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March 21, 2011

Spring has sprung

On March 20th it was first a day of Spring. And even though Winter does not want to go, holding on to the last wilted leaf that was left by her dear friend Autumn, soon young Spring, accompanied by cheerful chirping of returning birds and bickering streams, followed by the parade of frolicking of emerging from slumber insects and under the awning of velvety sun rays will rightfully ascend the throne.

Despite Winter's desperate attempt to linger by covering the ground with bleak snow, plump buds on the trees are ready to burst with life and it tells me that gardening season is near. Soon, I will sink my hands into soft fertile soil preparing it to accept seeds to nurture and grow.

In many cultures around the world for many years spring represented rebirth, a new beginning. Especially for those, whose wheel of life was tuning on the endless farming fields. And of course this change of season was always met with special celebrations.

My people, Circassians, was no exclusion. Living on fertile land every spring they would begin sowing in early spring. But before they would celebrate a new year, the first day of spring, МафIэщхьэтыхь (Mafeshhetih) or Гъэрэ щIырэ щызэхэкI—Spring Equinox. These festivities included cultural rituals involving games (Adyga Jegw), dancing as well as religious customs: Circassians made an offering to their gods by slaughtering a black animal, most offten young black chickens in hope that this sacrifice will rid of bad spirits and bring a pleasant and plentiful farming season. The chicken would then be prepared in a traditional dish Djedlibje that translates to "Fried Chicken"—a creamy chicken dish.

Back in North Caucasus my mom and grandma would cook it with sour cream. When I first tried to recreate it here with sour cream, it wouldn't taste the same. Then I discovered that heavy cream in lieu of sour works much better.

We used a special spice, Djedgin—chicken powder—that was a ground powder of dry wild thyme or savory. I was able to find it here, too.

And the authentic recipe calls for whole chicken, cut into portions. I use boneless skinless breast and thighs because it's easier to eat and faster to cook.

One tradition remains unchanged: I serve this dish with pasta—an authentic Circassian spoon bread made of millet. I've posted the recipe before here.

Circassian Creamy Chicken
3 lb skinless boneless chicken
(this time I used 1 1/2 lb of breast and 1 1/2 lb of boneless thighs)
1 cup finely chopped onions
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoon ground savory (or thyme) divided
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 TB spoons olive oil
16 oz heavy cream
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 TB spoons all purpose flour
  1. Cut chicken into 1˝x2˝ pieces, add half of ground savory, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, mix with chicken and set aside.
  2. In a dutch oven or heavy pot heat 2 TB spoons of oil. Add chicken to it and brown it on a high heat for 5 minutes stirring frequently to prevent burning. When chicken is white and starts to turn golden brown, add onions and garlic, lower the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 20–30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add 1 1/2 TB spoons of flour to cold water and whisk it until all flour is dissolved. Pour this water into the pot, rase heat and bring it to boil.
  4. Add cream, let it boil over the hight heat, then immediately lower the heat to low add the rest of the spices and let simmer for 10 minutes to let the sauce thicken a bit.
  5. Turn off heat, let stand for couple of minutes and serve with pasta.

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