Generally, no politics at the table. But this week’s Call to Citrus got me started. Thinking about cooking and baking with zest on a cold winter’s day. Thinking about Florida and California dreaming in the deep, heady perfume of the orange stands in the Westborn Market in Dearborn, Michigan. Thinking about the warm appeal and hospitality of Mediterranean food, and then the events over the past weeks in Egypt -- I find myself contemplating prospects of a new Middle East... and wrestling with the incomparable, incomprehensible, and complex politics of the Jaffa orange.
Jaffa oranges. Thick-skinned. Easy to peel. Nearly seedless. Similar to Valencia oranges, but sweeter. Jaffa oranges take their name from the ancient port city in Israel of that name, now incorporated with Tel Aviv. Also known as the shamuti orange, the Jaffa variety is very cold tolerant, and adaptable enough to grow outside the tropical regions normally associated with citrus crops.
Jaffa oranges have been in the world market for more than a century. Along with kosher wine, they were the first imports from Palestine. In the 1880’s they were introduced to Florida, where they are still grown today.
A branded brand.
An enduring symbol of both Israeli and Palestinian national pride, the Jaffa orange brand has become the very icon of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a flashpoint for boycott of Israeli goods. For Israelis, the Jaffa orange symbolizes the restoration of a neglected land. To Palestinians, the orange is emblematic of a land lost, a people divided, a desperate state of limbo and deprivation. Waiting.
Israelis speak of the unspeakable as “the situation” -- a state of constant vigilance, tension and military preparedness, described in one of two ways : sheket (quiet) or war.
A stone’s throw - or a Qassam rocket launch away - there’s Gaza City, hell on earth with a beach, where 1.5 million people live on the basic subsistence of foodstuffs shipped in through Israeli border crossings or through the tunnels from Egypt. There the Jaffa orange is a rarity, but a memory in the fruit stalls.
The march of time and water shortages (nearing crisis in recent years) have eroded the role of citrus in Israel’s high- tech economy today. And yet. Those who understand the science and imperative of the land know that the solutions must come soon or blow the region apart. It’s not just the “bolitics” (it’s all bolitics, they say). Peace must come out of necessity: for food and water. Those who understand Israel know that Jewish and Arab roots run deep in the land and are entangled in a complex and delicate ecosystem, a battle for survival where science and technology, national security, water quality and agriculture, business and banking, bandwidth, communication, and tourism... all must be shared in order to move forward.
‘Maybe this is the moment. . . to put our trust in freedom.'A quarter-century after his release from the Soviet Union, Natan Sharansky is quoted inThe Jerusalem Post,(02/12/11) observing that the time for an ‘even purer’ push for democracy is unfolding in the Middle East. And it’s coming now, he states: “Not from the peace process at all. Here, people are coming and demanding to build from the bottom, without any connection [to the peace process]. This is a great chance.”
This is the time... For more perspective, read the cover article in theThe New York Times Magazine, The Israel Peace Plan That Almost Was and Still Could Be.
Back on the range, cooking chicken today, I offer a favorite recipe. Not by coincidence, it’s a recipe I often use for Passover, the Jewish celebration of freedom, in remembrance of Egypt.
Jaffa Orange-Ginger Chicken with Baharat and a Taste of Honey
As in everything-Israeli and all-things Jewish in the kitchen, the recipe for Israeli-style orange chicken has a long history. My version is an adaptation from The Foods of Israel Today, a fab cookbook by Joan Nathan. Jaffa Orange Chicken (oaf tapoozim) is a Friday night tradition that made its way into mainstream Israeli cooking in the 70‘s by way of a the popular Israeli cookbook, A Taste of Tradition, by Ruth Sirkis. Nathan’s version kicks it up a notch using eastern Mediterranean spices -- chili, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg in a bouquet called baharat.
4 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon baharat (or to taste)
1 tablespoon ground ginger (or to taste)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1/3 cup orange liqueur
1 cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystalized ginger
2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
2 tablespoon toasted almonds, chopped (optional)
Here’s what you do
Cut chicken breasts in half lengthwise. Mix with salt, baharat and ground ginger
In heavy frying pan, heat oil and saute the chicken gently, just a few minutes on each side to brown. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
Add the wine, orange liqueur, chicken broth, honey, orange juice and fresh ginger to the pan and simmer to reduce slightly until a light syrup has formed (about 15 minutes).
Return chicken to the sauce in the skillet, add zest, crystallized ginger and almonds, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add orange sections and heat just until warm.
Serve on a bed of couscous or rice
For dessert: Orange Mandelbrot (almond biscotti) from Mark Bittman,