Tag Archives: chicken

Tomatillo-Veggie (or Chicken) Posole


I broke out my fall garb this week, and taught my students a valuable lesson while wearing a cozy wrap/scarf that the mister got for me in Amsterdam.  A scarf is just a socially acceptable way to wear a blanket to work or school.  You’ll see me wearing a lot of “scarves” in the coming days.  The Dutch have a specific word for all things cozy, inviting, friendly and warm: gezellig.  It’s one of those words that has no English translation.  Picture a cool misty fall day.  Gezellig is arriving home from work and snuggling up in a cozy knit blanket with a cup of tea, a book, and your favorite furry companion (canine, feline, or hey, even human).  It’s huddling around a fire with friends, steaming mugs of soup in hand. The leaves are swirling around, and it’s hinting at frost.  It’s gezellig time, so I thought I’d share my favorite after-work gezellig I meal to spread a bit o’ the cozy.  If everyone were just a bit more gezellig, the world would be a happier place.

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Filed under Main Dishes, Soups and Stews

Chicken Bastila, the Moroccan Way

Do as the Moroccans Do…

The day after we arrived in Casablanca, we hopped on a train bound for Marrakech with our friends Karissa and Tom.  We snacked from bags of raw figs, cherries and olives, purchased from the local market that morning, as the train sped past fields of grazing sheep and crops surrounded by expansive cacti “fences”.  I admired the intricate henna painted on the hand of the woman across from me.  Arriving at the train station, we bartered for a taxi, and headed straight for Jemaa Lafna, the main square in Marrakech.  Think of everything you might picture in your head about the nature of Morocco, and multiply it.  Concentrate it.  Only then can you begin to imagine the main square and medina in the center of Marrakech.

Snake charmers played nasal-sounding instruments.  Men walked monkeys on leashes, hoping to trap unsuspecting tourists in an unwanted photo-op.  Henna ladies sat under umbrellas in the sweltering heat, wielding their skin-tinting syringes, and before five minutes had passed , Karissa and I were happily painted from index finger to wrist.  By day, we wandered the covered medinas, shopping for pottery, lanterns, jewelry and spices.  A shopkeeper invited us in, serving us sweet Moroccan mint tea and allowing us to see and smell potent blends of spices from glass jars.

The real magic in Marrakech happens at night.  We wove through hoards of people.  Musicians clanked castanet-type instruments and drums, and storytellers stood on wooden crates, telling ancient tales in Arabic to an enthralled audience.  Smoke billowed from outdoor grills, as food stand owners used every line in the book to drum up business.  “You just ate?  You’re skinny, so you can eat again!”.  We drank freshly squeezed orange juice purchased from a stand.  I am still convinced that it was and will be the best orange juice I have ever tasted.  Deep in the medina, we found our hotel, so gritty on the outside, but so very Moroccan on the inside, with its tiled garden paradise courtyard in the center.  We lay on the rooftop and listened as the last call to prayer echoed from minaret to minaret across the city.

The next morning, we headed back to Casablanca.  When Karissa asked if I’d like to go to the hamam, I nervously thought, I don’t know, do I want to go to the hamam?   Hamam=Turkish bathhouse.  I didn’t know much about Turkish bathhouses, but what I did know involved steam rooms and nudity.  I’ve never been the kind of girl to prance around the locker room in less than a towel, so thinking about being topless around other women and actually relaxing was a bit of a stretch for me, but I had told myself that I wanted the full Moroccan experience, so I had Karissa tell me more.  In Morocco, many households don’t have showers.  People feel that the only way to truly get clean is to go to the hamam.  It is a ritual, and a social bonding time between women.  You can’t get any more Moroccan than a hamam!

A few days later, we walked through the busy streets of Casablanca to the hamam, stopping at a roadside cart to snack on two ears of salted, charred corn.  Once inside, we paid the woman behind the counter 80 dirham, and in return, she gave us two tokens and two towels.  We traded in the first token to sit in the steam room, relaxing and slathering ourselves with black soap.  I felt self-conscious, but free, sitting around chatting, and pouring buckets of warm water over my shoulders.  After the steam room, a woman with flushed cheeks wearing a black bathing suit directed me to lay on a marble massage table for the “savvonage,” a very thorough scrubbing and sloughing which felt both relaxing at times, painful at others.  I left the hamam feeling energized, squeaky clean, and smooth as a baby, exhilarated to been someplace I never imagined I’d be.

