run for it green chili

On an afternoon last month that could have frozen a habanero, I sipped coffee with an old friend. She’s a loving and assiduous mother, and one of the most compassionate peopleI know. She’s one of those friends who makes you miss have friends near who know you like that. One of those friends who makes you wish coffee was free and decaf better-tasting and diamond-clear Winnipeg afternoons 3 hours longer.

One of those friends whose hunger for your company makes you feel like the most interesting person in the world.

It was almost January. The promise of a new year had filled us with hope — however negligible these flips of the calendar are. Gingerly, she placed her own goal onto the pile we’d amassed between our white mugs: she was going to start running. I was instructed not to tell the world; she wanted to do this in small, private steps, until she’d proven to herself that she could.

The other day we spoke again, this time over the phone. It had been a month, and unlike so many other hopeful new runners, she’d stuck with it. She’d joined a new runner’s group, and day after fridgid -30 day, melted those snowy roads with perseverance.

We caught up. We talked about things friends talk about: love, mornings, naps, looking ahead and looking back.  Oh yes, and running. I did my best to respond to her questions. Good shoes are indispensable. Everything’s better in the spring. Pain is normal, but also a red flag. You’re in control of your form, your stride, your attitude. Make sure to get enough protein.

I told her I would dedicate my next recipe to that last one, and here it is.

From a cookbook I picked up the other day (when I was supposed to be buying a textbook), this soup is the perfect chili-soup hybrid. It roils with the taste of crushed coriander and cumin seeds, punctuating this grey season with its four-fold green. Whether you choose the original or a vegetarian modification, this soup delivers protein in at least two delicious forms: with quinoa, beans, and chicken (if you choose) you athletes out there really can’t go wrong.

When friends are too far to measure out afternoons in coffee spoons, soup spoons are a worthy substitute.

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under african skies

With my folks heading into the ‘Cuse tomorrow, I’m going to have to take the weekend off from food blogging. I’ve already spent a good deal of time stocking the apartment with “aren’t you proud of me?” treats, like this and these — special requests from mama.) Despite a little bit of stress sneaking in as I contemplate cooking for the greatest cook I know, I can’t wait to feed the old birds.

There are millions of other delicious food sites out there to sustain you in my absence. In case you do notice my three day hiatus however, I’ve decided to leave you with two yummy dishes: Baked Chicken in Peanut sauce, and Libyan Lentil Salad.

I had the pleasure of cooking an African-themed meal for friends last weekend. It was a special request, in the form of a plaintive “I’ve never tried African food” spoken weeks earlier. Though I’ve only been to the continent once, I was happy to take on the responsibility of educating her on its vast culinary landscape.

Actually, I just zeroed in on dishes from Sierra Leone and Libya from World Hearth, an International cooking site I’d recently discovered. So next time someone says to you “I’ve never tried Uzbekian food,” you can raise your well-traveled eyebrow and proclaim, “well I’ll just have to make you my famous Kiimali Mashkichiri sometime soon.” Thanks to World Hearth, panic won’t be your side dish.

Sierra Leonean Baked Chicken in Peanut Sauce

serves 4

3 Tbsp cooking oil

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (tofu could be substituted here)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 fresh medium-sized red tomatoes, chopped

1 medium red or green pepper, chopped

6 3” okra fruits, sliced into 1/2” pieces

2 small-medium jalepeno peppers, finely minced

1 tsp thyme

1 medium bay leaf

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp cumin seeds or powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 cup peanut butter, warmed slightly for mixing

3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock

16 ounces green beans

  1. Saute chicken in oil until browned, but still pink inside. Remove and arrange in a single layer in a glass (or other oven-proof) baking dish.* Add onions and garlic to pan and saute for 5 minutes. Add thyme, bay leaf, salt, cumin, cayenne and black pepper. Add tomatoes, bell pepper, okra and jalepeno. Saute for 8 minutes.
  2. Mix peanut butter with chicken stock until smooth. Pour tomato mixture over the chicken, followed by the stock mixture and lastly the green beans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve over rice or couscous.

*I did mine in a deep, round ceramic stew pot. Next time I’d try it in a shallower Pyrex glass 9×13 for added crispness and caramelization on top.

adapted from A West African Cook Book by Ellen Gibson Wilson

Libyan Lentil Salad

2 cups green (or French black) lentils

2 small-medium yams, chopped into 1 inch cubes

5 whole cloves

1 medium onion, cut in half and peeled

2 medium bay leaves

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp lemon peel

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander, ground

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put the lentils in a big pot and cover with water. Add cloves and both halves of the onion to the pot. Add bay leaves, garlic and lemon peel, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender.
  2. Toss the yam pieces with olive oil and roast for 40 minutes in a 375 degree oven, until tender.
  3. Drain the lentils, discard the onion, cloves and bay leaves. Combine the lentils with the roasted yams, chopped onion, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Set the salad aside to chill and marinate for 2 hours. Serve with plain yogurt and flatbread.

adapted from Recipes for an Arabian Night by David Scott

comfort en cocotte

We had “Sunday dinner” tonight, one day late. I had meant it for yesterday, but a tempting invitation from friends to come over and eat chocolate cake all afternoon kept me away. Poor poor me.

It’s officially cold here, in the southern shadow of Lake Ontario. Upon her winds came a rollicking afternoon blizzard yesterday, and with them a reminder of simple, cozy meals. I am pretty sure my need for comfort food rises proportionately to the fall of the mercury. And so tonight, roast chicken.

 

I bought this lovely little 3 ½ pound roasting chicken at the farmer’s market last weekend from Wendy of Sweet Grass Farm just outside of Syracuse. She kindly explained to me (a long-time pseudo wannabee mostly vegetarian) the difference between broiler and stewing chickens and found a small broiler for us. Two days later my Jan-Feb Cook’s Illustrated arrived at my door boasting Chicken in a Pot — French Method, Juiciest Bird. A happy coincidence, no?

This experience deserved a post for two reasons. One, because it is our first local and grass-fed chicken. When you don’t buy a lot of meat, you can splurge on something that is especially good for you and for the earth. (Click to learn more about local and grass-fed meat.)

Two, it’s only my second time trying a famed Cook’s Illustrated recipe. The people at this magazine (aka America’s Test Kitchen) take cooking very seriously, approaching recipes like science experiments. Having been burried in the humanities for years, I figured they could teach me how to turn a special bird into dinner. As I read through two pages of how the author perfected this simple French delicacy, poulet en cocotte, my mouth watered at promises of “succulent meat” and “unforgettable flavour.”

The idea of cooking chicken in a covered pot in its own juices forgoes the KFC-esque obsession with crispy skin for even more tender meat. Since I usually avoid eating more than a wee bite of skin anyway, I thought I’d give this “focus on the meat” method a try. As the author says, it “will never place first in a beauty contest” but is always first in flavour and juiciness.

Delivered up on a plate with a wild-rice blend pilaf (with toasted almonds and cranberries), steamed broccoli and boiled beets, I almost put my head out into the frigid air and said bring it on, Winter.

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