Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How common is chicken and dumplings?

A few days ago I was preparing a dish that most people don't know about.  It is a Lebanese dish called Mograbiah.  This recipe, from a large tome of Lebanese cooking, is a nice recipe involving chicken, vegetables, beef and most importantly, these large pearl couscous, made with semolina flour.  The original recipe wanted me to use whole chickens and boil in some water to cook them and essentially make a broth.  Then cook the other ingredients like the pearl onions, beef cubes and such and then add them all together with some mograbiah pearls to finish.  Like any good chef, I changed the recipe, and improvised.

I immediately noticed that it was a Lebanese version of chicken and dumplings.  Really.  These little balls, cook like pasta and are basically some water, fat of some sort, like butter or shortening and then semolina flour.  They swell up in water and get very tender like good cooked pasta.  Because they suck up moisture to get tender, they can absorb flavors as well and get tasty.  To make this dish, I cooked the chicken breasts in the oven and put them in a pot with 2 tablespoons of butter.  The mograbiah balls were cooked in boiling water and then I placed them into the pot with the chicken.  I then browned some beef cubes in oil in a pan and then added them into the pot.  I then browned some peeled and halved pearl onions in that residue from the beef and added some chicken stock to the pan to deglaze it.  Everything went into the large pot.  A little caraway seed was added with some freshly ground black lava Cyprus sea salt and some freshly ground pepper.  I filled the pot with enough store-bought chicken stock to cover everything, about 2 inches higher and let it come to a boil and simmer for about an hour.  What was finished reminded me of chicken and dumplings, with beef and onions, as the dumplings were essentially those smaller beads which had swelled up with delicious flavor.   

We all know that chicken and dumplings are made similarly.  I cook the chicken and add it into a pot where I add some chicken stock and butter, salt and pepper and start cooking.  In the same pot, as the stock starts to boil, I make some simple dumplings using Bisquick mix and milk and drop it into the pot in spoonfulls.  The dumplings cook and absorb the chicken flavor as well as thicken the soup.  Despite the lack of beef and the onions, it is amazing how similar the two dish taste.  Besides, one of them just likely happens to be a thousand years older than the other.  So, is our modern day, Southern-style chicken and dumplings a descendant of the Lebanese or Arabic dish as a whole?  Could be.

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