Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

IMG_1627Back in October, I was lucky enough to be a guest instructor at South End Kitchen in Burlington, VT, the joint restaurant and cooking school run by my cousin chef Sarah Langan. Recreational classes have a big focus on chocolate, as South End is run in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. The theme of our class was all things Mediterrean and focused on authentic ingredients like za’atar, sumac, sesame and orange blossom water with local Vermont dairy, eggs and gorgeous produce. Here’s what we made:

  • Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta
  • Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
  • Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate
  • Orange Blossom Yogurt with Sesame and Citrus
  • Apple Bitters and Prosecco  – we had to have a cocktail, of course!

Thank you again to the entire South End team for the opportunity! I will definitely be back to Burlington soon.

Here’s the recipe for the toast – perfect for brunch or cut into pieces as an appetizer.

Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

Serves about 8

  • 1 small winter squash, such as kabocha or delicata, cut into 1” pieces*
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes, plus more for topping
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 8 or more thick slices country or sourdough bread (or your favorite artisan bread)
  • 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar*
  • Handful chopped fresh mint

Heat oven to 425F. Toss squash with a few tablespoons of oil, a big pinch of salt, pepper and chile flakes. Spread onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes until soft and caramelized.

While squash is roasting, caramelize onions. Heat a few more tablespoons of oil in a medium saute pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until dark and jammy, about 30 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if onions dry out. Add vinegar and syrup and cook about 10 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine squash and onion mixture and smash with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. You want some texture here, not a completely smooth mixture. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Toast bread in a toaster or better yet, drizzled with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and toasted on a sheet tray @ 375F until golden brown. Spread squash mixture onto toast and sprinkle with feta, za’atar and more chile flakes. Finish with fresh mint.

*No need to peel kabocha or delicata (really). If using butternut, make sure to peel.

*Za’atar is a an ancient Mediterranean spice blend typically made with thyme or oregano, sumac, sesame seeds and sometimes cumin. Sumac is a dark red spice that has a tart lemony zing. Za’atar is delicious on grilled or roasted meats and fish, hummus and even roasted sweet potatoes. Find it online, in specialty Mediterranean shops or Whole Foods. Or, makeyour own using this recipe from 101 Cookbook 

Mexican Green Goddess Dressing

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With Cinco de Mayo coming up, here’s a quick little dressing to get you in the spirit. I recently stole borrowed Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good from my mom. I know Ms. Goop is a ‘love’ or ‘meh’ sort of brand, but hear me out. This cookbook is pretty darn legit. For the most part, it is indeed all good. Her co-writer, Julia Turshen, is a respectable food authority and brings realism to Paltrow’s maca root-and-green juice world. There’s an impressive amount of dressing recipes, both for salads and dipping, that make me excited for the summer produce ahead.

This Mexican Green Goddess ditty caught my eye immediately. I’ve been on a green goddess kick these days, a result of one too many vinaigrettes. Sometimes you need a creamy dressing, am I right? Traditionally made with all sorts of herbs, gobs of mayo, anchovies and lemon, this creamy dressing originated in San Francisco in the 1970s. You can almost imagine people drizzling it over iceberg and avocados. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon this Mexican version…and had all the ingredients in-house. I blended up a jar and used it all week long to drizzle on tacos, grain bowls, and pictured here, a shredded kale/cabbage/carrot/pineapple number with spicy roasted sweet potatoes. A Gwyneth-approved taco salad of sorts. Now, I wonder what a GP-approved margarita would entail…

Mexican Green Goddess Dressing

Adapted from It’s All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen

2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (or sub in 1/3 cup mayo + 1/3 cup yogurt)
1 handful cilantro leaves
2 scallions, roughly chopped
¼ cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
½ jalapeno, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
½ teaspoon (or more) Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon honey

Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until completely smooth. Add more or less lime juice and olive oil if you like it thinner or thicker. The dressing can be kept in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.

Roasted Radicchio with White Beans, Figs and Walnuts

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I was scrolling through Facebook last night (the eye of winter storm Juno) and a friend’s post caught my eye. The NY Times headline: No Food Takeout During Storm. The Mayor placed a ban on non-emergency travel, cutting off food delivery vehicles. According to Mayor De Blasio, a “food delivery bicycle is not an emergency vehicle”. My comment? New Yorkers are going to be forced to cook (muhaha!) All jokes aside, when you dive in a little deeper, this pseudo-crisis, is well, a crisis.

