Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Chicken Schnitzel with Israeli Salad

While growing up, there was a strict no frying policy in my mother's kitchen. Even the smallest driblet of grease on the stovetop would provoke turmoil.

Fortunately, a few notable exceptions to this rule made my grim, fry-free childhood almost bearable.
1. Latkes on Chanukah
2. The occasional chicken schnitzel night

Like many other Israeli families, chicken schnitzel is a household staple. The dish, of course, comes from Austria, but has become wildly popular throughout Israel.

It's made with thinly pounded chicken breasts coated with "panko goodness" and then pan fried in olive oil. It's not only ridiculously tasty, but also foolproof and easy to make. It is easily one of my favorite comfort foods.

My version, adapted from an Ottolenghi recipe, is truly special. The addition of white and black sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and flax seeds to the coating takes it to the next level.

I recently featured my schnitzel recipe during my first ever cooking demonstration. The Emory Internal Medicine Residency program rented out a fantastic demonstration kitchen and invited me to host a wellness night for my co-residents.

I wanted the demo to be hands-on, so schnitzel was an obvious choice. With a little sweet talking, my peers helped me bread and fry the chicken which made for a memorable meal together.

The schnitzel was served on pita bread stuffed with homemade hummus and Israeli salad, which I made ahead of time (with the help of my friend Brandon). The sandwiches were finished off with a spoonful of harissa, a magical chili paste from North Africa.

Israeli salad, as implied by the name, is another staple of Israeli cuisine. It's a very popular breakfast salad, as well as a side salad with basically any meal. It's fantastic as is, but there's nothing better than stuffing a few spoonfuls of Israeli salad into a pita filled with schnitzel, falafel, shawarma, etc. 

The fundamental ingredients to any Israeli salad are finely diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It's the quintessential example of a Mediterranean style diet abundant in fresh vegetables. 

I like to jazz up my salad with beautiful sliced radishes and lots of chopped parsley. You can use any type of onion, but I prefer scallions to avoid any harsh flavors.

Last, I add a generous spoonful of sumac, a striking red colored spice, which adds a wonderful layer of tartness to the dish. It's definitely worth finding at any Middle Eastern market or online.

Pro tip: Dinner parties are more successful when you literally become Ina Garten
That's why in addition to planning a fabulous menu for the soiree, I broke out my finest chambray shirt and packed my favorite Le Creuset fait tout pan for the occasion. The event was delightful and a second demo is already in the works!

Speaking of Ina...

This was the medicine team that I led last month. We were assigned to Emory "Team I" which quickly became "Team Ina."

Team Ina celebrated our last day together with a photoshoot on the Grady helipad!

And check out who liked the photo of us on Instagram!


Israeli Salad

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Israeli Salad

  • Make Israeli salad your own by adding other fresh ingredients
    • Radishes, carrots, scallions, fresh herbs, leafy greens, etc
    • Bell peppers are popular, but I'm NOT a fan. I find them overpowering and unpleasant
  • Choose bright and fragrant vegetables for best results. Local and seasonal is a plus.
  • Persian cucumbers are ideal
    • Seedless, mini "burpless" cucumbers have a thin, edible skin. So don't peel them!
    • Crisper and more flavorful than slicing and pickling cucumbers
    • I get them from Trader Joe's. I haven't found them at my Whole Foods or farmers market.
    • Can be substituted with small English cucumbers
  • The vegetables should be very small and uniformly diced. There are misinformed (sad) people that prefer larger chunks, but meh.
  • Please don't omit the sumac. It truly elevates the dish. I'll happily find you some if necessary!
  • Za'atar, another wonderful Arab spice, is made with Sumac. Try it on your breakfast salads.

Israeli Salad Ingredients

  • 2 Roma tomatoes (0.5 pounds), seeded and diced
  • 3 Persian cucumbers (0.3 pounds), diced
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cups finely chopped Italian parsley (0.7 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Israeli Salad Recipe

Dicing the Vegetables

Step 1: Cut into strips lengthwise
Cut each whole cucumber in half lengthwise. Next, cut each halved cucumber in half lengthwise. Again, cut each quartered cucumber in half lengthwise, making a total of 8 thin slices per cucumber.

Step 2: Cut crosswise
In batches, align the cucumber slices and cut crosswise to dice small.

Step 1: Core and deseed
Cut the top off each tomato to remove the stem. Cut each tomato in half lengthwise. Cut out the inner seeds and core of the tomato leaving just the outer shell.

Step 2: Cut into strips lengthwise
Place each tomato shell cut-side down and slice lengthwise into thin strips roughly the size of the cucumbers.

