" Tahera.., come and finish the salad"
" Haider, check if the driver has brought the soft drinks"
" Fatemah, take the plates to the men's reception room"
You can tell there is a gathering in our house by the smell of incense, the tucked away toys and furniture and the streams of orders going in every direction.
My mom is like a bee flying from the kitchen to the outside frying area to the prayer room. She is crazy busy cooking, chopping, finishing her prayers and giving orders.
It's about 1:30 p.m , the smell of Marag (stew) is now filling the kitchen, people are starting to arrive and my mom is panicking by all the the little tasks yet to be completed. But not for long. For the the greetings, the little chats with my aunts, and the fun making takes away the pressure and returns her to her sanity.
A long ٍSufra is placed on the floor along the centre of the living room for the ladies and kids. Another is placed in the reception room for the men. Plates, spoons, glasses and serving mats are carefully arranged along the way.
Teenage girls and housemaids line up in the kitchen, ready to take the hot just-served dishes for the hungry people waiting outside.
It's important in gatherings like this to choose dishes that will satisfy all the fifty plus guest, from complaining elderlies, to moody teenagers and picky toddlers. And my mom is a master of that. With the help of my little sister, they carefully plan the menu two days in advance, every month or so when the hosting of the weekly family gathering is our family's turn.
Now everyone is finally settled down and gathered along the sufra. The atmosphere is relatively calmer and everybody starts to eat. And it's almost always those food that are easy to grab, light on the stomach and mildly flavored, that disappear first.
M'sakhan ( chicken rolls) Recipe
( chicken stuffed rolls made with thin Saj bread. Intensely flavored with lemon, olive oil and sumac , topped with onion and pine nuts)
2 kg (4 lbs) whole chicken ( 2 small ones)
Spices to boil with chicken:
1 small onion
1/2 tsp whole pepper corn
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
For the stuffing:
1 big onion chopped
1/8 cup olive oil + more for sautéing onion, spreading the bread and drizzling at the end.
1/8 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbs sumac
salt and pepper
6 Saj* bread
1 Tbs olive oil.
1 small onion. Sliced.
1 Tbs pine nuts.
- place whole chicken in a big pot. Add water until barely covers the chicken. Add spices. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Turn to medium-low once it comes to boil. Put the lid on and cook for 40-60 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked and tender. Drain and let cool. Reserve stock.
- Disgard spices. Remove bones and skin. and tear chicken to small pieces.
- In a large high edged skillet. Heat 2 Tbs olive oil over medium- high heat. Add onion and sauté until golden brown. Add chicken and continue to cook with onion. Add salt and pepper, sumac, lemon juice and olive oil. Contiue to cook for a few more minutes until everything is incorporated. Remove from heat.
- Trim the edges of bread disk. Brush with olive oil. Place about 4 heaping Tbs on the center of the bread. Roll the bread around the filling. Cut roll to 4 pieces. Contiue with the remaining bread.
- place rolls in a square oven pan. Drizzle with about 2 Tbs of chicken stock and 1 Tbs olive oil. Place in a hot oven ( 350-375) for about 10-15 or until bread is slightly crispy and golden.
- Meanwhile make topping. Saute onion with olive oil. Add pine nuts and continue to sauté for a few more minutes until pine nuts begin to brown. Remove from heat and top chicken rolls. Sprinkle a little bit of sumac right before serving.
* Saj bread is a very thin and light disc of bread that is widely consumed throughout the middle east. If you can't find it in your area, you can use Chinese egg rolls, or very thin tortilla.