A friend visiting from out of town commented how little I had in my fridge. But when the time came to make dinner, I dug into my pantry and found a few vegetable odds and ends rolling around in my crisper. Spices, good olive oil and salt, salt, salt, and dinner was done. In 30 minutes, nonetheless. I often cook by way of my fridge”mise en place”, or everything in it’s place. A weekly batch of farro, a tray of roasted vegetables, cooked beans I froze months ago – they all add up to whole meals. I keep rich extras like Greek feta, real, crumbly Parm and toasty walnuts at the ready. This is the way I’ve been cooking for years and most likely the way I’ll always do it. Augmented with something fresh – a gorgeous piece of fish from Whole Foods, a bit of cooked sausage from the butcher, a ripe-right-now avocado, it all gets used.

This warm salad is an homage to my pantry. Thirty minutes of prep work on a Sunday meant this dish came together in 10. This is more of a formula than a recipe. Combine a roasted vegetable with a cooked bean, add some caramelized onions, something crunchy and something sweet. Lemon and salt, always. Maybe there will be a new headline “Storm Brings People Back into the Kitchen”. I like the sound of that much better.

Roasted Radicchio with White Beans, Figs and Walnuts

Loosely adapted from Bon Appetit

Serves 4

  • 1/2 pound white beans (such as cannellini or flageolet), soaked overnight in water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for finishing
  • 2 heads radicchio, sliced into 2″-thick wedges
  • 1/3 cup caramelized onions (here’ how)
  • 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
  • 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried figs, sliced
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Drizzle balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and fresh black pepper

Drain soaked beans and place in a large pot. Cover with fresh water, add bay leaf and garlic cloves. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to simmer. Cook on low, covered, for about 30 minutes until beans are tender. Remove bay leaf and garlic (you may smash the garlic with the back of a knife and stir into the beans). Season the pot with Kosher salt to taste. Keep warm. Beans can be cooked a few days ahead of time and stored in their cooking liquid.

Heat oven to 450. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil over radichio gently toss to combine. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper and spread out on baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes until tender and charred in some places. Set aside.

Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid. In a large skillet, combine beans, roasted radicchio, mustard and caramelized onions. Heat, stirring occasionally and adding spoonfuls of bean cooking liquid to bring everything together. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and garnish with walnuts, dried figs, lemon zest and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Enjoy warm.

Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Tomato Relish

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While your Instagram feed may be blowing up with everything pumpkin spice, it’s still summer in my kitchen. Last winter, I signed up for my first CSA share. CSA stands for ‘Community Supported Agriculture’, and essentially it’s an investment into a farm. In exchange, you have the fortune of (in my case) 22 weeks of outstanding organic vegetables. Each Wednesday night, I walk about about 15 minutes to the pick-up site. I choose and weigh my vegetables and load them into my granny cart (glamorous, I know). A sample share from July:

  • fennel: 1 piece
  • peppers: 3 pieces
  • eggplant: 1 piece
  • fava beans: 1 pound
  • beets: 1 pound
  • garlic scapes: 0.25 pound
  • cucumbers: 2 pounds
  • greens: 1 pound
  • lettuce: 2 pieces
  • squash: 3 pieces

As you can see, you have to be cool with eating tons of veggies throughout the week. I’ve made countless batches of ratatouille, hot and cold soups and all manner of salads. My grocery shopping these days usually consists of breakfast staples, proteins/meat and fruit. I opted out of the fruit share, but I now wish I did (one week they got 5 lbs. of sour cherries…jealous!) Aside from a packed fridge to work through, it’s actually simplified the cooking I do at home.

I’ve been receiving a steady stream of eggplant all summer. Long, skinny eggplant, baby ‘fairy tale’ eggplant, even white ones. To prevent eggplant burnout (it’s a thing), I try to vary how I use it week to week. One week, it’s pasta alla norma, a recipe my Aunt Lee introduced me to. Another week, it might be miso-glazed eggplant over rice. This falafel-stuffed eggplant has got to be one of my favorites. I made it late last summer and dreamed of making it again ever since. What’s cool is you actually get two recipes in one – save the inside of the eggplant for baba ganoush.  This is your chance to use the last of the season’s tomatoes – get them before they’re gone! And if you’re not a member of a CSA, check out your local farmer’s market for most of the ingredients.

Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Green Tomato Relish

Recipe from Cooking Light

Tahini sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Eggplant:

  • 2 eggplants (about 12 ounces each)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper (I used Piment D’Ville)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas ( or 1 15-ounce can)

Relish:

  • 1 cup chopped seeded tomato  (I used a green tomato, use what you have)
  • 1/2 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Ground sumac, for serving (optional)

Heat oven to 475°.