Step 3: Cut crosswise
Align the strips and then cut crosswise to form a small dice.

Swish parsley bunch in bowl of water. Allow dirt to settle. Repeat until water is clear. Shake parsley to dry. With a sharp knife, shave leaves off the stem. Pick out any remaining thick stems, but the thin branches attached to leaves are fine.

Gather leaves together and slice roughly, moving across the cutting board. Re-gather leaves. With one hand, hold the tip of the knife in place on the cutting board. Grip the knife handle with the other hand and rock the knife up and down, moving down the cutting board. Repeat until fine.

Wash really well as dirt hides within the hallow green leaves. Align the scallion bulbs. Thinly slice the white and light green parts crosswise.

Trim off the top and bottom of the radish. Then, thinly slice the radish to make small circles. You may also use your mandoline.

The Dressing

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, sumac, kosher salt, and a few generous grinds of freshly ground black pepper. While whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl. Set aside.

The Salad

In a large salad bowl, gently combine the diced tomatoes and cucumbers with the scallions, radishes, and parsley. Pour the dressing mixture over the salad and toss till combined. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Season to taste with more salt, pepper and sumac.

Chicken Schnitzel

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Chicken Schnitzel

  • Using white meat chicken and olive oil does not magically transform (glorified) fried chicken into a superfood
    • But this comfort food can certainly exist within a heart healthy diet if enjoyed in moderation
    • Be sure to fill the majority of your plate with salad and hummus
    • Cooking in olive oil limits "bad" fats, but all fats are high in calories. Not ideal for weight loss
  • To make a great schnitzel-pita, use a generous amount of hummus, a few spoonfuls of salad, and definitely worth finding some harissa
  • Thin strips of chicken are essential for crispy schnitzel
    • Butterflying involves slicing chicken in half horizontally to maintain a uniform thickness
    • Pounding involves thwacking the chicken with a smooth surfaced mallet or pan to a desired thickness
  • Use a quality frying pan, such as a cast iron enamel skillet from Le Creuset
    • A well constructed pan will distribute heat uniformly, browning the chicken more evenly
    • Heavy bottom pans are less likely to scorch
  • Olive oil has a low smoking point and needs close monitoring
  • Clean out your pan and replace the frying oil after every few batches. Otherwise, bits and pieces of breading will accumulate and burn
  • Designate wet and dry hand for dredging
    • Use the left hand for handling dry ingredients (before dipping in egg)
    • Right hand transfers egged items

Chicken Schnitzel Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast (1.5 to 2 pounds)
  • 1 cup flower plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1.5 cups plain panko bread crumbs plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons of white sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of black sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of golden flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Olive oil for frying

Chicken Schnitzel Recipe

Butterflying and Pounding the Chicken

Lay the chicken breast on the cutting board. If the chicken is very thick, you can butterfly the breast prior to pounding step. To butterfuly: With the knife edge parallel to the cutting board, start at the thickest point and slice through the thickness of the chicken, cutting it in half widthwise until almost at the other end (about 1/2 inch away). "Open" the breast like a book.

Working one piece at a time, place an "open" chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Using a mallet (smooth surface) or the bottom of a heavy frying pan, pound the chicken until just under 1/2 inch thick throughout. Cut each breast into 2 or 3 strips and set aside.

Dredging the Chicken

Line up three wide, shallow bowls. In the first bowl, place the flower seasoned with salt and pepper. In the second bowl, lightly beat the eggs. In the third bowl, combine the panko, kosher salt, white and black sesame seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and cayenne pepper. Mix well.

Lightly season both sides of chicken with kosher salt and pepper. Working with one chicken at a time, dredge both sides in flour and shake off excess. Next, dip the floured chicken in the beaten eggs, turning to coat evenly. Finally, place both sides of chicken in panko mixture, pressing down gently so that breading adheres to the chicken. Set aside on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Pan-Frying the Chicken

Pour about 1/2 cup of olive oil in a large skillet until it's deep enough for frying (about 1/2 inch deep) and heat over medium-high heat. Oil should sizzle on contact with the chicken, but is too hot if smoking or splattering.

Fry the chicken in small batches, flipping until evenly golden brown (3-5 minutes per side). Place on paper towel and pat dry to absorb excess oil. Set aside and continue cooking chicken in batches.

Finally, season to taste with salt and pepper and splash with lemon juice and serve hot. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon wedges.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fassoulia: White Bean & Tomato Stew

Happy New Year...

