Sweet and sour; delight in the sweetness, let the sour intrigue with its sassy bite, blend the two opposing forces into something so savory that it takes your breath away. Sweet as the air that shimmers with the golden glow of autumn as we turn the page of summer and settle down to a new chapter. The bright sun has that eerie, mysterious beauty that one only finds in autumn as it filters through the leaves and bounces off of the white stone of the prefecture standing majestically, grandiosely overlooking the square caddy corner to our apartment building. Laughter and delighted screams from the little school around the corner float through our open windows as we enjoy the gentle breeze as one season opens the door to the next, bowing gracefully, accompanying her in.
Sweet is the season, sweet as being with old friends, sweet as the flowers surrounding us on the lush, green lawn of the Parc du Grand Blottereau. Strolling among the plants with Isabelle and Dominque, JP and I snapped photos, admired the strange and unusual flowers, secreted out the culinary herbs, admired the abundance of cacti and palms. This was La Folie des Plantes, Plant Madness, or maybe Folly, as you like, the annual flower and plant extravaganza held in this, one of Nantes’ gorgeous botanic gardens. Sweet with the fragrance of all this beauty, alive and breathing the end of summer, vibrant with the sensation of autumn in the air.
Savory is the magic performed by 9 delightful chefs. Two days sitting, watching, amazed, entranced as these great chefs strutted their stuff, slicing, dicing, mincing, sautéing, showing us endless possibilities for our own local products, peas and asparagus, cêpes and mâche, fish and seafood. Le Festival qui Cuisine la Cuisine: Les Goûts Uniques: and unique were the flavors of this wonderful gastronomic weekend which feted the art of cooking, the creation of dishes and pleasure. Michel Troisgros, Philippe Vételé, Eric Guérin, Vincent Guerlais, Pascal Favre d’Anne, William Ledeuil among others shared secrets and recipes, shared their passion and their jokes, and I walked away savoring every second, understanding just what makes these great chefs so absolutely grand.
Sour is as sour does and as summer crept into autumn and the warm air turned chill against my bare skin, the political scene turned sour and the French threaten to take to the streets, to turn the country on its head. Amid the sweetness of this season of festivities in Nantes, the jazz festival along the river blowing her sweet, sweet words through our window, luring us outside to savor the rhythm, while the art scene stirs into action around our lovely city, the pungent scent of strikes and marches looms on the horizon, hovering around the edges of this beautiful season, threatening to turn the sweetness sour and leave a bad taste in our mouths.
But this is the season to mix it all up. Take the sweetness of warm, summer days, the scent of flowers in the air, the taste of ripe fruit on your lips, lingering on your tongue and pair it with the tangy freshness, the zip of something sour and create a dish so savory, so intriguing, so exotic that you clean your plate and beg for more.
I adore the savory and the sweet in one bright, vibrant dish. I love pairing meat with fresh, seasonal fruit at the peak of sweetness. I searched high and low for the perfect savory recipe, the ideal marriage of sweet and sour in one intriguing dish. And I longed to cook with the fabulously sweet peaches we have had this year before the summer stone fruit season has ended. And I found a wonderful recipe in my brother’s much-loved The New American Cooking by Joan Nathan. I adapted it, teased it to fit with what was in my cupboard and threw in the peaches to bring a dash of summer to this rich, warming dish. Sweet & Sour Chicken with Peaches was the ideal recipe with which to finally use the wonderful bottle of Pomegranate Molasses given to me by Beth of Dirty Kitchen Secrets and the saffron threads from my sister Deeba of Passionate About Baking. Thanks, ladies, for these fabulous, exotic gifts! The peaches are optional here: this dish is fantastic with no added fruit at all, or I think that either pomegranate seeds, raisins or even grapes would be divine!
The chicken tumbles off of the bone, tender and moist, filled with the wonderful flavors of far-off lands. The peaches melt on the tongue while the almonds add the perfect, necessary crunch. The sweet and sour mingle, play off of one another and create an incredible savory sensation of Middle Eastern flavors, vibrant and colorful, making for one of the best dishes we have ever eaten.
SWEET & SOUR CHICKEN WITH PEACHES
1 chicken, cut into pieces (I used 2 thick breast filets, 2 thighs, 2 legs) or equivalent in your preferred pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup (60 – 65 ml) pomegranate molasses, syrup or concentrate
2 Tbs prepared ketchup
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup (65 g) sugar
1 tsp salt
Pinch saffron threads
½ cup whole, blanched almonds or walnut pieces, coarsely chopped
3 cups (750 ml) water
4 ripe peaches, peeled, each cut in half then each half into 3 or 4 thick slices.
Olive oil for browning and sautéing
Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven with a lid (less if your chicken is fatty). Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces and then brown lightly on all sides in the hot oil. Remove the browned pieces to a plate.
While the chicken pieces are browning, combine the pomegranate molasses/syrup/concentrate, the ketchup, the lemon juice, the sugar, salt and a pinch of saffron threads.
In the same oil (the chicken may have released enough fat to fry the onion in, but if not add a tablespoon or so more olive oil if needed), sauté the chopped onion until golden. Return the chicken pieces to the pot with the onion, add the mixed ingredients and the coarsely chopped almonds and add enough of the water to just cover the chicken. Stir, bring just to a boil, lower the heat to low and cover the pot loosely, allowing just a crack to allow steam to escape so the juices can thicken. Allow to simmer for one hour. Check the level of the liquid every now and then. It should be thickening but don’t let all of it evaporate. Add water as needed, if needed. I did not.
About halfway through the cooking time, add the thick peach slices, stirring them into the sauce very gently so as not to break them.
Serve over Iranian or Basmati rice.