Today, 28 November 2010, is the first Sunday in Advent. This is when Christians start the annual wait for the “coming” of Christ celebrated on Christmas Day. Children all over will have their Advent Calendars at the ready and will begin opening the doors on 1 December. For me, Advent is when I start thinking about Christmas, a good 2-3 months behind Mr Tesco.
In Iran too, the 1 December, marks the beginning if the “Little Fast” carried out by some of the sizeable yet minority population of Christians for the 25 days leading up to Christmas Day known as “Little Feast”. Christians in Iran include Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians who are mostly Armenian-Iranians and have their own religious rituals. Although Iran is predominantly an Islamic nation, there are also some Moslems who celebrate Christmas as a non-religious festival. Christmas trees and decorations are bought, turkeys ordered and sometimes gifts are exchanged in the same way as we do here in the UK.
During the 25 day “Little Fast” which is meant to purify body and mind, Orthodox Christians follow a diet free of meat and dairy products only breaking their fast when Communion is received early on Christmas morning. To break their fast, the traditional dish of Harissa is eaten. This meal is also the national dish of Armenia, and like many recipes handed down from generation to generation, there will be regional variations. I have managed to find a recipe for the chicken and barley stew which sounds just the sort of meal perfect during the current big freeze!
- 1 whole chicken
- 8 cups water
- 2 cups whole wheat kernels, rinsed and drained
- 2 tsp. salt, or to taste
How to cook it
Rinse chicken and place in large pot with 8 cups water and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, with the pot partially covered until chicken is cooked.
Remove chicken from liquid; place on platter and allow to cool enough to handle. Discard skin, bones and fat. Shred chicken; cut into smaller pieces, if necessary.
Strain broth. Measure broth, and add enough water to make a total of 8 cups
Place broth in large pot. Add wheat, shredded chicken, and salt if necessary. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Remove any foam which rises to the surface.
Simmer on a very low heat, without stirring, covered, for about 4 hours
Beat vigorously with a sturdy, long-handled, wooden spoon, mashing the wheat and chicken until they resemble thick oatmeal. Adjust salt, if needed.
To serve: place in bowls. Add a pat of butter, if desired. Sprinkle with a dash of cumin or paprika to taste.