Smart Green Gourmet Goes to Cairo

Cairo is a city of contrasts.  Ancient pyramids loom over resplendent Nile villas,  graying but glorious mosques, devastating shantytowns, and American fast food chains.  The desert of Giza sits alongside the fertile farmland of the Nile Delta.  In a city of twenty million, somehow everyone knows your name.  Each day seems schizophrenic, elating, depressing, and hazy as a smoke-filled argeilah parlour.  Even if you don’t love Cairo, it’s hard not to respect it.

Here are some foodie scenes from my recent journey to this fallen yet rising capital of the Arab world.  Related recipes to follow soon.

Fruit seller near the American University of Cairo’s Downtown Campus
Labneh with olive oil, a favorite throughout the Middle East.  
Pita for sale on the street near the American University of Cairo.
Oranges hang in bunches in front of a shop.  In other stores, raw meat hangs on similar hooks awaiting purchase. 
A delivery boy speeds away to deliver Cairene fast food.  As in New York and other American cities, Cairo’s bikers weave deftly and dangerously through traffic. 

Pita for sale amid the ruins.  
Shawerma for sale on the street. 
A hungry crowd waits to eat the shwarerma and other after-work snacks.

Iraqi Chicken in Spiced Yogurt

Remember this from my cooking class with Iraqi refugees in Cairo?

The cooking class didn’t really give us recipes, instead sending us home with a sheet of general instructions like “add spices to chicken.”  They certainly didn’t give us instructions on how to make the recipes without access to an outdoor grill, and they most certainly didn’t give us instructions on how to make them kosher!

Never fear, dear readers.  The Smart Green Gourmet did some research and put her nose and palate to the test and figured out how to make an Iraqi-style chicken so delicious that my husband and I used bread to mop up every last bit of the sauce in true Iraqi style.  I used soy yogurt here due to aforementioned kashrut concerns, but this recipe should work with regular yogurt, omitting the extra tablespoon of vinegar.  I normally can’t stand soy yogurt, but in this recipe, it worked beautifully.

I’ve left this recipe intentionally flexible.  The marinade directions below made more than enough for the 3 chicken thighs that I used.  If you’re using more meat, make more marinade.  You may also wish to adjust cooking times and temperatures according to what you’re making.  If you’re using boneless white meat chicken breasts, for example, lower heat would probably be appropriate.

This recipe couldn’t be easier: whisk together the marinade, toss it with the chicken, and bake.  It can easily be made ahead, or you can marinate the chicken overnight and bake it the next day.  It is easily multiplied.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Work time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 3 (or as many as you would like)


3 bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of all visible fat.
Tip: It’s OK to loosen the skin or skin the thighs completely in this recipe; the yogurt will keep the meat moist during cooking and you can save on saturated fat this way.

1.5 c plain soy yogurt (I used
Juice of 1 lemon
1 T cider vinegar
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t tumeric
1/4 t coriander
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Whisk together marinade ingredients.  Toss marinade with chicken.  Let marinate 15 minutes or overnight.
3. Arrange chicken in a baking dish in a single layer.  Bake ~45 minutes or until meat is done.
4. Serve with bread to mop up the sauce.

Cooking Class with Iraqi Refugees in Cairo!

Last weekend, I attended an Iraqi cooking class here in Cairo.  The event was a fundraiser for legal assistance for the refugee community in Egypt.  UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has registered over 9,000 Iraqi refugees in Egypt, and countless other Iraqis are also here.  The Iraqi population in Egypt is highly educated, and many of these doctors, lawyers, and teachers can no longer work in their chosen professions.  Refugee legal aid helps provide refugees with legal protections in Egypt and helps Iraqis prepare their cases for resettlement elsewhere.  While Iraqis do not have permission to work or form self-help associations in Egypt, many Iraqis volunteer or through NGOs to help their community.  Their spirit is impressive.

It was lovely to spend a gorgeous January day taking a break from research and enjoying a the wonderful aromas of fresh herbs, the warmth of an outdoor barbeque, and endless cups of mint tea.  I’m looking forward to getting back to Boston to share the techniques and recipes that I learned.  Meanwhile, here are some photos to make you hungry!

After firing up the crackling grill (did I mention it’s January?), we carefully removed the meat from the skewers using fresh pita bread, which we then used to cover the meat and keep it warm.  The juice-soaked bread was delicious to eat with our fingers later on.

Shish Tawouk, or Grilled Spiced Meat, and Char-grilled Veggies.
Preparing the rice by sauteeing it in oil with onions, then adding the fresh fava beans.
Rice with Dill and Fresh Fava Beans.
Lamb and spices simmering in broth
Lamb stew served traditionally on a bed of fresh pita bread.
Plating the food

Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Bell Peppers, Scallions, and Mint

After the meat was removed from the grill, the tea kettle was filled with water and tea leaves and placed directly on the coals.   At the end of our meal, we poured this “tea kushari” over fresh spearmint leaves and savored the beautiful day.
All photos Copyright Smart Green Gourmet 2010.