This easy but flavorful recipe for Orange Silan Chicken is an ode to my grandmother and to my childhood in Australia.
If I close my eyes, I am five years old, it is early afternoon and the bright Australian sunshine is streaming into my grandparents’ home in Rose Bay. My grandmother’s kitchen is pristine. There are large pots on her stove top. On her counter there are small crystal bowls filled with Iraqi charoset—crushed walnuts on top of Silan, her homemade dark brown date syrup. There are piles of washed bright green romaine lettuce. Two dozen eggs wait to be boiled and hungrily devoured after a blessing of “Zecher l’korban chagiga,” symbolic of the Paschal sacrifice that can no longer be brought to the Holy Temple.
My grandmother takes me upstairs and bathes me and then she takes me to her bed and we take a nap together. She wants me to stay awake at the Seder for as long as possible.
To this day, I cannot imagine how she was able to take a nap Erev Chag. In those days, there was no catered food. They bought square boxes of matzo and those cans of macaroons. The rest was on her. And the crazy part is that she was younger than I am now.
The long dining room table is set with her fine-bone English China. The small glasses are filled with wine and grape juice for my brother Rafi and I. My grandfather makes kiddush and everyone begins singing from the yellowed, wine-stained copies of the Haggadah. Parts are written in Judeo-Arabic and Aramaic and those parts are joyously sung by my parents and my aunts and uncles and the guests. I cannot read Hebrew but I know these words by heart. When it is time for Maggid, my grandfather ties one of my grandmothers brightly colored silk scarves with a piece of matzo inside around the chests of my brother and I. My youngest aunt who is 11 and my youngest uncle who is 15 leave the dining room with us and we make a show of being tired and weary and hobble back in to cries of “Where have you come from?” It is our job to recount the Exodus story, as though we ourselves truly had been freed from bondage in Mitzrayim.
My grandmother made the best food I have ever tasted. She spent hours preparing in her kitchen. Especially for Pesach. Just making the Silan takes hours and hours. Boiling the dates and squeezing them through muslin and boiling again, making sure the date honey caramelizes but doesn’t burn. If you’ve ever tasted Silan, you know how good it is. The jars of organic 100% date syrup are a wonderful, easy alternative to the homemade version, but don’t tell my mother I said that. My mother still stands for hours making Silan. And she also loves to make the complex recipes from her mother’s kitchen.
I, on the other hand, try to spend as little time in the kitchen as I can. Don’t get me wrong—I take my kitchen duties very seriously. I love feeding my family delicious, healthy food. I routinely host 30 people for Shabbat meals. But how do I get there faster? Truthfully, I have a lovely housekeeper to help me peel and clean and amazing daughters who love to chop salads and make the desserts. But key for me are simple recipes that don’t require too much thinking.
The flavors of the Silan, the spices, the fresh oranges, the garlic and onion, those are all my grandmother’s favorite ingredients. But there’s nothing more Aussie than roasting a whole chicken with potatoes and sweet potatoes.
This easy but flavorful recipe for Orange Silan Chicken is an ode to my grandmother and to my childhood in Australia. The flavors of the Silan, the spices, the fresh oranges, the garlic and onion, those are all my grandmother’s favorite ingredients. But there’s nothing more Aussie than roasting a whole chicken with potatoes and sweet potatoes.
I hope that you are blessed with a healthy, happy kosher Passover with lots of delicious food, laughter and amazing memories.
Orange and Silan Chicken
1 large 4-pound chicken
2 medium oranges, cut in half
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil,
2 Tbsp Silan date honey
3 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, peeled and cut in 6 wedges
1 head of garlic, cut in half
2 celery stalks, washed and cut into 2-inch
5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Line a large baking dish with parchment paper. Place chicken breast side in the center of the dish. Lightly squeeze some juice over the chicken.
Place two orange halves in the cavity of the chicken. Place two orange halves on either side of the chicken.
Combine 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the Silan, paprika, turmeric, garlic powder, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and black pepper in a bowl and whisk to blend. Pour over the chicken.
Place the onion, garlic and celery around the chicken.
Place the potatoes and sweet potatoes in the bowl and toss them with the remaining olive oil and salt, then place around the chicken
Roast the chicken for 1 hour. Lower temperature to 325°F and continue roasting for another 20-30 minutes. Juices should run clear and chicken should be at 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh.
Remove pan from the oven and loosely tent with aluminum foil.
When ready to serve, carve the chicken and serve with the potatoes, sweet potatoes, oranges and other vegetables. Pour any juices over the chicken.
Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.