To prepare eggplant, slice the eggplants in half lengthwise; score cut sides with a crosshatch pattern. Place the eggplant halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet coated with olive oil. Bake at 475° for 7 minutes or until slightly tender and browned. Remove from oven; carefully scoop out pulp, leaving a 3/4-inch shell. Reserve pulp for another use (such as babaganoush). Season cut sides with about 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Combine about 1/2 teaspoon salt, onion, and next 11 ingredients (through chickpeas) in a food processor; process until smooth. Spoon 1/2 cup chickpea mixture into each eggplant shell. Bake at 475° for 25 minutes or until eggplant halves are tender and chickpea mixture is lightly browned.

To prepare sauce, combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk. Set aside.

To prepare relish, combine the tomato and remaining ingredients in a bowl; stir to combine.

Top eggplant with relish and sauce. Sprinkle with sumac before serving.

Citrus Braised Cabbage, Apple, Goat Cheese, Red Wine Vinegar

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Walk into any shop right now and you’ll be inundated with SPRING. Yet, walk down the street in New York and we’re still girding ourselves with wooly layers and hot coffee. The in-between seasons make it easy to see the relation between food and fashion. Just as designers are debuting their seasonal collections, filled with florals and color and texture, so are the chefs. With food, it starts with asparagus. Somewhere in the country, the weather is warm enough to grow this springtime delicacy, and it’s shipped in massive quantities to our food stores, giving us a false sense of season. Here in the Northeast, we don’t get the green stuff until May, even June. What’s a cook to do?

I propose embracing the current season for all it’s worth. Just as it’s silly to wear a sundress in a snowstorm, eating peaches (or eggplant or asparagus) is just as silly in the off-season. This cabbage slaw comes from the LA’s Lemonade restaurant cookbook. It epitomizes the in-between season – a bit of winter, with a nod to the sunnier days ahead. It’s really delicious.

 

Citrus Braised Cabbage, Apple, Goat Cheese, Red Wine Vinegar

Adapted from The Lemonade Cookbook
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 tart apples, halved lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced
1 head red cabbage
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1/2 large orange, divided
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley and cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Slice the cabbage into quarters and cut away the core. Thinly slice the cabbage, set aside.

Heat a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven with olive oil. When hot, add onions and apples and a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the cabbage. When it begins to wilt, add the vinegar, orange juice, maple syrup and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Stir well. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the cabbage is soft. Stir occasionally. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in reserved orange zest.

Place the cabbage in a large bowl and chill thoroughly. Just before serving, sprinkle with goat cheese and herbs.

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

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Full disclosure: this is not a post about tacos. Yes, these tacos are the bomb-dot-com (does anyone say that anymore?) They happen to be vegan, gluten free and yes, really, really delicious for carb-eating carnivores as well. They take about 30 minutes start to finish. They are also cheap economical and are satisfying enough that you *may* forgo that after-dinner trip back to the kitchen for a brownie. But again, this is not about the tacos.

In an effort to create some balance in my life, I’ve signed up for my fifth (count ’em) half marathon. On May 17th I will be making the 13.1 trip from The Brooklyn Public Library to Coney Island. I can’t help but get nostalgic for my first borough. Jogging in Prospect Park, trekking to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – I’ll be running through my past, literally. In the next couple months, I’ll be sharing with you a bit about my training, more specifically what’s fueling me. While I’ve made a career out of cooking for and teaching others, my everyday eating is a lot more pared down and purposeful. Get ready for hearty salads, soups, oatmeal-y breakfasts and lots and lots of green things. Yes, there will be kale (obviously), but also chocolate, more protein-heavy recipes than I’ve shared before and simple snacks I like to keep around.

Let’s do this thing!

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

Makes 8 tacos

Tacos:

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
  • 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado, cilantro and lime, for serving
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the tacos: place the poblano pepper under the broiler in your oven and turn occasionally, charring on all sides, about 5 minutes. Alternately, char the poblano directly over a gas flame on your stove. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam for about 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, wipe off the charred skin, take out the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until transluscent. Season with salt. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring constantly (careful not to burn the garlic). Add the chopped poblano, sweet potatoes and spices. Season with salt and give it a stir. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically and adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Taste and season.

