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 

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.

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.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies

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No matter where I am in NYC, I can most likely name the neighborhood’s best cookie. Dumbo? Jacques Torres. Upper West Side? Levain, no doubt. Union Square? Try the chocolate chip at Paradis. Oh, and City Bakery. A solid cup of coffee alongside is a non-negotiable.

 
Call it old fashioned, but I love a classic molasses cookie. You don’t see them very often at bake shops. I’ve heard Pushcart Coffee has a good one.. I grew up eating my grandmother’s soft, chewy version, rolled in sugar. They were stored in a cookie tin with a piece of bread to keep them fresh (p.s. that trick works).

 
Using her recipe as inspiration, along with an updated mix of spices from December’s Bon Appetit, I’ve created a cookie fit for the holidays. Browning the butter is an extra step that gives these cookies some nuttiness. The combination of dark molasses and brown sugar lends some drama. A sprinkle of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom are a bit spicy, in a good way. Don’t forget to roll them in sugar, preferably the raw stuff (grab a couple more packets when you get your coffee). Which you’ll definitely want to be drinking while you eat one of these.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup dark molasses
  • ¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • Raw sugar, for rolling
  1. Heat oven to 375°. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until foaming subsides and butter turns a nutty dark brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, brown butter butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.
  3. Place raw sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls. Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2” apart. Using the heel of your hand, press down on cookies to flatten slightly. Sprinkle with a bit more raw sugar on top.
  4. Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over-baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. You may have to bake the cookies in batches. Transfer to wire racks and let cool. Store in an airtight container with a piece of bread to keep them fresh for days.

Pan-Roasted Pork with Date-Cilantro Relish

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Full disclosure: this is not a turkey. There is no cranberry sauce alongside. I wouldn’t suggest serving it with gravy. Truth be told, I’m a little turkey-d out, and Thanksgiving is still days away. Between Friendsgivings and T-day cooking classes, I’m approaching poultry burnout.

#chefproblems

If you’ve never cooked pork tenderloin, or you’re a bit rusty, try this method. By searing the meat first in a hot pan, then transferring the pan into a heated oven (aka pan roasting) you ensure the meat is cooked evenly (aka not dried out). You also free up some space on your stove if you’ve got a side dish working. The tenderloin is very lean, so watch it carefully and test with a meat thermometer so it doesn’t overcook.

I am smitten with this date-cilantro relish. Medjool dates, orange and cilantro go surprisingly well with roasted pork. OK, it also goes surprisingly well with chicken, too. And yes, turkey.

Pan-Roasted Pork with Date-Cilantro Relish

I served this with crispy roasted cauliflower with lemon and parsley. Sauteed greens, roasted root vegetables or brussels sprouts would be nice, too.

Serves 3-4

Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1½ lb.)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅔ cup Medjool dates (about 4 oz.), pitted and cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro plus leaves for serving

Heat oven to 425F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet (like cast iron) over medium-high heat.

Pat dry pork and season well on all sides with salt and pepper. Sear pork in hot pan, turning to brown on all sides, about 8 minutes.

Transfer skillet to heated oven and continue to roast pork until temperature reaches 140F, about 10-15 minutes. Allow pork to rest before slicing, setting aside the pan drippings.

Combine dates, orange zest, orange juice, 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, pork pan drippings and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice pork against the grain (into medallions) and spoon relish over pork. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

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’.

Jamie Oliver’s Beef Stew with Butternut Squash and Sunchokes

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This recipe is a Jamie Oliver classic, by way of my aunt. I am a big fan of Jamie, in particular what he’s doing across the pond at Recipease. I would love to travel to London and teach take a class there one day…

At first glance, this looked like any old recipe for beef stew. But looking closer, there was squash and sunchokes and a garlicky gremolata. What really caught my attention was the cooking method: Jamie doesn’t brown his meat, instead he sweats the onions, then throws everything else in the pot. This goes against all my training, but lo and behold: it worked. With the addition of the vegetables, the stew had a distinct sweetness; a welcome change from most other dark, intense beef stews.

Feel free to play around with the vegetables here. Swap out the butternut for sweet potato or kabocha squash and use any root vegetables you like (turnips would be good). Do not skip the gremolata – the stew needs a bit of herby tang to bring all that butternut sweetness into focus.

Jamie Oliver’s Beef Stew with Butternut Squash and Sunchokes

Serves about 4-5

Ingredients

Stew:

  • Olive oil
  • A small knob of butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • handful of fresh sage leaves
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
  • Handful sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), quartered (optional, see note)
  • 1 lb. small potatoes, quartered (optional, see note)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-1 3/4 lbs. beef stew meat (such as beef chuck), cut into 2″ pieces and tossed with a bit of flour
  • 1/2 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 1/4 cups beef or chicken stock

Gremolata:

  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Handful fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 glove garlic, minced

Heat oven to 300F. Melt butter and oil in a large oven-safe Dutch oven. Add onion and sage and sweat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsnips, carrot, butternut, sunchokes and/or potatoes. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the meat, wine and stock and stir together. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and place in the heated oven.

Braise the stew for 2-4 hours, checking after 2 hours for doneness. The meat should fall apart easily with a fork. Cooking time will depend on your meat; it may take as long as 4 hours depending on how fresh your meat is. Taste and season with salt and pepper. You may hold the cooked stew until ready to serve at 225F.

Stir together the lemon zest, rosemary and garlic. Sprinkle a bit of the gremolata on each bowl of stew before serving. Best eaten with good red wine.

Note:I decided to omit the potatoes, as the sunchokes provide enough texture for my taste. One of my favorite ways to serve a braise like this is over mashed potatoes, so in lieu of potato overload, I opt to nix them.

You may find sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) at Whole Foods or your local farmer’s market. They look like a gnarly potato, but have a sweet, nutty flavor reminiscent of chestnuts. If you can’t find them, don’t sweat it, just add potatoes.

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.