Sunday, March 7, 2010

Discovering Egypt: Part 2

The fig is a fruit that I’ve never given much thought to. I’d love to tell you that I tried figs for the first time just last week, but that would be a lie. Because as I was enjoying them in this delicious Egyptian chicken recipe, I realized that they had a very familiar flavor. I tried to put it into words for my husband, Bryan, who would eat the chicken but was afraid of the figs, by describing them as a cross between a cherry, a cranberry and a raisin. I popped another into my mouth and came up with an even easier description for him: Fruit Roll-Up. Now I’d got him laughing, at Fruit Roll-Up Chicken, but he still wouldn’t try one. I gave up on convincing him the conventional way and resorted to the passive aggressive approach. It was actually at this moment I realized why the figs were so familiar to me. I remember as a kid that dad would have Fig Newton cookies around all the time. Or Oreos, but that’s a story for another day. So, I started to tell Bryan what was going on in my head, “Hey! Figs aren’t scary! If they make good cookies then they can’t possibly be scary, right?” He gave me the obligatory, “Hmm, Hmm, sure, Honey.”, as he found a suitable spot for his dinner dishes in the dishwasher. Bryan has always been game to try everything I make, and there have been some doozies, so I figure he’s earned himself an out.
The fig is called a fruit but it’s actually the flower of a deciduous tree. Fig trees grow in a variety of climates but an area with hot, dry summers and cool, moist winters is perfect. Figs are one of the most versatile fruits, in that they can be paired with a multitude of sweet and savory foods. Egyptians found the fig to be delicious as well as having healthful properties. Figs are rich in calcium, iron, potassium, fiber and the highest mineral content of all the common fruits. Not only that, but they have no fat, no sodium and no cholesterol. The fig was a staple in Egyptian cuisine, where it was used to sweeten recipes because sugar was not yet known to them.
Eventually, Fig trees were imported and cultivated in places all over the Asian/European continent and up into the southwestern United States. The Franciscan missionaries are thought to be the first to introduce California to the fig tree in 1769. The aptly named Mission figs were the first fig trees to be planted in California, at the garden of the mission at San Diego. Currently, California is the third largest producer of figs in the world.
I hope you give this recipe a try. It’s super easy for a weeknight meal. The chicken is tender and the figs are sweet but the lemon and thyme balance it all out quite nicely.

Egyptian Lemon Chicken with Figs
6-8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 lemons
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 ounces white wine vinegar
2 ounces water
3/4 lb dried figs (I buy them in the bulk section of the grocery store)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons thyme (fresh or dried)
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400°.

Squeeze the juice from one of the lemons into a small bowl; add the brown sugar, vinegar and water. Mix well and set aside. Slice the remaining lemon and arrange evenly, along with the figs in a 13x9 baking dish. Place the chicken thighs on top in a single layer, then drizzle the vinegar mixture over the chicken. Sprinkle with the thyme and salt. Bake at 400° for about 40 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink in the middle and juices run clear, basting half-way through cook time. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately. Serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 40 minutes


  1. I have never had Egyptian food, but you are making it look really good.

  2. Thanks, Rita! I've been really enjoying the flavors. The only recipe I have to keep working at now is a flat bread type that I haven't quite perfected yet. :)


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