Or more appropriately, Mutlu yıllar! (It's Turkish).

"My hairdresser says that everything this year is going to be Turkish..."

Hmm...I think someone may need a new hairdresser. As much as I love flamboyant feather hats and all things Turkish, my first recipe of 2017 is actually Arabic. So, kul 'am wa antum bikhair (happy new year to all). Let's travel (first class, obviously) to the Middle East for a gastronomic exploration of Fassoulia. A childhood favorite.

"Fassou-what?" you ask...


TheMDChef Culinary Dictionary
Pronunciation: [FA-SOOL-YA], /ɸαśʉḷʎα/

Etymology: Latin phaseolus borrowed from ancient Greek φάσηλος (fasilos)

1.    فاصوليا  (Arabic): A bean, green bean, haricot bean, string bean
Like other members of the legume family, Fassoulia is a staple of a heart healthy Mediterranean style diet.
2.     Magnificent stew made from beans, tomato and spices
"Fassoulia is popular throughout the Mediterranean, especially countries like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, and Libya."

Fassoulia literally means "bean" in Arabic, which by no coincidence is the main ingredient in the stew bearing the same name. Variations of this bean and tomato dish are enjoyed by numerous countries along the Mediterranean. Lima beans, for example, are commonly used in Lebanon, whereas green beans and white beans are used in Armenia and Syria, respectively. Spices also vary by region and may include garlic, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon. Chicken or beef is often added for a more substantial dish.

As Libyan Jews, we use Great Northern beans and boeuf. It's the quintessential cold weather comfort. It's how my family survived the bleak Jersey winters. Waking up every Saturday morning to the savory aroma of tomatoes and spices simmering for hours was hypnotizing. I'd spend those mornings camped out in the kitchen like a desperate puppy awaiting the opportune moment to sneak a taste when my mother was distracted.

Fassoulia remains my favorite winter staple despite living in the south. After six years, I've learned that "Hotlanta" is a cruel misnomer. "What-da-haale-lanta" if you ask me. It can be high 60's and sunny one day and then abruptly turn bitter cold and rainy the next.

While I never know whether to wear short sleeves or an oversized, fur-lined parka, my pantry is always stocked with the simple ingredients needed for Fassoulia...

Yes, my meticulous spice collection is excessive and meshugana, but don't fret. Even if you can't live up to Ina Garten and my ridiculous "basic" pantry standards, you can easily get all the ingredients at your local market.

It reheats well and tastes better and better as it sits, so it's a perfect stew to make ahead for the week. It's also straightforward to make and forgiving. Sure, the beans require soaking overnight, but it's worth it.

I love this dish and I want you to love it too. Fassoulia is a brilliant example of a dish that is both heart-healthy AND heart-warming. Legumes, such as white beans, are a staple of a Mediterranean style diet which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

My family traditionally makes this dish with flanken, a glorious cut of short ribs butchered across the bone. It's a luxurious cut of meat for stews and worth trying for a special occasion. I usually substitute the flanken for beef chuck, which tends to be leaner and a bit healthier, but will still melt in your mouth!

Tips/Tricks to Make Perfect Fassoulia:
  • The meat simmers for about an hour prior to adding the beans. Think of this as a spa treatment for your special cut of beef. Check that the meat is already fairly tender prior to adding your beans.
  • This dish is best made a day ahead. The longer it sits, the richer the flavor will be.
  • It tastes wonderful as a standalone stew, but also great over rice or couscous.
  • Use a cast iron enamel dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, or another heavy bottomed stew pot to avoid your stew from burning 
  • Experiment with your flavors. My family traditionally uses cumin, cayenne and garlic. I like to add turmeric and cinnamon as well and finish each bowl with freshly squeezed lemon juice for some acidity.  

Fassoulia Ingredients:
  • 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1.5 pounds chuck beef, cut into 1.5 to 2-inch chunks
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cup dried Great Northern beans, soaked overnight and drained (should be around 2.5 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne papper (optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cilantro, roughly chopped (for serving)
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (for serving)

Fassoulia Recipe:
In a medium sized dutch oven or stockpot, sauté the onions over medium heat for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 more minutes till onions are translucent.

Dry the beef cubes with a paper towel and sprinkle all sides with kosher salt. Add the meat and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Add the 8 cups of water. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until meat has softened (~1 hour). Skim off any surface foam while cooking.

Add the white beans, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, tomato paste, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne (if using). Bring to a boil over over medium-high heat, reduce heat and simmer covered for 2 hours.

Remove lid and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue simmering uncovered until beans and meat are soft and tender, respectively, and the stew reaches desired thickness.

