Monday, August 29, 2016

Roast Chicken with Green Olives and Dates

I had planned to post on here a lot more often this past month while on my Cardiology research elective, but I clearly angered some dark spirits who had other plans. Never in all my days have I experienced such an unfortunate series of (technologic) events, from a computer that passed rather suddenly of unknown etiology to a car repair with unexpected delays (thank gaaawd for Uber). Seriously, there are few things more aggravating than hours of futile phone calls begging to the least incompetent store "manager" available about getting my computer back from repair abyss. Although annoying, these problems are trivial and I remind myself of my many good fortunes.

[Insert seamless transition to chicken recipe]...nah. Won't even attempt to disguise this rant as an introduction to the recipe. Just needed to vent.

Sooo...chicken. Surely I'm not the only health conscious person with a perception of baked chicken as dry and rubbery. Whether cooking it at home or ordering it off a restaurant menu, chicken far too often elicits this feeling much like when you agree to a mediocre...err, movie for Netflix and chill. Regret. With so many busts, I treasure when chicken recipes are satisfying and truly orgasmic. This is one of them.

They say there are two types of men in this world. I'm admittedly...well, let's just say I'm pleased that this recipe uses the meaty thighs and legs of the bird. Yes, breast meat is a bit leaner and "healthier," but if you dislike it, what's the point? A sustainable diet must be balanced and absolutely requires that you love your food. That's exactly what this Yotam Ottolenghi creation delivers.

Like most Ottolenghi recipes, the ingredients are unexpected, brilliant and bursting with flavor. Like seriously, who would think chicken marinated in a mixture of dates, green olives, capers, oregano, wine and date syrup would be so magical?!  And the best part, it's foolproof!

Though the recipe may seem intimidating with long marinating times (48 hours) and exotic ingredients (date syrup), it's actually very simple. I found date syrup at my local Whole Foods, but it's also readily available on Amazon. (So no excuses)! As for the marinade, a little foreplay goes a long way. I promise. Just massage the mixture into your chicken thighs and allow it to sit in the fridge for a couple of days. This dish is perfect for cooks of all levels, from first timers to experienced. It is guaranteed to wow your dinner guests and leave them gossiping about last night.

Tips/Tricks to Make Perfect Roast Chicken with Green Olives and Dates:
  • Use good wine that you enjoy drinking. You only need 1/2 cup, then serve the rest with dinner!
  • Plan ahead and let the chicken marinate for 48 hours. (24 hours minimum).
  • Make extra. You'll want leftovers.
  • Cook the chicken with the skin left on (it will keep everything moist and flavorful), but avoid eating the skin (it's high in saturated fat and cholesterol).
  • Have fun mixing different olives. Sneak some samples at the olive bar and pick your favorites! 

Roast Chicken with Green Olives and Dates Ingredients:
  • 6-8 chicken leg quarters, skin on
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 15 grams oregano leaves, torn (plus extra for garnish)
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 100 grams pitted green olives
  • 60 grams capers
  • 2 tablespoons caper juice
  • 70 grams pitted Medjoul dates, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon blanc, Pinot grigio, Albarino)
  • 1 tablespoon date syrup
  • Kosher salt and pepper 

Roast Chicken with Green Olives and Dates Recipe:
Two days prior to serving:
In a non-reactive bowl, mix together all the ingredients, except the white wine and date syrup. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper and mix well.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 48 hours, mixing occasionally.

One hour prior to serving:
Preheat oven to 355 F.

Spread the chicken quarters and marinade onto a large baking tray. In a separate bowl, whisk together the white wine and date syrup and then pour over the chicken.

Place in the oven and cook for 50 minutes, basting 2-3 times until the skin is a beautiful golden brown and the chicken is cooked through.

Remove from oven. Transfer to a serving platter, if desired. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and enjoy.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Hummus is a spread made from chickpeas blended with tahini that is immensely popular throughout the Middle East. In Israel, it's everywhere. It is literally served at all times of the day as a delicious dip for pita bread or vegetables, a condiment for sandwiches, or my favorite, straight off a spoon (don't you juuudge me). The best part is it's an excellent source of fiber, protein, and good fat as part of a heart healthy Mediterranean style diet (read more on that here).

