• Sundays were scented with chilli and garlic as Matt Yazbek's Lebanese family came together on Sunday over chicken. (Cubby's Kitchen)Source: Cubby's Kitchen
So many cultures celebrate Sunday with either a barbecue or roast chook. This Lebanese tradition combines both.
By
Renata Gortan

19 Jun 2021 - 12:37 PM  UPDATED 27 Jul 2021 - 1:17 PM

The tradition of Sunday barbecues transcends cultures. For Matt Yazbek of Cubby's Kitchen in Bondi, it meant a feast of charcoal-flecked chicken with spicy harissa and garlic toum.

"We had it every Sunday growing up, it was a ritual. There was never a Sunday that we wouldn't have chicken," Yazbek says.

"Sunday used to be the religious day, it was about a gathering of people, getting together, winding out the week and making sure there was plenty of food and sitting down to welcome the new week.

"We would prepare as many as a dozen chooks for the day's feast. As a family of six, plus catering for relatives and friends, it was all hands on deck with preparation starting in the morning because we always added super-sized sides of tabouli and sliced potatoes to grill as well."

Yazbek says these dishes were big enough to feed an army and always involved large amounts of garlic, harissa sauce and the barbecue. "My dad had custom built our own brick barbecue with a chimney, it was enormous and always left a charcoal aroma in the air. All our neighbours would know when the chooks were firing."

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Chicken was the protein of choice not just because it's a popular, accessible product in Lebanon, but also because it's simple to cook.

"There wasn't much time to be very adventurous when providing for a large family, you had the chicken and then would make the tabouli – I'm talking a box of parsley that we'd chop up. For the garlic sauce we used to sit there and peel the cloves one by one and crush them with a mortar and pestle – this was before the days of the blender," Yazbek says.

"We also had to get the chillies to make the harissa, back in the 90s these products weren't available. Everyone got involved in preparing the meal. Sunday was about coming together, it wasn't just about the food but communicating, preparing food and celebrating."

There was never a shortage of food on during Sunday feasts.

As the youngest of four siblings with hearty appetites, Yazbek had to be strategic about how he'd get his share of food. He quickly discovered that if he hung around the kitchen 'helping', he could get to it first.

"If anyone ever needed to find me in the house, they knew I would be in the kitchen cooking with mum. My siblings were bigger and at the table they would push me aside to get to the food, that's why I helped a lot, I could pick along the way,” he says.

"Sunday was about coming together, it wasn't just about the food but communicating, preparing food and celebrating."

Having a larger extended family of first cousins, there was always a birthday or party happening. His mum would usually make the desserts and pastries. "She made these Lebanese doughnuts called awamet, like the Greek doughnut balls. You'd make the dough in the bowl then grab some of the dough in your hand, make a fist and push a little ball of dough out with your pointer finger, scoop it with a spoon and put it in hot oil then throw it into a syrup of sugar and rosewater. Mum would make hundreds in one go, but by the time she made and cooked and soaked them, they'd be gone."

Yazbek's mum's nickname was 'Cubby' and her recipes inspired the dishes at Cubby's Kitchen. The traditional Sunday chook has been reimagined as the Hot Chick Baby, cooked on the robata grills for a smoky flavour before being oven-roasted and covered in harissa garlic toum.

"Most of the recipes and flavours are hers, but I've made the dishes a little more contemporary."'

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @RenataGortan and Instagram @renatagortan.

Photographs by Cubby's Kitchen


Hot Chick Baby

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 whole spatchcock or chicken, butterflied
  • 6 large dried hot chillies
  • 180 g roasted capsicum (jarred in brine is fine, rinse if so)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 8 large garlic cloves peeled
  • 1 tsp ground caraway
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 40-50 ml quality extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Soak the dried chillies in hot water for approximately 30mins until re-hydrated and soft. Drain and remove stems and seeds.
  2. In a food processor, add the chillies, tomato paste, roasted capsicum, garlic, caraway, coriander, cumin, paprika, cayenne and salt.
  3. Run food processor and slowly add lemon juice, do the same with the olive oil.
  4. To bake the chicken, preheat oven to 220°C.
  5. Place the chicken in a roasting pan breast side down. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Spoon enough of harissa mix over chicken and spread evenly.
  7. Roast for 20 minutes. When cooked, remove and transfer to a serving plate and serve with toum.

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