When I was a kid, my dad would take me camping every summer. I always looked forward to lighting the campfire and cooking our meal over an open flame. There’s something magical about fire– the smell of burning wood, the bright golden flames, the crackling sound as darkness is devoured by light. It takes me back to my childhood and beyond… centuries back, before electricity was discovered, when light came from candles and heat came from fireplaces. Fire reminds me of my roots.
Tonight, Jews across America will be lighting bonfires in honor of a holiday called Lag B’Omer. It’s a relatively minor holiday, but it’s one of my favorites. Counting the Omer is a ritual that begins on the second night of Passover and ends on Shavuot. We count the Omer to remind us of the link between the Exodus and the giving of the Torah. The counting is a sort of mourning period, reminding us that we did not truly find freedom until we received the Torah. On the 33rd day of Counting the Omer (today), the mourning period is lifted for one day. This holiday is known as Lag B’Omer. It marks the death anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a 1st century Rabbinic sage. We light bonfires in honor of the spiritual light revealed by the Rabbi during his lifetime.
I love Lag B’Omer. I love the bonfires, the singing, the celebrations, the feeling of lightness. It’s a popular day for weddings. In fact, I was married on Lag B’Omer, which gives us yet another reason to celebrate. We mark the occasion by grilling in the back yard and sharing a meal as a family.
In honor of Lag B’Omer and the bonfire tradition, I’m sharing one of my favorite grilled recipes. This flavorful chicken is all about the marinade. Pineapple juice, lime, oregano and other spices combine to infuse this chicken with awesome flavor. It’s not too sweet, not too spicy, nicely balanced and just perfect for spring and summer grilling. Use boneless skinless breasts if you’re watching your waistline, or skin-on, bone-in chicken if you prefer. The smoky flavor takes me back… back before computers and text messages and deadlines… back to a simpler time, when grilling over a campfire was the highlight of my summer. It tastes like my childhood.
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- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh oregano (or 3/4 tsp dry)
- 1 tsp lime zest
- 1 tsp salt (for salted kosher chicken, use 1/2 tsp)
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, or 1 whole chicken cut into pieces
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade for brushing onto your chicken while it cooks.
- Place chicken breasts or pieces into a ceramic or glass dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken pieces, submerging as much of the meat as possible. Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Let the meat marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.
- Preheat your grill. Grill the chicken over moderate heat, flipping once halfway through cooking, brushing the meat periodically with the reserved marinade. Grill until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F. Grilling times will vary based on the cut of meat and the type of grill you're using.