While the sweet potato mixture cooks, make the pickled onions. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, stirring over medium heat to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, add onions and turn off heat. Allow the onions to ‘steep’ in the vinegar mixture until softened.

Add black beans and stir well. Cover and cook 5 minutes more until warmed through. Heat tortillas over and open flame to char the edges a bit or wrapped in foil in the oven until warm.

To assemble tacos, fill each tortilla with a spoonful of filling, cilantro, avocado, a few pickled onions and a squeeze of lime. These have a good kick, but add more hot sauce if you like things really spicy.

The pickled onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the fridge for about a month.

Quinoa with Red Plums, Thyme and Crispy Cauliflower

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I make some variation on this dish just about once a week. A grain-based, lettuce-less salad is perfect for long-day, late night dinners or work lunches. The idea of using your pantry and supplementing with fresh ingredients works for me. Believe it or not, I don’t reinvent the wheel each night for dinner. Nope. Not even close. I do, however, keep a laundry list of staples on hand as building blocks for meals. Grains, beans, dried fruit, toasty nuts and herbs, herbs, herbs keep things fresh. For this salad, I combined quinoa with tart red plums (a recent discovery from Sahadi’s), scallions, a handful of herbs and (leftover) roasted cauliflower. It was part fridge clean-out, part Balaboosta-wannabe, all together delicious.

Quinoa with Red Plums, Thyme and Crispy Cauliflower

Makes about 4 cups

  • 1/2 medium head cauliflower, tough stems removed and cut into small florets
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 16 ounces water or chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Handful dried red plums, chopped (can substitute dried cranberries)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • Handful chopped fresh parsley
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Fresh black pepper

Heat oven to 425F.

Place cauliflower on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and toss with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil (3 swirls of the pan). Season with a good 3-fingered pinch of salt. Roast cauliflower in heated oven, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy-edged, about 20-30 minutes. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine quinoa, water or stock and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to steam, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.

In a large bowl, combine the scallions and dried plums. Add quinoa and allow it’s warmth to soften up the dried fruit. Fold in scallions and cauliflower. Add enough lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil until it tastes good. Delicious eaten warm, room temperature or cold.

Tuscan Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

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A year or so ago, I read an article by Amanda Hesser on the future of food writing. As someone (clearly) interested in putting my kitchen work into words, I soaked up every morsel of advice. Amongst the facts and figures, one idea stood out: Amanda suggested to, “never eat the same meal twice. If you want to be knowledgeable about food, you need to experience it yourself.” I could not agree more. Whether or not you are a professional or home cook, it’s easy to retreat to your old standby meals. Everyone has one or two up their sleeve, whether it’s an omelet or osso buco. We turn to them for comfort and familiarity. I challenge you this: once you get the hang of a particular dish or recipe, tweak it. Swap out chicken breast for thighs, trade the baby spinach for those long stalks of Swiss chard. It could be as minute as a drizzle of good olive oil, a splash of vinegar. You may be pleased what you discover when you go off course a bit.

Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

This soup is one of my go-to meals, particularly as the weather grows colder. Each time it comes out a bit different  – I’ll try a new type of sausage, leafy green or herb combination. Each new version gives me a little more knowledge of flavor.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bulk hot Italian sausage links, casing removed*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (from a 15-ounce can or cooked from dry*)
  • Chili flakes
  • Olive oil, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper, for serving

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks, until deep golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add onion and carrot to pot with sausage drippings. Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until soft and translucent. You may need to add a bit more oil. Add stock, herbs and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add kale and reduce to heat. Simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes. Add beans and sausage and cook for a few minutes longer to heat through. Remove bay leaf. Taste and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.

Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper.

Notes:

You may purchase bulk sausage in casing at the grocery meat counter or in a butcher shop. When I am in the neighborhood, I stock up at The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. I mean, come on, you have your choice of ‘Classy’ or ‘Trashy’.

Moroccan Braised Chicken

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While I was working as a full-time personal chef here in NYC, I had a number of clients whose homes I visited once a week to cook. I prepared a work week’s worth of meals, ranging from soups to salads, protein dishes and grains. Each morning, I trekked to Whole Foods with my uber-stylish granny cart, equipped with a list and a plan: in under 5 hours, I needed to shop, set up, cook, package and label 8 different dishes in my client’s kitchen. It was a bit like a Quickfire Challenge, plus the added pressure of making sure everything would be delicious after a few days in the fridge. Oh, and I usually had 2 client’s in one day, so I would turn around do the same thing in the afternoon.

I loved it.

