Eating Jewish: Rice with Chicken - a pre-fast meal
After the celebration of the New Year and feasting on the many foods that make up a central part of its celebration, comes Yom Kippur and the time to fast. Despite the fact that this day is concerned with the abstention from eating, food still plays an important role in the observance of this holiday. One needs to fortify themselves with the proper food prior to the beginning of the fast in order to help sustain themselves through the day. Ideally foods should be filling and those that are salty or spicy are usually avoided so as not to cause excessive thirst. It is common among both the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim to serve chicken at the pre-fast meal. This can consist of kreplach or matzo balls that have been stuffed with chicken in Ashkenazi communities, or dishes of stewed or boiled chicken seasoned with a few spices among Sephardi communities.
The tradition of eating chicken at the pre-fast meal is tied to the practice of kaparot (meaning expiations), which is carried out on the day before Yom Kippur. According to Gil Marks, this tradition was developed in the ninth century among Ashkenazi communities and consists of turning a live chicken over one’s head three times while repeating “The fowl is my substitute, this is my surrogate, this is my atonement” in Hebrew. In his extensively researched book Eat and be Satisfied, John Cooper explains that the practice of kaparot was opposed among the Jewish community in Medieval Spain but this tradition later became a popular practice among Sephardic communities who were living in the Turkish Empire. This practice also had slight variations depending on the community in which it was being carried out and at the beginning of the 20th century in Jerusalem the father of the family would pass the live chicken over the heads of each family member while reciting the kaparot prayers. Those within the Jewish community of Rhodes would kill a hen for women and a cock for men, after which a bit of the blood from the chicken would be placed on the forehead of the person for whom the bird was killed. Only a remaining few within the Jewish community today practice the custom of kaparot and coins, which are given to charity, have largely come to replace the chicken.
Although this dish takes about two hours to make, the majority of the time is spent away from the stove waiting for the chicken to cook in the first step and the rice to cook when it is put into the pot in the third step. It is a simple dish that is easy to make. The final result of this recipe is a dish that is a mix of fluffy rice and tender chicken that has been seasoned with just the right amount of spices that impart a flavor that is both sweet and earthy. Although it is delicious eaten on its own, the lemon sauce is an addition that adds some richness to this dish.
I think that this is an ideal dish to serve at the pre-fast meal but I also know that I will be cooking it throughout the rest of the year because it is a dish that I will want to make it over and over again. If you choose to make it before Yom Kippur, I hope it helps to sustain you through an easy and meaningful fast.
Rice with Chicken (Riz w’Djaj)
From Poopa Dweck’s Aromas of Aleppo
3 onions, chopped (about 1 ¾ cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
One 3 to 4 pound chicken
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Pinch of white pepper (optional)
1 heaping teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
3 cups long grain rice
In a large pot, sauté the onions in the vegetable oil over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes, or until translucent. Add 3 quarts water, along with the chicken. Add the salt and white pepper, if using. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes, or until fork-tender.
Remove the chicken and transfer to a platter. Drain off all but 4 ½ cups of cooking liquid from the pot. Reserve the excess for the Velvety Lemon Sauce.
Bone the chicken. Return the chicken meat to the pot. Add the allspice and, if desired, cinnamon and cardamon. If you want a bit of bright yellow color, add turmeric. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the rice and stir. When the liquid comes to a boil again, reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes, or until the rice is fluffy and all liquid is absorbed. Serve with the Velvety Lemon Sauce.
Velvety Lemon Sauce (Beida bi’lemouneh)
From Poopa Dweck’s Aromas of Aleppo
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
2 cups chicken stock cooled to room temperature or cooler
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour combined with 2 tablespoons water
Using a fork, beat the eggs with the lemon juice in a medium mixing bowl for 1 minute, or until they are thoroughly combined.
Stir the stock into the beaten egg mixture. Pour into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Promptly add the flour paste to the stock. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture reaches a thick, velvety consistency. Pour into a medium serving bowl and serve at room temperature.