A disclaimer: this post has virtually nothing to do with the Mediterranean, the Levant, the Middle East, or the Arab world. None of those categories. Except, I guess, that I made this recipe in a kitchen in Cairo, and with the help of the wonderful spice shopping opportunities that Egypt has to offer.
The recipe is from Recipe for Murder: Frightfully Good Food Inspired By Fiction, by Estérelle Payany. Each of its recipes is based upon a villain from a different literary work, from Tom Ripley to Iago to The Big Bad Wolf (mmm, bacon). The Dracula section jumped out at me immediately: it features Paprika Hendl, a chicken stewed with the paprika that Jonathan Harker, a character in Bram Stoker’s classic work, finds sprinkled into dishes all over Transylvania.
On a side note, January means that the blog is celebrating its fourth birthday. I can’t quite believe it, and I’m brewing up some big plans for the fifth year of living imik simik: a section in the works that covers the basics of what I’m calling the Levantine Kitchen (from pickling lemons to using tagines to substitute ideas for when you just can’t track down any orange flower water), at least one cookbook project, and more food history woven in with the recipes. If you have requests or suggestions or feedback I always love to hear from readers so do drop me a line! ann [dot] gaul [at] gmail [dot] com.
Paprika Hendl a la Dracula
adapted from Estérelle Payany’s Recipe for Murder: Frightfully Good Food Inspired by Fiction, published by Flammarion
I picked this particular recipe from the whole smorgasbord of alluring villainous dishes as it seemed like a worthy challenge to bring before the spice markets of Cairo (and besides, vampires are so much more interesting than zombies and cooler than werewolves). After reading up on the varieties of Hungarian paprika out there, I settled on a blend of sweet paprika and two varieties of hot pepper to dress this particular chicken. The result was a tart, creamy, just-a-touch-spicy dish. I can only hope Dracula would approve.
You will need:
A chicken (the fresher the better nomnomnom. The original called for a chicken cut into pieces, but I preferred to stew mine whole)
2 large onions (I used one each of red & yellow, just for fun), minced
Tablespoon each of butter and olive oil
4 tomatoes (the original called for a can of peeled tomatoes, but I just can’t imagine Dracula approving of such a red thing unless it were fresh)
2 tablespoons paprika (as I said – I used a blend of fresh sweet paprika and some hotter chile powder. There are all sorts of discussions to be had about paprika, and you can hunt down real smoked paprika or Hungarian paprika in a speciality spice shop if you wish, but you can also create your own blend from your favorite spicy powdered pepper and everyday paprika too. Why be a purist when you can experiment?)
2 cups plain yogurt or lebneh
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
Season the chicken with salt. It doesn’t even know what’s coming, does it!
Bring a pot of water to boil and prepare to peel the tomatoes. Set aside another bowl of cold water. Cut an x in the bottom of each tomato (see tomatoes pictured above), dipping just below the skin, and remove any stems. Once the water boils, drop the tomatoes in for just 90 seconds or so, and then plunge them straightaway into the cold water. You should be able to peel away the skins with ease.
Mix together half the paprika, the flour, and the yogurt, and set aside.
In a Dutch oven or something similar, saute the the onions in the butter and olive oil. Once they turn translucent, toss in the chicken, the tomatoes, and enough water to cover 2/3 of the chicken.
Cook, partially-to-mostly covered, on low heat, for an hour. After 30 minutes, flip your chicken over and make sure it’s still well-submerged.
Remove the chicken from the dish, test to make sure it’s cooked through, and set it aside to keep it warm (this is always such a frustrating direction, I know. Keep it warm how? My suggestion is that if you have a tagine lying around, deploy it to this end. If not, stick it on a tray and in the oven on the warmer setting to get it out of the way).
Tip in the yogurt mix and cook on medium heat until the sauce thickens and reduces a bit. Season to taste with s & p.
Place your chicken on a dish and splatter, I mean, cover with sauce. Poor Jonathan Harker ate this with salad, cheese, and a bottle of old tokay, but I’ll leave the accoutrements up to you for this one.