According to religious laws of Judaism, Saturday is a day of complete rest. This is a day when an observant person should spend time with his/her family (and, naturally, pray in the temple). No work is allowed whatsoever. One could only imagine the challenges such a life style may impose on a housewife that needs to feed the family. That’s why Friday morning is the busiest day in a traditional Jewish family’ kitchen. Food needs to be prepared for the whole weekend and the deadline is very clear.
To make things even more complicated, lighting a fire is considered a “work” from the traditional perspective (to understand this one needs to think of a historical angle, when people had to chop wood and bring it into the house in order to start a fire for cooking). Since eating “cold cuts” only on Saturday is not the best possible idea (to say the least), a tradition of “slow cooking” on a low heat that remains open throughout the whole day (this way the work required to start it takes place before Saturday, and there is no dedicated work during Saturday to maintain it). The variety of dishes prepared this way is huge, as different Jewish communities have taken local cuisine and adjusted it to their constraints, but all of them have the same goal – provide a warm meal for observant families on Saturday.
The idea for this recipe has appeared in a magazine review of traditional recipes by various Jewish communities. It comes from Iraq. It’s a chicken roasted with rice in the oven all night long. When I first read about it, the whole story sounded a bit surreal, since usually, chicken is roasted for about an hour, and rice is cooked after 20 minutes. The result is surprisingly delicious, and has this “home cooking” atmosphere. All of the ingredients are simple and available.
Whole chicken (ask your butcher to remove the skeleton, but leave the chicken whole)
2 glasses of long rice (basmati, persian or khimshali)
4 tomatoes, grated with a fine grater
1 large onion, grated as well
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1.5 tbsp. of baharat (*) spices mixture
1 tsp. dried mint
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 glasses of chicken stock or water
* Baharat is a mixture that can contain: cloves, cinnamon, English pepper, black pepper, nutmeg, cardamom and coriander seeds. In Iraqi version, cumin is added as well.