Thanks to brands such as Sabra, hummus has become mainstream in America and can be easily found at the grocery store. Sure, there are some pretty good brands of hummus on the market (if you're a basic bitch), but if you have not had homemade hummus you are missing out. It's life changing.

Families across Israel take tremendous pride in their hummus recipe and claim to have the best version...

They clearly have not tried mine.

But the truth is, everyone likes hummus slightly differently. Some prefer bits of intact chickpeas left in their hummus for added texture while others want it perfectly smooth. There are also varying degrees of garlic, lemon, and spice. I am personally in the perfectly smooth camp and I mean smooooth. I am also a minimalist and expect hummus to taste like chickpeas with just subtle notes of tahini, lemon, garlic and cumin. My hummus is adapted from a family recipe with inspiration from Jerusalem by my culinary idol Ottolenghi. He uses baking soda to help break down the chickpeas tough outer layer.

What the...Tahini
Before I get to the recipe, just a few words on this essential hummus ingredient. Tahini is a paste made from roasted sesame seeds and is what gives hummus its distinct nutty and creamy qualities. It most commonly comes in a jar, bottle or can and can be labeled as "tahini" or "tahina." They are equivalent. But not all tahini is created equally. There is definitely differences to taste, consistency and overall quality across brands. If this ingredient is foreign to you, it may be difficult (but is so important) to identify a quality tahini for your hummus. Try searching for products online with great reviews or find a Middle Eastern specialty store and ask for help. Otherwise just experiment with products till you find one you love. The tahini consistency should be slightly thinner than peanut butter, and similar to natural peanut butter, the oil separates and rises to the top. You must mix your tahini really well before using.

Tips/Tricks to Make Perfectly Creamy Hummus:
  • Due to the simplicity of hummus, the highest quality ingredients are needed
  • Each brand of chickpeas, olive oil, tahini vary in taste and texture, so it is important to taste as you go and don't be afraid to make adjustments 
  • Hummus thickens as it cools, so save some of the reserved cooking liquid in case you need to thin the hummus the next day. But resist temptations to over thin the hummus. 
  • Add ice to the reserved cooking liquid to chill it before combining with the other hummus ingredients for a lighter, fluffier end result.  
  • Place a layer of plastic wrap directly over the hummus to prevent an unappetizing crusty layer from forming
  • If serving the next day, allow hummus to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to eating 
Hummus Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cups dried chickpeas (250 g), soaked in water overnight (or at least 12 hours)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/3 cup really good olive oil + extra to serve
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt + more to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice + more to taste 
  • 1/2 cup reserved chickpea cooking water, chilled with a handful of ice cubes (see below)
  • Paprika for garnish
  • Parsley, chopped for garnish

Hummus Recipe:
The night (or at least 12 hours) before, soak the dried chickpeas in plenty of cold water.  Drain the chickpeas.
Note, the dried chickpeas should roughly double in size after soaking (mine went from 250 g/1.25 cups  to 483 grams/3.5 cups)

Heat a saucepan over high heat. Add the chickpeas and baking soda and mix constantly for 3 minutes. Add 6.5 cups of water and bring to a rapid boil. Skim off any foam or chickpea skins that float to the top. Reduce heat slightly to maintain a gentle boil and cook chickpeas till soft. The chickpeas are done when easily squished between your fingertips. (Mine were perfect at 25 minutes, but depending on your chickpeas it may take 20 to 40 minutes, or longer).

Drain the chickpeas, setting aside 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Add a handful of ice cubes to the reserved cooking liquid to chill.

Place the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse until completely broken down and a thick paste is formed. Use a spoon to scrape down the edges if needed.

Add the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin, and salt. Blend till well combined (about 1 minute).  While continuing to blend, slowly add 1/3 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Blend for 2 minutes (yes two entire minutes).

Stop and check the consistency of your hummus. Add more of the reserved cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reached the desired consistency. (I add about 3 tablespoons). If you stick your finger through the hummus, your imprint should remain. Blend for an additional 1-2 minutes until the hummus is fluffy and very smooth.

Taste the hummus and adjust the flavors with extra lemon juice and salt if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. (Keep covered with plastic wrap to prevent crusting). 

