Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be. (Molly Wizenberg, from A Homemade Life)
We were saying goodbye to good friends tonight. We had good friends here to help. There was a sense of occasion: of wanting somehow to mark the transition, but not be too dramatic about it. How does one bid a fond adieu anymore?
Pomegranate Chicken was the only answer.
It was an odd recipe, handed to me by a colleague, with the endorsement "only you would make a recipe this weird." Indeed I would. I made it first for a newlywed husband, who was appropriately enthusiastic. I made it next for friends of ours, known to appreciate their fair share of odd recipes (shout out to Paulo and Maria!!) Made it next for the closest friends I would ever have (shout out to the Berkshire Massive!) and we all raved over it. Made it the following year as a way of marking the year's passing, and as a way of trying to reclaim the territory dominated by the previous month's arrival of Gorgeous Firstborn. Ended up nursing said firstborn on a stepstool in the kitchen, directing Doting Grandma and Best Friend who were making the recipe in my stead.
When we moved to the States, Pomegranate Chicken was left dormant. No kitchen to call our own. The communion meal laid dormant. November 2003, November 2004, November 2005, November 2006, November 2007. All passed without the merest mention of pomegranates.
And then came November 2008. Gradually I began to see life re-forming into something I recognized. I was slowly, tentatively sending my roots out into my community, finding friends who were My People all over again. My People mentioned they might like to do a photo shoot - of people making food, Real Food, to share with each other. I knew what recipe would work. At that meal, I raised a toast: "this meal, this food? It is food I only want to share with those I love. So here's to those friends: the friends in the past, the present, and future that I love."
And now it is 2009. A season of pomegranates, a season of goodbyes. This November we are toasting friends that, last year, were part of the toast's future - and friends that I love nonetheless. This meal is about communion: a meal shared together that becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. The meal reaches all of your senses - when people enter your home they will say "everything smells so fantastic!" When they take a bite of carrot, of onion, of chicken, they will say "this is amazing - what is IN this?" If they are any kind of artist, they will exclaim over the glow of the ruby pomegranate seeds on the amber carrots, over the pinky-purple onions, over the gingery tinge of autumn that radiates from the dish.
After almost 10 years in my recipe box, tonight I want to share Pomegranate Chicken with you. Make it - share communion with Your People, whomever they may be. Those whom you love will gather around your table, and affirm the fellowship that values "who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be."
4 chicken breast fillets, skin on
3 Tbsp sesame oil
grated zest & juice of 2 lemons
2 Tbsp honey
2 lg carrots, shredded (I like to make long ribbons with a mandoline/peeler, but either way really)
2 lg red onions, finely sliced
1.5 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
2 pomegranates, peeled & seeds removed
4 Tbsp chopped coriander/cilantro (depends on your side of The Pond)
Salt & Pepper
Marinate chicken with 1 Tbsp sesame oil, zest & juice of one lemon, cinnamon and honey. Stir well, marinate at least 20 mins.
Preheat oven to 375 F, 190 C
Heat 1 Tbsp sesame oil in a pan, add carrots, onion, and ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in remaining juice and zest and seasoning to taste, cook another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Heat remaining oil in pan, add chicken and cook over high heat 2-3 minutes for each side of the breast.
Transfer chicken to roasting tray, skin side up. Add a little water (say, a half cup? Less?) to the frying pan. Stir to remove sediment. Pour over chicken with half the pomegranate seeds and bake 15-20 mins. (Until meat thermometer indicates between 160 and 170 F. )
Stir the coriander into the vegetable mix and heat through. Serve the chicken on top of the vegetables, with the juices and remaining pomegranate seeds poured over.
Me? I like to serve this with a roasted beet salad topped with goats cheese, flat leaf parsley and a balsamic vinaigrette. But you could pair it with a nice rice pilaf and green salad and be just as happy, or maybe some couscous made up with sliced almonds and currants. However you serve it, make sure you do so with friends - friends with whom you are happy to toast and say 'to the past, the present, and future.'
This, this - this is the meaning of food.