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.


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