When ready to eat, use a spoon to form a crater through the hummus and pour in flavorful olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika and chopped parsley. Serve with vegetables or pita bread.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Spicy Tripolitan Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha

One of the biggest sacrifices I've made during residency is the time apart from family and loved ones. Though we have a rather high level of baseline dysfunction, I adore my family and cherish the time I can spend with them. What I miss the most is definitely our weekly Friday night shabbat dinners. For those who have never celebrated, shabbat is a Jewish holiday that occurs every week, from Friday evening until sundown on Saturday. Like other holidays, religious or secular, there are lots of family traditions, many related to food. (Obviously...This is a food blog).

Shabbat Challah
Salmon in Chriameh Sauce 
Matzo Ball Soup
Stuffed Artichoke with Peas & Dill 
"Traditional" Beef Tbeha
Saffron Rice w/ Barberries & Pistachios

Before we move on, I need to give a shoutout to my beautiful mother.  Whether cooking just for herself and my father or for the times when a giant table needs to be set up in the foyer to accommodate everyone, she makes a lavish feast each and every week. My over the top approach to entertaining and the need to throw elaborate dinner parties certainly comes from my mother, though I take it to extremes that we won't discuss here.

Radiant inside and out
My lovely parents and a makeshift table set in the foyer

Anyone who attends a shabbat dinner, or really any holiday meal with my family will likely overeat, drink one (probably two) glasses of wine too many...perhaps even break out into spontaneous song and dance. We *always have a great time. (*That of course omits any memories of the many family fights, yelling matches, table flipping, and meltdowns. Nope, none of that in my sugar-coated fairytale family).

For me, what truly embodies shabbat, and can instantly bring me back home...sitting with my parents and siblings at the dining room a bowl of my family's signature Libyan stew, better known as tbeha (pictured above). Tbeha is actually a broad term for many stews from Tripoli, where my family is from. But the version my family makes week after week (since before I was born) is made with flanken, sweet and white potatoes, and green beans cooked in a slightly sweet and spicy tomato sauce seasoned with baharat (Middle Eastern spice blend) as well as hot and sweet paprika. Served over couscous. It's amazing (and definitely a future blog post).

My sister doesn't eat red meat, so my mom make a second tbeha every week using chicken. She uses boneless chicken thighs that most butchers can prepare, but I just use thighs and legs still on the bone. The vegetables in the chicken version are usually the same as the beef tbeha, but during the summer I enjoy putting a seasonal twist on the dish. I made this tbeha with potato, zucchini, chickpeas, English peas, and haricot vert. Serve it over wholewheat couscous to complete this heart healthy, well balanced, and ridiculously delicious meal.

Chicken and vegetable tbeha
Shabbat feast

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha:
  • Make sure you have a good quality, large (at least 8 quart) pot with a lid. 
    • If your pot is too small, the food won't cook evenly and the bottom may burn. 
    • The stew may also overflow and spill all over your stove and counters. (Flashback to college..It's a huge mess).
  •   You can find baharat online or at specialty markets, but if you have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, it's really easy to blend yourself.
  • The chicken on the bone tends to fall apart easily
    •  Minimize stirring while cooking. Instead, shake the pot back and forth to mix. 
    • Also, be careful while serving. To serve, you may find it easier to transfer the top layers of vegetables to a different bowl so that you can more easily access the chicken.
    • If you prefer chicken without skin or bones, you can have your butcher cut you boneless, skinless chicken thighs. White meat will dry out. 
  • The recipe as written is mild. I prefer it hotter.
    • For a spicier dish, adjust the proportions of sweet to hot paprika.
    • Add more hot and less sweet paprika for a nice kick
  • Use fresh ingredients when possible
    • It's okay to use frozen peas
    • Don't use frozen haricot vert or green beans. Better to omit the ingredient. 
    • I use canned chickpeas, but dried are also great after soaking overnight. 
  • Make plenty of couscous and pour generous amount of tbeha sauce on each plate. 

Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha Ingredients:
  • 4 pounds chicken legs and thighs, fat trimmed
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste 
  • 1.5 tablespoons (plus extra) sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons (plus extra) hot paprika
  • 1.5 tablespoons (plus extra) baharat (recipe follows)
  • 3 Yukon Gold or all-purpose potatoes, pealed, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise in halves or thirds
  • 2 zucchinis, peeled and cut into chunks roughly the size of the potato pieces 
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black paper
  • 1(15.5 oz) can salt free chickpeas (or 1/4 pound dried chickpeas, soaked overnight), drained 
    • May add up to 2 cans chickpeas (or 1/2 pound dried and soaked), if desired. 
  • 1 pound green peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2/3 to 1 pound haricot vert (or green beans), ends trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Couscous (for serving)

Baharat Spice Blend:
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 small cinnamon stick, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 whole nutmeg, grated

Combine the baharat ingredients in a spice grinder and grind finely. Store in an airtight container.

Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha Recipe:
Heat olive oil in a large pot (at least 8 quart capacity) over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste followed by sweet paprika, hot paprika, and baharat. Add 2 cups of water, mixing until well combined. Layer the chicken on top of the tomato sauce. Next add the potatoes followed by the zucchini. Add enough water to just barely cover the the vegetables, about 4 cups. Add 1.5 tablespoon of kosher salt and a pinch of black pepper. Bring to a gentle boil and cook covered for 30 minutes.

Add the chickpeas, green peas, parsley, 1/4 tablespoon hot paprika, 1/4 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1/4 tablespoon baharat, and 1/4 tablespoon kosher salt. Mix gently by shaking the pot back and forth till combined. Taste sauce and add more salt as needed. Add a layer of haricot vert to the simmering stew, making sure each bean is at least partially submerged in sauce. Do not overfill the pot.

Bring the sauce back to a boil, then lower heat and simmer partially covered until the vegetables are soft, about 1 hour. Shake the pot occasionally to mix.  Carefully serve tbeha over couscous.  Avoid over mixing or digging deep into the stew to prevent breaking apart the chicken and making "chop suey" out of the vegetables.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Green Peas

Thank you, thank you for all the mazal tovs, warm wishes, and gifts off my Williams Sonoma wish list. For those who haven't heard, or perhaps "forgot" to send a gift *eye roll*...I'm pregnant! Well, at least I've been telling myself that over the past month to rationalize my insatiable cravings for coconut curry. This delusional state is nothing more than a giant bowl of cognitive-coping-mechanism ice cream with denial sprinkled on top. Though a growing belly may corroborate my story, my Amex bill is incriminating. I very seldom order takeout, so spending over 300 dollars last month on this Indian addiction is unfathomable.

Given my recent ob...esity..session, I've been motivated to make this dish at home. I sort of took the shotgun approach of buying any and every Indian/Thai/Asian sounding ingredient I could find (curry leaves, tamarind, lemongrass, chiles, coconut milk, coriander, fennel, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek, star anise, fish sauce, etc) and explored numerous flavor combinations. After weeks in the test kitchen, I am very excited to share this recipe.

A few take aways from the trial and error...
1) I'm out of control sometimes.
2) Tamarind and curry leaves are great additions to certain curry recipes, but not this one.
3) Eggplant, even if it's cute and "Asian," can ruin a dish. It doesn't work well with fish.
4) Many recipes use store bought curry paste, but that's not what I, Ina Garten, am about.

The final product was a a true success. The dish is luscious, seductive and so gratifying. I created a flavorful curry using freshly ground spices and good ingredients. The sauce acquires a welcoming heat from the chiles and cayenne, but is balanced by the sweetness of fresh peas and acidity from the lime juice. I also use fish sauce, a salty extract made from fermented anchovies, that cultivates the rich, umami flavor of the curry. The fish is rubbed in turmeric and then gently poached in the curry till it's cooked to perfection.

Though I'm partial to salmon, this curry is versatile and can transform any fish into a memorable meal. I've tried it with salmon and cod and both were delightful. I had my friend Brandon over for dinner last night and we enjoyed this wonderful dish served over basmati rice steamed with Indian spices. We paired the dish with a slightly sweet, fruity white wine that worked well against the heat of the curry.

One final thought before getting to the recipe. A lot of the food I share clearly fits within the parameters of a Mediterranean "heart healthy" diet. This dish, however, does not...It uses coconut oil and coconut milk, both somewhat controversial "health" foods because of their high calorie counts and significant levels of saturated fat. In general, the American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption of saturated fats as they can elevated cholesterol levels, which may increase the risk of developing heart disease.

