Awafi! — Bon appétit (part 2)

Mira’s blog —
So, t’beet (or not t’beet, says Tony; that is the question, for you have to be very enthusiastic to want to make this dish. Preparation time is long and cooking time longer!) This is the chicken dish our mothers would prepare on Friday for the slow cooking necessary to have it ready for Saturday lunch. The bird was most likely to have been a hen as there was more to it and nothing was wasted.  She would use the giblets (gizzards and heart chopped small in the stuffing); in the hen she would also find eggs in different sizes waiting to mature and be laid one by one – these were also cooked with the rice.  But the prize was the membrane through which the egg was laid, beit il weld, the house of birth. This too would be stuffed!
So now, if you are serving a family you should use a chicken or a capon for a party. A word of warning: before you set off, make sure you have an oven-proof dish with a tight lid large enough to hold it all.
1 fowl (see above)
2 cups of basmati rice soaked for two hours
150 gms chopped lean meat (lamb, veal or beef)
4 medium sized red tomatoes chopped, or two cans of chopped tomatoes
3 tsp tomato purée
1 small onion finely chopped
 a generous amount of vegetable oil (or duck fat)
2 tsp salt
The spices:
half tsp cayenne or more (optional)
2 tsp ground cardamon
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half tsp gr. cloves
half tsp pepper
half tsp ground cumin
half tsp allspice
half tsp nutmeg
To prepare the stuffing – hashwah
Parboil half a cup of  the rice then drain.  When cool, mix with the chopped meat, half the spices and 1 tsp salt. Stuff loosely into the cavity of the fowl and close it.
Put a large pot on a medium flame, heat the oil then add the chopped onion and the stuffed chicken and sauté till golden brown. Carefully remove the bird.  Now add the rest of the chopped tomatoes the remaining spices and salt. Add the tomato purée and two cups of water. As soon as it simmers, turn off the flame.
Now bring out the oven-proof dish, put some oil on the bottom, then add the hot liquid, add the remaining rice, and carefully place the chicken on top and close tightly and slip it into your pre-heated oven at 200º.
After 30 minutes turn the temperature down to 130º and cook for five hours, or longer depending on the size of the bird.
There should be a thick crust at the bottom – the pièce de resistance, the h’kaka. Take it out of the oven and let it rest 10 minutes without lifting the pan lid to loosen the crust.
To serve, place the bird at the centre of the serving dish with the rice all around and carefully arrange the crusty rice on top.  If the crust is stuck add little water to the bottom of the cooking dish and it should soon come off.
The two photos I reproduce here show the dish in all its glory. They are from a brilliant website and blog run by a New Yorker of Iraqi Jewish extraction which I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in pursuing the subject further. His recipe differs slightly from mine, but I think you’ll enjoy

There is a more complicated way of making this dish involving skinning the bird first.  Take a look at this video:

Awafi! – Bon appétit! (part 1)

Mira’s blog —

Still thinking about Montreal: Diana’s family was particularly wonderful in taking us under their wing, and making sure everyone knew of the event. Most impressive though was the totally awesome Iraqi dinner. I haven’t enjoyed such a feast in years.

My mother’s Baghdad was a world in microcosm where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side and ate much the same kind of food. However, each group followed its own traditions and prescribed ways of preparing certain dishes. I have a small collection of some of the recipes, handed down through the centuries, which have survived among Iraq’s Jews wherever they are today, thus ensuring that while the community is no more, its spirit lives on at the table.
Mother used to say: ‘ Don’t forget, getting a meal ready in the old days was a big operation; all food had to be bought from the market daily and then prepared. The vegetables still had mud on them, beans had to be shelled, meat cleaned and koshered, chickens emptied and koshered, fish scaled and gutted etc. Ice was brought in every day but unlike today’s fridges they could not really keep food fresh for longer than 24 hours.’
Many of the dishes were prepared in advance and benefited from being served an hour or more later. The daddy of them all was baked chicken with rice, otherwise known as t’beet (from tybeyet, overnight) when it was eaten for the Sabbath lunch. It was prepared on the Friday and cooked on cooling embers overnight. (The same dish cooked by faster means at other times was known as tannouri (from tannour, oven).
In Part 2 tomorrow I’ll tell you how to cook it.