Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

lamb tagine

This lamb stew is inspired by a traditional Moroccan meat and vegetable tagine and Mrouzia, a rich celebratory stew sweetened with fruit and honey. I have scaled the sweetness back, reducing the honey (or brown sugar in this case) and relying on dried apricots, which  melt into the stock while simmering to provide subtle sweetness. The meat can be rubbed with the spices and cooked straight away, but if you have the time, rub the meat the night before preparing and refrigerate. The longer the meat can sit with the spices, the deeper the flavor.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

This recipe includes ras el hanout, which is an important spice blend in North African cuisine. It means “top of the shop” and includes a laundry list of aromatic and piquant spices, a combination which will vary from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. You can purchase ras el hanout in specialty stores or well-stocked supermarkets. Serves 6.

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 (14-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
12 dried unsulphured apricots (or dried figs), halved
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
Harissa or red chili paste, optional
Fresh cilantro sprigs

1. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl and mix to form a paste. Place the lamb in a large bowl and rub the paste all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the lamb to a plate or bowl and repeat with remaining lamb.
3. Pour off the fat and add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot. Sauté the onion over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up the brown bits. Add the garlic, ginger, and red chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups chicken stock, the apricots, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot and submerge in the stock. (Add more chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven and cook until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours, stirring once or twice.
4. Transfer the pot to the stovetop and stir in the carrots and chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the carrots are tender and the sauce reduces and thickens to a stew consistency, about 20 minutes, skimming the fat as much as possible. Stir in the brown sugar and taste for seasoning. If more heat is desired, stir in a few teaspoons of harissa.
5. Serve warm, ladled over couscous and garnish with cilantro.

Coconut Chicken and Vegetable Curry

coconut curry tastefood

Move over turkey. It’s time for a holiday dinner time-out. This easy curry is a one-pot wonder – warming and spiced, creamy and filling, and simply prepared in 30 minutes. It’s perfect fare for a cold winter day and a welcome dinner option following an afternoon of cookie-baking.

Coconut Chicken Vegetable Curry

The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility. Feel free to switch up the vegetables to your taste. Chicken thighs may also be used in place of the breast meat – just adjust the cooking time accordingly. Serves 4.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, sliced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
1/2 bunch lacinato kale, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 red jalapeño pepper, sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide pot or deep skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot in one layer without overcrowding. Cook until the chicken colors on all sides, turning as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside on a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot, then add the onion and carrot and saute until the carrot brightens in color and the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the poblano and saute 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, to coat the vegetables and lightly toast the spice. Pour in the tomatoes and coconut milk and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Partially cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Return the chicken to the pot and stir in the kale. Continue to simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through and the leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes.
4. Serve the curry in bowls with basmati rice. Garnish with the jalapeño slices and fresh cilantro.

Chipotle Braised Short Ribs

chipotle short ribs tastefood

I won’t lie: These ribs take two days to make. Now, before you click away from this page, just hear me out. I promise that if you make these ribs, you will be a very happy cook. Your family will be eternally grateful. Your guests will be impressed. And you will be rewarded with a deeply flavorful, warmly spiced, tender and rich braise. The only people who might not be pleased will be your neighbors, because they will have to live through a day of incredible aromas wafting from your kitchen window, knowing full well they are not coming to dinner.

Now if that is not enticing enough, here is some more good news: While it takes two days to make these ribs, most of the time you will have little to do in the food prep department, because the ribs will take care of themselves, braising in the oven or sitting in the refrigerator. You will  be actively involved in the beginning, when you brown the meat (a very important step which will make you feel useful), then when you reduce the sauce (which technically your stove will do for you), and then finishing the braise for serving. Your most difficult task will be…waiting. All of the time invested is for good reason: to tenderize the beef to a supple version of itself, and to infuse the meat and sauce with knock-your-socks off flavor. So go ahead and give it a try. Start on a Friday and eat it over the weekend. And feel free to double the amount so you can freeze extras for another day or have a party – it might be a good time to invite the neighbors.

Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Short Ribs

If you have the time (and patience) rub the short ribs with the spices the  night before browning to develop the flavor. The chipotles in adobo will add a nice kick of heat to the braise. Serves 4 to 6.

Dry rub:
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 pounds short ribs, cut into 3-inch pieces

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (750 ml) bottle heavy-bodied red wine
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, chopped with juices
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef stock (or chicken stock)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rub the meat:
Combine the dry rub spices in a small bowl. Arrange the ribs on a rimmed baking tray. Rub the spices all over the ribs. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour (or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.) Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before browning.

Braise:
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches without crowding the pan, brown the ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes. (This step is very important, so take the time to do it well). Transfer to a plate or bowl and repeat with the remaining ribs.

Drain off the fat from the pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, the onion, carrot, and garlic. Saute the vegetables over medium heat, stirring up any brown bits in the pan, until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin, paprika, and coriander and cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste and stir to create a nice slurry. Add the wine, chipotles, and bay leaf and return the ribs and any collected juices to the pot. Pour in the beef stock. If the ribs are not completely covered with the liquid, add more stock or wine to top off the ribs. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven and slow cook until the ribs are very tender, about 3 hours, stirring every hour or so.

Refrigerate:
Remove the pot from the oven. Uncover and let the braise cool slightly. At this point you can remove the bones and cut away any gristle from the ribs or proceed with the bones intact – it’s up to you and how you like to serve the ribs. Cover the pot and refrigerate overnight. (This step is helpful because it will allow the fat to congeal on the top of the stew, which will be easily removed before proceeding. It also allows the flavors to develop overnight.)