So why does Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and most health food store promote coconut oil? Well, it's not entirely clear to me. The saturated fats from coconut oil are made of medium chain triglycerides, which are supposedly metabolized differently than other "bad" fats. I'm skeptical, but perhaps....A quick PubMed search led me to some small studies showing that coconut oil does raise cholesterol, including LDL (bad cholesterol). On the other hand, epidemiological studies did not find a clear association between coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular disease. Is there some magical properties in coconuts that transform the "bad" fats into "okay" or even "good" fat? Err...Don't think the evidence supports that, but better studies are needed. What is clear, though, is that coconut milk is ridiculously delicious. It warms my <3 with love and joy. Just be sure to enjoy it in moderation.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas:
  • **Fresh lemongrass is preferable for this recipe. Unfortunately, it was out of stock, so I substituted dry for fresh lemongrass.
    • For fresh lemongrass, use 1 or 2 stalks, tough outer layer removed. Combine the bottom 1/3 of each stalk with the other wet ingredients.
    • For dry lemongrass, use 1 tablespoon with the other dry ingredients.
  • For best results serve the curry over basmati rice, preferably steamed with Indian spices
    • Consider adding 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, and a couple of cardamom pods to the rice as it cooks. The rice will be aromatic and develop a subtle, but magnificent depth of flavor to compliment the curry. 
  • If your fish filet has thick and thin parts, considering cutting the fish into thicker cubes/slices and thinner ones. You can add the thinner pieces into the cooking liquid a few minutes after the thicker portions.  
  • The curry tastes even better the next day! Be sure not to dry out your fish.
    • Consider making the sauce a day ahead, but cook the fish when ready to eat!
    • Alternatively, keep the fish partly undercooked as it will continue to cook in the sauce well after being removed from the heat. 
  • Taste as you go. There is definitely variability depending on your ingredients, so trust yourself and adjust the flavors till it's perfect 

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Ingredients:
Fish Ingredients:
  • 1.25 to 1.5 pounds salmon (or firm white fish), skin removed, cubed or sliced into 3 oz portions
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • Kosher salt, about 1 teaspoon for salmon or a scant teaspoon for white fish
Wild cod filet with turmeric and kosher salt. *Note, most the other photos are using salmon 

Wet Curry Paste Ingredients:
  • 5 medium  shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 3 Thai green chiles, stems removed and partially seeded (add more seeds for spicier curry)
  • 1 New Mexico dried chile, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes then stem removed
  • 1-2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tough outer layer removed, then use bottom 1/3 of each stalk**

Dry Curry Paste Ingredients:
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dry lemongrass** (Only if fresh is unavailable)

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Other Ingredients: 
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 (13.5 oz) cans coconut milk, preferably a Thai/Asian brand
  • Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon + more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 cup fresh shelled green peas (or frozen if unavailable) 
  • Cilantro, rinsed and chopped for garnish

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Recipe: 
In a large mixing bowl, rub the fish with turmeric and salt. Set aside in the fridge for at least 15 minutes or until ready to use.

Using a spice grinder, blend the dry ingredients together into powder. (Alternatively, crush the dry ingredients bar the kaffir lime and bay leaves with a mortar and pestle. Combine with the leaves, finely chopped). Set spice blend aside. 

Using a food processor, blend the wet ingredients together, adding 3 to 4 tablespoons of water as needed to form a paste. 

Heat 1.5 tablespoon of coconut oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan or braiser. Add the wet mix and cook on medium high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and fish sauce. Cook until all the moisture evaporates and the paste takes on a golden/red color, about 2-3 minutes.

Add 1.5 tablespoons of coconut oil, 2 tablespoons of the dry spice blend, cayenne pepper, and turmeric. Cook over low heat until well mixed and aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, stirring till well combined, then add kosher salt and lime juice. Simmer till the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Taste along the way, seasoning with more salt, black pepper (and cayenne if too mild) to taste.

Once ready to serve, bring the sauce to a gentle boil and add the green peas and salmon pieces. Cook uncovered, frequently basting the fish (if not already completely submerged in sauce), until the peas soften and the fish is at the desired doneness, about 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately over rice.