Monday, May 24, 2010

Princess of Persia

With a real-live, week-and-a-half dorm residency sneaking up on me faster than I can possibly comprehend, I've been reminiscing on my old Elizabeth Hall days.  Granted, a lot of that reminiscing involves squeezing my eyes shut, shaking my head and marveling at just how influencial bottom-shelf vodka can be.  But there were a few culinary adventures!  Definitely more culinary mishaps: the terrible food at the cafeteria (french-toast style eggos, anyone?), the hot plate spaghetti I clogged the sink with trying to strain without a colander, yet more horrible cafeteria food (iceburg lettuce and carrot stick salad bar).  I did find a few fantastic restaurants around Portland, though.  One of my very favorites, which I miss terribly now that I'm about 45 minutes away, is Aladdin's.  Syrian and Mediterranean cuisine in an adorable middle eastern palace tacked to the side of a kwik-e-mart.  Literally.  Front of building?  Skanky cigarette ads and cutouts of Shakira hocking Pepsi.  Turn the corner, just to the side, and there's glass lanterns and beading and rugs... and enticing, exotic, spicy fare that just reminds you that food can still be interesting.

My good friend Kristine waitressed here, and dated a sexy Pakistinian guy who worked there.  Or something, from somewhere.  It was all intruiguing and smelled of incense, what we deeply discussed when we used to sit out in the parking lot and puff on clove cigarettes.  I'd ditch Dr. Wright's night classes, that he liked to cancel anyway, to say hello and get the chicken shwarma.  Liberally spice-kissed meat on a bed of yellow saffron-tinted rice, with a drizzle of yogurt sauce.  I don't know how I managed to have money back then, but I found a way to scrape up shwarma.  I think Kristine gave me a discount, too.  She'd be able to chat in between the Fremonters and Albertites dodging in for their take-out.  In between I'd catch up on the latest TV offerings from Bollywood, or somewhere that direction.

These good times came rushing back when I was picking through my recipe file, looking for easy weeknight stuff while menu planning.  A clipping from July 2009's Bon Appetit for Turkey Shwarma with Tomato Relish and Tahini Sauce.  Served in the sandwich style, this looked like an actually easy enough recipe.  No clay oven or vertical rotisserie required (although they lauded the excellence of these nifty contraptions).  "Direct grilling the turkey slices does give you a close approximation of the taste and texture of classic shwarma", it promised.

Well, it was a lot easier than trying to make it to NoPo on a weeknight.

I used chicken instead of turkey, because it was what I had.  Also, the original Bon Appetit recipe calls for you to make your own tahini sauce and tomato relish.  I said, screw that noise.  Tahini sauce is a thinner version of hummus, but when you spread hummus on grill-hot pitas, it melts and becomes softer anway.  I just happened to have some Robert Rothschild Farm Roasted Red Pepper & Onion Dip that I cracked for paninis a couple weeks ago that I knew would taste just as amazing as any relish I could put together in May.  Definitely check out that site.  Beyond good stuff.

Matt was behind my shoulder ever since I wrote the sneaky foreign word on our week menu.  "So I guess I'm eating Macaroni and Cheese then?" he kept whining. 

"I don't care!  If you want!  There's hot dogs in the freezer, make it a meal!" 

But no blue boxes were cracked as I went out to the barbecue with my overnight-marinated onions and chicken.  That sneaky turd wanted to try it, was intruiged by the bright tumeric and thick scent I unleashed in the backyard.  I can just imagine my neighbors stepping outside to take out the trash and noting that Dorsey Drive smelled like a market in Beirut. 

"This is really, really good," he assured me.  "The pickle makes it."

"I know!  They love pickles over there!"  Wait a minute.  "Hey, I thought you were dreading dinner tonight."

"No, I knew it was going to be good.  I just had to give you crap."

Well, somebody's not getting pre-made frozen casserole for dorm week.

CHICKEN Shwarma with Roasted Red Pepper Dip and Hummus
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 onion, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
1/2 tbsp tumeric
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Olive Oil
4 pitas
Robert Rothschild Farm Roasted Red Pepper & Onion Dip
1/2 cup thinly sliced dill pickles (if you have some of my home-canned ones, use those ;)

Arrange chicken in a long pyrex baking dish, then arrange onions next to them.  Mix tumeric, salt, coriander, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.  Sprinkle onion slices with 1/2 tablespoon spice mixture, then drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over, turning onions to coat both sides.  Sprinkle remaining spice mixture over both sides of the chicken, rubbing into the meat to coat.  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the chicken.  Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

Start your barbecue and set to medium-high heat.  Brush pitas with olive oil.  Place the onions in a grill basket and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.  Grill the chicken breasts at the same time for approximately 10 minutes, or until done.  Place pitas on the grill and allow to get grill marks, about 2 minutes per side.  Bring everything on back inside.

Place the onions between the two chicken breasts (like a Double Down sandwich with onions), and cut thinly crosswise.  While still toasty, spread hummus on the pitas, then top with chicken/onion shwarma mixture, pickle slices and red pepper dip.  Get ready to convert your Wonder bread husband.


  1. This sounds really good, bet the pickles and onions with that spiced chicken would be yummy. A little exotic for me but I may try to broaden my horizons and try it anyway. Not sure about your Dad and your brother's reactions though...

  2. Dad would like it. Zach wouldn't come near it.