I know a lot of people take issue with reheating food. How long does it really last? Won’t it go bad? What’s the best way to reheat? Now, hear me out. With a few exceptions (like soups and braises), I admit a lot of meals taste best right after they’re made (think fish, pasta, a perfectly seared steak). But that just upped the ante for me. It became my mission to make the best reheatable meals this side of the Hudson. The key? Take a cue from those delicious 3rd day soups and stews, which are scientifically proven to taste better after a night in the fridge.

This braised Moroccan-inspired chicken became one of my client’s favorites. They loved the exotic flavor, but with the familiarity of chicken, carrots and chickpeas. What they didn’t know was it could be made in one pot, took about 30 minutes and was a largely hands-off process, allowing me time to make the 7 other dishes. The best part? It reheats beautifully on the stove top with a bit of it’s cooking liquid. What? You thought I would say zap it in the microwave? I am a chef, afterall.

 

Moroccan Braised Chicken (Quick Chicken Tagine)

Serves 3-4 (2 thighs/person)

  • 6-8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, preferably organic*
  • Grapeseed oil, for searing
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • About 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots or golden raisins
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 1 can, drained)
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • A drizzle of honey (optional)
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Blot the chicken with a paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear the chicken for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. You aren’t looking to cook the chicken all the way through, just get it nice and brown. Transfer to a large plate or rimmed sheet tray.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and carrot with a big pinch of salt, adding a bit more oil if there is a lot of sticky residue in the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the ras el hanout and stir to coat the vegetables, allowing the spices to toast for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and stir, cooking some of the water out of the tomatoes, for about 2 minutes. Add back the chicken to the pot and cover with the chicken stock (just enough to barely cover most of the chicken). Increase the heat to high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until meat is tender and almost falling off the bone.

Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and transfer to a serving platter.  To reduce the sauce, increase to high heat and bring to a rapid boil. This will allow the flavors to concentrate and the sauce to thicken. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the dried fruit and chickpeas. Simmer for a few more minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper to taste. You may also add a little honey or a few more pinches of ras el hanout if it needs it.

Serve the sauce and chickpeas over the chicken with a big handful of chopped parsley, and more lemon if you want. Serve with couscous, quinoa or millet.

To reheat: Heat over low in a high-sided skillet or small saucepan with cooking liquid. Do not microwave, chicken will toughen.

*General PSA: please buy happy chickens (happy = organic). Aside from the fact that they more humanely raised than commercial brands, they taste better and are altogether more chicken-y. A bang for your buck if you ask me. Trader Joe’s carries organic chicken, along with Whole Foods and most likely someone at your local farmer’s market. They probably have eggs, too.

Kale-Almond Pesto

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I am thrilled that in recent years, kale has gained respect as the new ‘it’ vegetable. See, for a good number of years, this leafy, powerful green was cast aside for more delicate offerings like baby spinach and arugula. If kale is the poster child for health and all things good and wholesome in the booming food movement, then I am a supporter, a rebel for the cause. I can’t get enough of the stuff. I shred the Tuscan variety for salads, roast it’s leaves for ‘chips’ and stuff handfuls in my blender, whirring up green smoothies. Why the near obsession? Aside from it’s versatility, you can’t forget that, ounce for ounce, it contains more nutrients and health benefits than just about any vegetable on earth?!

This method for kale pesto includes an extra step you won’t see in traditional basil pesto recipes. Blanching the kale helps retain it’s bright green color, softens it a bit and mellows the flavor just a notch. Don’t skip it.

Aside from pasta,  smear your kale pesto on sandwiches, fold into grain salads or spread on sliced tomatoes and mozzarella for a new take on the classic caprese.

Kale-Almond Pesto

Adapted from True Food Kitchen by Dr. Andrew Weil

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 large bunch kale (about 6 cups), inner stems removed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
  • 1/4 cup toasted almonds
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Kosher salt
  • Red pepper flakes

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add kale and cook for blanch for 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water and allow to cool. Drain and squeeze out as much water as you can (in a kitchen towel or with your hands.

In a food processor, add the dried kale, garlic, cheese and almonds. Pulse to combine. With the machine running, stream in the olive oil. This will give you a thicker pesto, if you like it thinner, add more olive oil. Pulse in the lemon zest, juice, salt and red pepper flakes, taste, and add more of everything to achieve pesto perfection. Toss with hot pasta immediately or store in the fridge in an airtight jar or container with a layer of plastic wrap over the surface. Will keep for 3-4 days.