaded on wooden skewers as detailed above – you can use chicken thighs. I so love this dish that, when preparing the spices, I measure out extra into small containers and then have these ready-mixed spice packs at hand to simply add to the lemon juice, olive oil and garlic when needed.

■Creative cook and foodie fan Lisa Brink takes pleasure in sharing her shortcuts to culinary success. She is the marketing and recipe consultant at Meatland in Raanana. 

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