Have you ever eaten out and tried a dish with an ingredient or two that you’ve never had before, just to see what all the fuss was about? After a week of uninspired, hotel restaurant meals on a recent business trip, I finally escaped the hum-drum monotony of dishes prepared to satisfy the tastes of travelers from anywhere and everywhere and ventured out to find something, anything different.
I’m guessing there is an Arabic version of Foursquare, Yelp, or pick your favorite trusty food guide, but since I haven’t found one yet, and I don’t read or speak Arabic, I was out of luck and had to take my chances. I settled on a Mediterranean-North African restaurant, all but guaranteed to find something I hadn’t tried, at least in the preceding week. Anyway, back to the important part… the food. I ordered a dish with with a pomegranate glaze. I’ve drunk my share of pomegranate juice, but I just couldn’t imagine how concentrating that flavor wouldn’t overpower the dish. Oh, man, was I wrong. It was ah-mazing, like a perfectly balanced symphony, each bite tempting me onto the next.
Of course I had to recreate it! I picked up a tube of harissa, a few pomegranates, and a bottle of pomegranate molasses the very next trip to the market. A half dozen chicken breasts later, I thought I was going nuts. Why was it so hard to figure out? Turns out I was so focused on the sauce that I forgot about the most important part, seasoning the chicken. Once I took the spices out of the glaze and used them to punch up my otherwise bland chicken breasts before glazing, things started looking up. A few minutes together in the pan was just the tantalizingly, tangy kiss that I was looking for.
Harissa-rubbed Chicken with Pomegranate Glaze and Herbed Quinoa
Over dinner in Cape Town one evening, the conversation turned to holidays, and one of my friends asked why Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving. I’m not sure I had a good answer, but the next question had me truly at a loss for words – what does it taste like? It was a good question. I can describe what it taste like with other things, but the meat itself, not so much. Because, it doesn’t taste like chicken…at least not to me.
When I first moved to Italy, I was surprised to see more turkey in the poultry section at the large supermarket than there was chicken. I never imagined it was popular anywhere for anything more than Thanksgiving dinner, a sandwich filling, or as the dry, bland substitute for a fattier, more flavorful meat. Then I was introduced to fresh sage, and it was like I discovered a whole new bird.
I’ve made saltimbocca (cutlets sautéed Roman-style with sage and proscuitto) with veal and chicken, but my absolute favorite way to enjoy it is with turkey. I still don’t know quite how to describe the flavor of turkey by itself, but when it tastes so good this way, why describe anything less?
Saltimbocca di Tacchino alla Romana shown served with fresh gnocchi and pan-fried zucchini.
I’ve loved Thai cuisine since my first bite…longer ago than I care to admit. When I finally had an opportunity to visit Thailand, I vowed to try something new at every noodle cart, street vendor, and restaurant. Just when I think I’ve found my favorite — the dish that will make me give up all others — I discover another new love. In the summer, I crave the salads filled with vegetables, protein, and most importantly, flavor; they are satisfying without being heavy.
Trying to replicate Thai dishes at home scared the heck out of me, until I learned how crazy easy (and fast) they are. If you’re a fan of the chicken lettuce wraps served in Chinese restaurants, you should really try the bright flavors of Larb Gai, for a change your taste buds (and waistline) will thank you for. BTW, larb means “good fortune” in Thai, so what more excuse do you need for trying this?
One of my favorite things to make for a dinner party is paella. Traditional paella is gluten, dairy, and egg free, without having to be adapted. The leftovers taste phenomenal. Oh, and I also like the drama of unveiling the pan at the table, although I’ve only managed to keep my guests out of the kitchen while I was preparing it only once.
This week’s dinner presented a unique challenge, as two of my guests were vegan, one follows a kosher diet, and the rest were meat lovers. My heart was set on paella, though, so I thought I’d adapt my paella valencia recipe and see what happened. (I also made a traditional paella for the meat lovers.) The result – even the meat eaters enjoyed the paella vegetariana but no leftovers. 😦
Here’s a sangria to go with it, even though you’ll only find tourists drinking it with dinner in Spain.
Once you use fresh basil, it’s hard to go back to the dried stuff. For a couple of dollars, you can get far more that you could need in a week at the local farmer’s market. Ashamed that I was throwing any away, I decided to grow my own in a little planter on my kitchen window sill. But, I swear that little guy sprouts new leaves faster than I can come up with ways to use them, despite my repertoire of Italian dishes. Then I remembered Thai basil, a.k.a holy basil.
Like most Thai stir-frys, Gai Paht Bai Grapao (Chicken Stir-fried with Holy Basil) comes together so quickly that if you’re planning to serve it with rice, you’ll want to start cooking the rice before you even start prepping your ingredients for the chicken, which makes it perfect for a weeknight supper. Oh, and it uses a whole handful of basil leaves, so now you have no excuses for letting them go to waste.
Craving curry but don’t want to slave over the stove top on a hot summer day? Here’s a quick and easy tandoori paste that you can use next time you grill chicken, salmon, or tofu. Just rub it on your protein of choice and let marinate a half hour (or up to 24 hours), then grill away from direct heat. For that smoky flavor, add wood chips to the grill coals (or a handful of soaked wood chips in a foil pack with vents for you gas grill users).
Serve alongside grilled or pan roasted zucchini slices with seasoned basmati rice.
A decade ago I didn’t have a clue what a tomatillo was, but it didn’t matter. That bright, tangy, spicy sauce adorning my first chicken enchilada had me hooked at first bite. Then I saw them, hidden within their papery husks, at the local farmers market and I just had to try my hand at recreating it.
Roasted Salsa Verde
Try it on these dairy free Chicken Enchiladas!
After a long day at work, I opened the cabinet looking for inspiration only to stare blankly at a bag of polenta – boring, bland polenta. Then, I caught sight of a forgotten container of smoked Spanish paprika, and my mind began to wander back to Spain and the plates of tapas shared alongside glasses of sherry. This dish borrows those flavors.
Since this comes together in less than half an hour, it is the perfect supper escape after a marathon day at work. The flavors are so intoxicating and have such depth that I wouldn’t be afraid to entertain friends with it, pairing it with a light salad and maybe even sangria.
Ajo y Pimentón de la Vera Roasted Chicken with Shrimp and Peppers