You can tell summer is coming to Erbil after increased amount of dust that you inhale every day. It’s still bearable those days. However, after a month temperature outside will reach 50 degrees turning the landscape into bleached khaki blanket made of coarse fabric, just like the one they use in military. Iraq is preparing to Ramadan that will start next week. This weekend might observe some epic feasts as I was told by my colleagues. For many it’s going to be the last supper before fasting.
Not sure about Iraq, however Amman often gets crazy in time of the Holy Month. For first half of the day the city operates slowly storing its energy. In the afternoon it goes into lethargy. People sit with empty eyes, often sleep on their desks. They listen but don’t hear. They watch but don’t see. All the restaurants are closed. Only neighborhoods that host large number of foreigners function somehow. Jabal Al-Webdeh, where all the foreigners and artsy Ammanese live has few places that stay open. Even they though put blinds in their windows not to offend anyone’s feelings. Alcohol is available in Aqaba, the port located hundreds kilometers from Amman. Surprisingly people often go there during Ramadan to get their alcohol supplies and nuts from duty free zone. Every year the Be Amman portal publishes a list of local cafes, restaurants and bars that stay open in the Holy Month. This list is circulated among friends and widely discussed in many social circles.
Before Iftar, the dinner that breaks fasting, drivers get mad. Avoid taking taxi around that time. Drivers are extremely irritated and exhausted. The only thing they care is a glass of water and some dates from Mekka. When the dinner starts streets become empty and the capital turns into ghost town. You can hear sounds of cutlery being used by dozens hands and smell all the delicious food prepared by the mamas.
Me and the dearest friend of mine Basel used to drive around the city and enjoy this peace. Moments when the city belongs only to you are unforgettable. I’m really looking forward to see Ramadan in Erbil and investigate how similar it is to the one celebrated in Amman.
Before that happens, the feast week has already began. I prepared creamy chicken casserole for my friends as a small contribution to this local custom. I know that many of them will fast in the upcoming week.
The casserole combines all what I like about Mediterranean cuisine – tomatoes, feta, olives, fresh herbs and juicy chicken. Super easy recipe.
Creamy chicken casserole
preparation: 15 minutes + 30 minutes baking
1 kg of chicken with bones
170 g tomato paste
200 g heavy creamy
250 ml chicken stock
2 cloves of garlic
150 g feta, diced
3 cherry tomatoes, sliced
a handful of pitted olives, black or green
2 spoon of fresh herbs (I used rosemary, but you can use basil, parsley, dill, coriander, etc)
butter for frying
- Preheat the oven to 200 C.
- Heat Teflon pan. After it gets really hot add some butter and stir in chicken. Fry it on high heat for about 3 minutes on each side. Once it turns gold transfer it to the casserole dish.
- In a separate dish mix cream, tomatoes, crashed garlic, chicken stock and fresh herbs. Pour the sauce over chicken. On the top arrange some diced feta, slices of cherry tomatoes and halved olives. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, pepper, salt and transfer to the hot oven.
- Bake for 30 minutes in 200 C.
- Serve with fresh salad and some baguette.
- Cooking chicken is all about good pan and cooking temperature. If your frying pan is a crap meaning thin bottom pot with peeling off teflon don’t even dream about golden fried chicken. Assumption: You need thick-bottom pot made of proper material: telfon, ceramic and cast iron will work. Secondly: the temperature should be really high as it cooks the meat proteins the moment they touch pot’s surface. This in turn closes all the juices inside and results in tender and juicy chicken. Some of the Teflon pots tend to be smart and have nice, red dot in the center that shows you when the pan is ready for frying. If you don’t have it place your palm about 10 cm above the pot. Then touch it (no, you don’t really have to. I’m joking.) If the pan is too hot and you can’t keep your hand there it means it’s ready for frying the meat.
- If you’re using butter for frying add it when your pan is hot. Otherwise it will burn.