Country #5: Libya

Monday, February 7, 2011

While at work today I felt the beginnings of a sore throat, which is always my first sign of any kind of illness. So I walked through Trader Joe’s with one objective: chicken soup. My first thoughts were of homey matzah ball soup, like my mom always made when I was sick as a kid. Then I thought of chicken noodle soup, like in Campbell’s commercials. After that I thought of the soup with fideos, tiny, thin noodles that my host mother in Spain always used to make me. (Then I thought about that terrible fish soup she made when I got one of my nameless but volatile stomach illnesses - I swear, that fish soup made me so much sicker.)
Without having come to a conclusion, I bought a bunch of split breasts and headed home on the crowded 66.* Typing in “ethnic chicken soup” into Google eventually brought me to, and a recipe for Sharba Libiya bil Dajaj wa Alzatar, or Libyan Soup with Chicken and Thyme. It had cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks (dude, are we making pho again?), turmeric, cayenne pepper - all the makings of delicious food. I made a cup of tea and began.

*Yes, I know I live very close to Trader Joe’s. I also had bought enough cans of beans and tomatoes for chili for 10 people, which I can assure you are incredibly heavy. Also, I couldn’t feel my feet.

Sharba Libiya bil Dajaj wa Alzatar, or Libyan soup with chicken and thyme
(based on
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cardamom seeds (I had whole cardamom pods left over from the pho adventure, so I just cracked the shells and used the seeds)
3 cloves
3 bay leaves
1 onion, finely chopped
2 lbs split chicken breast (can use thighs - just make sure you have the bone in!)
2 small tomatoes, diced (if you don’t like tomato skin, I’d recommend peeling the tomatoes, but I really didn’t notice it at all)
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried parsley (I would have used fresh, but I didn’t have any. I would recommend fresh.)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
Thyme as needed (I used about 1 ½ tablespoons)

Heat the oil in a stock pot for a few minutes, then add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves, and bay leaves. Mix them all together in the pot and heat on medium low for five minutes.

Add the onion and chicken (don’t chop it up), and give it a stir. When the chicken is white on one side, flip it over. Cook until the onions are soft.
Add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and parsley. Stir it around again. Then add the turmeric and cayenne pepper and stir until the items are moderately homogeneous.
Pour in about 7 cups of water, or enough to cover the chicken, add the salt, and cook on medium low for half an hour, with the lid on. I ended up turning it down to low for the last ten minutes because the liquid was boiling.
Pull out the chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces, removing the bone as well. Place the cut-up chicken back in the pot. Grab some dried thyme and rub it between your hands so that it falls into the pot, releasing oil and fragrance. YUM.  Ladle the soup into your favorite bowl, squeeze in some lemon juice, and serve with Libyan flat bread.

Ftat Misrati, or Libyan Flat Bread
(based on
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
½ cup water
Additional olive oil for rubbing and frying
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon olive oil
(Keep in mind: the original recipe makes enough recipe for 20 flat breads, but since there was just one sore-throated me, I made a quarter recipe, which, despite common math, made enough for 6 flat breads.)

Combine the flour, salt, and olive oil in a bowl. Add the water slowly, mixing with your hands to make a soft dough. Knead for about a minute. Rub some olive oil around the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let sit for an hour.
Once the dough has sat, form the dough into balls the size of ping pong balls. They should be super smooth (mine were not as smooth as the ones in the original photo), but it helps to squeeze the balls through your fist. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and let them sit for half an hour.
Mix the cornstarch and olive oil in a little bowl. Flatten each ball into a thick disc and spoon some cornstarch paste onto one of the discs. Top it with another disc to make a little paste-dough sandwich. Repeat with the remaining discs. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for another hour.
Pinch the sides of the sandwich together so the paste is stuck inside. Oil the “eating” side of a dinner plate with a brush. Oil the bottom of a second dinner plate the same way. Put one of the dough-paste sandwiches on the first dinner plate, then place the second plate on top and flatten. Once the dough is mostly flat, spread it out the rest of the way with your fingers. (It was very difficult to take pictures with such oily hands; I had to wrap a paper towel around the camera so I wouldn’t destroy it.) Make the discs as flat and thin as possible, but take care not to make them so thin so they get holes.
Clockwise from top left: dough balls resting; dough discs with cornstarch paste in the middle; flattened dough discs; dough in pan

Heat some olive oil in a pan on medium low. Place one of the flattened discs on the pan and cook until the bottom is golden brown. As it cooks, bubbles will form, and you can start to separate one half of the sandwich from the other with a fork.
Once the bottom has turned golden brown, flip the whole thing and cook the other side. When both sides are golden brown, take them off the pans and separate the halves. Share and enjoy!
Mmm, delicious!


Rachel said...

Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa ( may be another choice. i know alot of people use it, its also non alcoholic, though it's effectiveness is not as good as alcohol based cough medicine, but it's still good to use on not so serious sore throat.

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