When ready to serve, add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice to each bowl and finish with a generous amount of cilantro.

Enjoy as a soup or serve with rice, couscous, ptitim (Israeli couscous), or crusty bread.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Potage Parmentier - Potato Leek Soup

Just take a moment to appreciate Julia Child in all her glory as she introduces "The Chicken Sisters": Ms. Fryer, Ms. Broiler, Ms. Roaster, Ms. Caponette, Ms. Stewer and old Madam Hen.

She'll forever be a culinary icon through her captivating TV presence on The French Chef and brilliant cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But I have a confession...

I had never even heard of Julia Child while growing up. It's embarrassing, but unfortunately not my worst offense linked to a sheltered upbringing. I began noticing these lapses in my awareness of pop culture while an undergrad at Hopkins trying to relate to my peers. Yes it was painful at times, but I didn't let my crippling phobia of pop culture get me down...

I simply avoided "trivia nights" and perfected the art of strategic nodding and calculated laughter to hide these deficits.

Fortunately, I learn quickly. I discovered the world of Julia Child and was lovestruck by her quirky charisma and talent. I'm paying homage to the beloved French Chef with my take on her classic recipe, Potage Parmentier, aka potato and leek soup.

You may remember that my last blog post shared some strong opinions about homemade chicken stock. It's an essential part of making a great soup. I stand by that. We must demand the best ingredients for our soup recipes. Store bought stock is not the best. Believe me.

I Never Said That

On the contrary, certain soups taste better using just plain water. Like many of Julia's recipes, she transforms very simple ingredients, leeks and potatoes in this case, into elegant French cuisine. Using chicken stock or other pungent ingredients can easily overpower the delicate flavors of the vegetables, which is why I sometimes prefer water.  Of course, Julia said it best..."The beauty of French soups, and I think a lot of people misunderstand them, is that when you use fresh ingredients, you don't want to disguise their taste."

With that being said, no consensus was reached in a side by side comparison. I found this to be largely personal preference. Regardless of which you prefer, both variations are flavorful and develop into a thick, creamy soup due to the starchiness of the potatoes. No dairy or added fats required! This plant based soup is a great addition to a Mediterranean style diet, helping to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. BONUS - add a dollop of Greek yogurt for protein, extra creaminess and a nice tang.

How to Prepare Leeks:
Leeks require thorough cleaning as dirt tends to get trapped within the layers.
Below is a step by step guide for slicing and washing leeks.

Step 1: Remove dark green tops and hairy, tough bottoms. (May save these for future stocks)

Step 2 Cut each leek in half, lengthwise.

Step 3: Cut each leek-half into thirds lengthwise, keeping the very end intact

Step 4: Thinly slice each leek-half, crosswise

Step 5: Submerge in cold water and wash thoroughly. Repeat as needed. Set aside.

Potage Parmentier - Potato Leek Soup
Tips/Tricks to Make Perfect Potato Leek Soup:
  • Get creative. I chose this recipe because it's the base of several other classic French soups and would be a great foundation for your own creations.
    • Try adding in other vegetables: Carrots, broccoli, etc
    • I made a version with 3 cups of blanched arugula that I added to the potato and leeks just before pureeing. 
  • If you're pregnant, have the man flu, don't need no man, or just weak souled and crave a little bit more fat, just go for it.
    • Remember, moderation is part of a healthy lifestyle. Aim to make smart choices most the time
    • Take the soup off the heat (to prevent curdling) and add a few tablespoons of milk, butter or cream just prior to serving.
  • Experiment with different textures
    • Use a food processor for a homogenous, finely pureed soup
    • Try a food mill (my preference) which also creates a homogenous soup, with slightly more texture. Plus, it's fun to operate. 
    • For a chunky soup, just mash the potatoes a bit with a fork

Potato and Leek Soup Ingredients:
  • 4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (about 2 large or 4 regular sized leeks)
  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and roughly diced (abut 4-5 cups)
  • 7 cups water (or chicken stock)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Greek yogurt (optional for serving)
  • Chives or Parsley, chopped (optional for garnish)

Potato and Leek Soup Recipe:
Heat olive oil in medium dutch oven or pot. Sauté the leeks over medium heat for 6-8 minutes till soft, but not browned. Mix in the potatoes and water or chicken stock.

Bring to a boil. Simmer partially uncovered for 40-50 minutes, till the vegetables are soft. In batches, run soup through a food mill or food processor. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Garnish with fresh herbs and yogurt, if desired. Enjoy