Saturday, August 6, 2016

Arab-Sicilian Cuisine (Spiced Olive Chicken)



A quick reflection on the word "Sicily" brings up a multitude of visuals and ideas: Italic ocean side paradise beaches; sky scrapped mountaintops; rustic village cliffs; great green fertile Mediterranean fields. And of course, pasta - lots of it - heaped with the freshest tomatoes one can imagine, and the shadow of Al Pacino hunched against the brick stones of Corleone trying to sway the hand of a beautiful Greek girl.
 Yet, were one to delve back into the deep history of this island, you'd find out that it's a hodgepodge of cultures intermixed. 

A quick peek at it's location reveals a number of things: 

Geographically, it's the most southern point of Italy, and it borders (through the Mediterranean Sea) several North African Arab counties .

Why is this important? 

Well, due to muslin invasions in the 10th century, Sicily became a medieval Arab province,  and this cultural diffusion birthed a cuisine ripe with the spiced foodcraft of an exotic
Arab pantry: 
Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, raisins, saffron, apricots, etc. 

Even the  language of Sicilian bears Arabic words in its lexicon up to today.

So with this merger of cultures in mind, here's an Arab-Sicilian dish that contains the delicious tangy salty flavors of Italy with the spice bite and complexity of Arab cuisine. 


1 pound chicken breast 
2 tbsp kalamata olives
1 tsp capers
6 tsp kalamata olive brine
5 cloves garlic
5 dry chili peppers
1 bay leaf
2 tsp black pepper 
1 tsp cinnamon
2 lemons (zest, and juice)
Olive Oil


1) Marinate slices of chicken breast in 6 tsp of olive brine (or enough to coat the chicken), the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tsp black pepper and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon for at least 30 mins

2) Add 2 tbsp olive oil to pot under med-high heat, then add 5 cloves of garlic, cooking until brown. 

3) Once browned, add 5 dried peppers (breaking them in half to scatter their seeds), and 1 large bay leaf. Cook for 3 mins.

4) Add the marinated chicken, and cook 5 mins on each side until brown. 

5) Add the zest of 1 lemon, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbsp olives, and 1 tsp capers. Cook for an additional 3 mins. 

6) Turn heat off, allow to cool for 2 mins, and then add 1-2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil  (It adds flavor, thickens the sauce, has beneficial affects on cholesterol,  and adds a great "mouth-feel" to the dish. 

I served this with brown basmati rice cooked with cinnamon and raisins, a parsley salad with artichokes, lemon juice, and sliced tomatoes, and Roman beans.