Reduce:
At least 1 hour before serving, remove the pot from the refrigerator and lift off the layer of fat on the surface of the stew. Gently reheat the braise over medium-low heat until the stock is liquid enough to remove the ribs. Carefully remove the ribs from the sauce and arrange in a baking dish.

Strain the sauce through a strainer, pressing down on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible, and transfer the sauce to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce is reduced by about half and has a thickened to a rich sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over and around the beef. The beef should not be entirely submerged; if you have extra sauce, reserve for serving. Cover the dish with foil. (The beef may be prepared up to 3 hours in advance of serving to this point. Keep refrigerated until finishing.)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the short ribs in the oven and cook until thoroughly heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve with mashed root vegetables or mashed potatoes.

 

In Praise of Lentils and a recipe for Soup

Lentil Soups tastefood

Why do I overlook lentils? These humble legumes resembling tiny pancaked pebbles are often bypassed in my pantry, as I reach for rice, farro, couscous. When I finally do cook with lentils, I remember how good they taste, how satisfying they are to eat, and how easy they are to prepare. Imminently flexible, they can stand in for a grain, starch, even a protein. They are healthy too – rich in nutrients, high in protein, iron, and fiber, arguably placing them neck and neck with other lauded superstar foods in the nutrition department. They cook quickly and without any fuss, gamely absorbing the flavors and seasoning from their fellow ingredients and braising liquids, adding a hearty, earthy, and rich base to soups, stews, side dishes, even salads. Really, I must eat more lentils – and you should too.

Lentil Soup

This soup is simple, to the point, and deservedly all about the lentil.

Serves 4.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted through
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Madeira or Port wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and sauté until the carrots begin to soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, lentils, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (The soup should be somewhat thick. If desired, thin the soup to your preferred consistency by adding additional chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time.) Stir in the sugar, wine, vinegar, salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning. Simmer the soup, partially covered, over low heat to thoroughly heat through and meld the flavors, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with the parsley.  Serve hot.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

green garlic veg soup

In this in-between time of winter and spring, a chicken vegetable soup is appropriately light and soothing. In this recipe, the comfort of chicken stock is enriched with carrots, fennel, and green garlic.  Green garlic is unique to spring. Resembling a thick scallion, the green stalk and bulb of young garlic is harvested before the plant matures and the bulb divides into cloves. In its raw state green garlic has a pungent aroma, yet when cooked it grows tame, providing a mild, sweet and herbaceous backdrop to the chicken stock.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped green garlic, white and pale green parts
Salt
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, fronds trimmed, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup orzo
2 heaping teaspoons fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken meat
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the green garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté until the garlic softens and its aroma loses its pungency, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and fennel and continue to sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the vegetables begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock, orzo, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, until the orzo is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Stir in the chicken and parsley and continue to cook until the chicken is warmed through.

Hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup

tortilla soup tastefoodPosted by Lynda Balslev

My inspiration for making soup is often a convergence of too many vegetables in the refrigerator with homemade stock and leftovers from a roast chicken. This recipe is not an authentic tortilla soup, as I managed to empty most of the contents of my veggie drawer into it. It’s chock-a-block full of corn, zucchini and peppers, purchased at the farmers market, along with the requisite garlic and onion. Season and spice the soup to your taste. Ideally it should have a little heat, but since our family is divided on what constitutes “spicy”, I pass a bottle of hot sauce around the table so everyone can fire up the soup to their taste.

Harvest Chicken Tortilla Soup

This soup is meant to be thick. More chicken stock may be added for a soupier consistency. Serves 4 to 6.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 sweet red pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch dice
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3/4 pound shredded cooked chicken
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 cup cooked black beans
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Tortilla chips, broken in pieces

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and zucchini and sauté briefly, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, plum tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, 20 minutes. Stir in the chicken, corn, and beans. Partially cover and simmer until thoroughly heated through. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve warm, garnished with the tortilla chips.

Quick-Braised Chicken with White Wine and Vegetables

Braised Chicken Wine

White Wine Braised Chicken with Leeks, Carrots, Mushrooms, Thyme

Humble stews are quintessential comfort food. Braised and slow cooked, they are one-pot wonders infused with deep flavors coaxed from hearty vegetables and meat. These long simmering concoctions are often left for the weekend with stretches of time for cooking. So what to do during the week when we crave equally satisfying and nourishing meals in less than an hour? Quick braising is the answer. This chicken recipe can be quickly prepped and popped in the oven for 30 minutes of hands-free braising. Light yet rich, this flavorful meal will address any cravings for a hearty dinner. Weeknight food never tasted so slow.

Wine-Braised Chicken with Vegetables and Thyme

Keeping the chicken skin exposed while braising ensures that the skin will remain crisp and golden.

Serves 4.

4 large chicken breast halves, with skin and ribs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 pound white or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup dry white wine
2 to 3 cups chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Season the chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep skillet or wide Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, skin side down, in batches. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, 4 to 5 minutes, then turn the chicken and cook 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken.

Drain off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pot and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add the leeks to the pot and saute over medium heat, about 1 minute. Add the carrots, mushrooms and garlic. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften and brighten in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the white wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits. Add the bay leaf, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Return the chicken to the pot and nestle, skin-side up, into the vegetables. Pour in enough chicken stock, without splashing the skin, to nearly cover the chicken but not submerge it. The skin should remain exposed. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover pot and transfer to oven. Bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts. Serve in bowls with rice, farro or couscous.