Viviane’s Apricot Chicken Recipe was passed down to her from her Syrian grandmother. Featuring succulent chicken thighs in a sweet, tangy sauce, this is an ideal make-ahead dish. The sticky sauce has an intense flavor profile from tamarind, garlic, spicy Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar and of course dried apricots. Serve hot from the oven with any steamed grain, or enjoy warm with chunks of fresh sourdough bread and a crunchy green salad.
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Tell us about yourself, Viviane Bowell
I was educated in French, which is my mother tongue. I also lived in Italy for many years, so I speak fluent Italian. I graduated in Law as a mature student but did not pursue a legal career. Instead, I have concentrated on my passion, which is cooking and baking. I have recently published two books:
A personal memoir:To Egypt With Love: Memories of a Bygone World
A recipe book: A Culinary Legacy: Recipes from a Sephardi Egyptian kitchen
I love baking and I bake whenever I want to relax or unwind. I also find baking very therapeutic. I try to keep active as much as I can and that means I try to go for an hour’s walk every day. I volunteer twice a week with two charities that help refugees and asylum seekers and get a lot of satisfaction from this. I also work with a social enterprise which brings communities together through the medium of food. We have organised supper clubs, cooked with children and elderly people and helped out in community farms.
Could you share more with us about your family history?
I was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt in a Sephardi community. My paternal ancestors came from Toledo in Spain and were expelled in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition. They ended up in Constantinople and my grandparents moved to Egypt around 1910 when the Ottoman Empire crumbled. My maternal grandparents came from Aleppo in Syria and left for Egypt around 1910, as the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 meant that overnight Aleppo lost its importance as a major stop on the Silk Road. I had a great childhood – hence the memoirs – but this came to an end when we were suddenly expelled in 1956 as a result of the Suez crisis. At that point, we came to England as refugees.
I lived in London until 2004. When I remarried, we moved to Bristol. I have two children and one grandson.
Tell us about your passion project
Through both sides of my family, I have Sephardi as well as Mizrahi roots. I’m familiar with the Judeo Spanish and Judeo Syrian styles of cooking, as well as Egyptian since I grew up in Cairo. I decided to write a recipe book, mainly as a way of passing on my heritage to my family, but also for the world at large. It took time and effort, as I was keen to include as much as I could and the resulting book contains 260 recipes!
A culinary legacy, Recipes from a Sephardi Egyptian kitchen
I am currently working on a new project – another recipe book – this time on cakes and pastries.
Tell us about your connection with Judaism. How is it expressed in your life in general, and in your kitchen?
I was brought up in a traditional Sephardi community. We were not religious as such, but we celebrated all the festivals and I have wonderful memories of Seders with all the family gathered. I feel proud and privileged to be Jewish and try to reflect this by keeping what I call a Jewish home, mainly with regard to cooking.
I love cooking for other people and often had friends for dinner, but that was before the pandemic. I believe in everything in moderation and try to keep eating meat to a minimum. I usually give preference to fish. I never buy any ready-made meals and always cook from fresh, preferring to buy fruit and vegetables from a greengrocer rather than a supermarket.
What is the best thing you learned from another person about food and hospitality?
I had a favorite aunt who taught me a lot about generosity and hospitality. She lived in Paris and I used to visit her regularly. She always had my favorite food and pastries ready when I arrived and made sure I took some away with me. Everything she did was with a smile and an open heart and her generosity was not limited to food. I often think of her, always with a smile.
What three food items could you not live without?
Cakes, spinach, and cheese.
What’s the story behind your Apricot Chicken Recipe?
My recipe was inspired by my Syrian grandmother. Syrian Jews like the balance of sweet and tart and dried fruits like apricots and prunes in cooking. My mother taught me how to make it. I have often served it at dinner parties and people love it.Print
Viviane’s Apricot Chicken Recipe
- Prep Time: 25-30 minutes
- Cook Time: 60-90 minutes
- Total Time: 11 minute
- Yield: Serves 4
For the base:
4 large chicken thighs (about 1kg)
2 tablespoons vegetable or sunflower oil
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
2 celery sticks, chopped into 2cm (1 inch) pieces
1 large leek, cut into medium chunks
A few celery leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon vegetable or sunflower oil
1 large onion, cut lengthwise and into strips
2 teaspoons minced garlic
170g tomato paste
1 cup cold water
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (½ lemon)
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
200g dried apricots
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.
Prepare the chicken- rinse the chicken thighs under cold running water, pat dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large frying pan, add the chicken pieces and cook for a few minutes on each side until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Prepare the sauce – heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same frying pan over medium heat and cook the onion, stirring until golden and soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further 1 minute.
In a medium size bowl, combine the remaining sauce ingredients, except the apricots, and pour into the frying pan with the onions and garlic. Bring the sauce to a boil over a high heat, then turn off the heat and set aside.
Arrange one layer of chicken over a large, shallow ovenproof casserole dish (it is better if the chicken thighs fit snugly, so that the sauce will not dry out). Arrange the celery, pepper, leek and celery leaves, if using, around the chicken. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the apricots over the chicken and pour over half the sauce, reserving the rest for later. Cover with a tight fitting lid or foil and cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, pour on the remaining sauce and continue to cook, covered, until the chicken is very tender, about 30 minutes.
Serve hot with plain rice, with the sauce spooned over.
Keywords: Syrian, apricots, kosher, chicken, tamarind
More Community Recipes
Jewish Food Hero’s Community Recipes feature is a space for us all to share our favorites and hear from a variety of people in our community. This is an easy and fun way to get new meal ideas and learn about each other. Since you’ve read Viviane’s recipe, do you feel inspired to share your Kosher recipe? Don’t forget to get in touch to share your recipe too!
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