The verdict is in.  If only hamams existed in Denver…

Cook as the Moroccans cook…

On Monday, after Karissa and Tom headed to work, Fatima arrived.  After a flurry of mimed greetings, and a few words in French, learned from the internet a few minutes prior to her arrival, I followed Fatima as she fearlessly crossed busy streets, looking after me like a mother hen.  People on the streets looked at us curiously, the odd pair that we were, her in a powder blue jelaba, and me in sunglasses and flip-flops.  We walked down a ramp to the underground market to buy the ingredients to make bastila, a traditional Moroccan phyllo-wrapped pigeon (or in this case, chicken) dish.

First, we walked through small aisles of produce, toward the sounds of clucking and rustling feathers. Fatima spoke in Arabic to the shopkeeper, and he picked up a chicken and weighed it as we left the area (thank heavens), to purchase our produce.  We moved on to buy our phyllo dough, which the seller made to order by dabbing wet dough on a heated metal disc, lifting and each thin sheet of finished dough into the air to cool.  When we returned to the chicken stand, our recently-live chicken was handed to us in a plastic bag, butchered, plucked, and cleaned.  We visited the spice seller to buy the ginger, and I asked if I could take a picture of him and his stand.  He smiled and puffed up with pride, asking if I would bring it back so he could see.  The picture is a little out of focus, but I just couldn’t resist including it.

When we returned to the apartment, Fatima and I got to work.  With no shortcuts or convenience foods, such as blanched almonds or powdered sugar, I learned what it means to cook like a Moroccan.

Cover a freshly plucked and cleaned chicken with water in a large saucepan.  Generously salt the water, and boil the chicken until cooked through and tender.  Remove the chicken from the pan to cool before shredding, but don’t throw out the chicken broth you’ve just made in the bottom of the pan!  You’ll use it to simmer the onions.

The shredded chicken goes back into the pot.  Season the Moroccan way, with salt, white pepper, and a generous amount of cinnamon.  Now, pound the saffron into a powder, using Fatima’s favorite kitchen implement, a hammer.  Sweep the saffron into the pot.  Watch as the saffron immediately begins to swirl its red-orange pigment throughout the broth.  Stir.  The saffron will give the chicken a bright yellow tinge.  Next, add some chopped parsley while you wait for the almonds to boil and soften.

Have you ever blanched almonds by hand?  Neither had I.  After boiling them, it’s easier than it would seem.  Just drain them, allow to cool, and pop them out of their skins one by one, pinching them between your thumb and index finger.  Put them into a pot of oil, and fry until golden.  Allow them to cool, and if there’s no food processor to be found, use a hammer!

Now, add the golden raisins, and season to taste with salt, powdered sugar, and cinnamon.  Then crack the eggs into the pot with the shredded chicken mixture.  Fatima emphasizes that you must stir constantly until the mixture is dry, with no raw egg remaining in the bottom of the pan.  Toss in a couple small handfuls of the crushed almonds and stir.  Finally, the filling is complete!  “Mangez!”  Taste your progress!  But not so fast…There’s still work to be done!

Butter.  Generous amounts of butter.  Butter on the pan, butter on the phyllo.  Moroccans like their butter.

Then, fill the phyllo with the sweet and savory chicken mixture, topping with the fried almonds.

Fold and butter, fold and butter.

Drape the top with a final piece of phyllo, tuck in the edges, and, you guessed it, dab with butter.  Bake and wait, or make Fatima’s Zaalouk to make the time pass faster.

The bastilla emerges from the oven, golden, and so flaky.

Cinnamon stripes,

Powdered sugar stripes (ie:  granulated sugar pounded to a powder using, you guessed it, a hammer).

Finally, the bastila is complete; sweet and savory, flaky and moist layered with so many textures and flavors, and totally worth the hours of hard work!

Meet new people, eat, and share!  What better to bring people together than bastila?

Missing the recipe?  I have yet to streamline and test this bastilla in my own kitchen.  As soon as I do, I’ll update this post!  This post has finally been updated!  You can find the recipe here.


Filed under Main Dishes, Musings

Chicken (or Vegetarian) Tikka Masala with Cumin-Scented Raita: Indian Food 101

Cooking has a rhythm, and if you delve deep enough into a specific cuisine, you’ll learn the beat.   First it feels clumsy; like being the follow in a dance you’ve never tried.  With enough practice, it starts to feel innate, and soon you don’t even have to think about the steps.

I grew up eating a mix of typical middle class busy-family dinners, “experimental” combinations by my dad, and family recipes from my Mexican grandmother.  In high school and college, I started experimenting in the kitchen, and learned to cook for myself.   I began with the familiar rhythms of dishes my mom and grandma made, approximating the steps for a pasta sauce or some mashed potatoes; chicken tacos or spanish rice.  Then, early adulthood opened my eyes to other tastes and ways of cooking.  I went new places, I tried new cuisines with friends and classmates after orchestra rehearsals downtown.  At some point in my early twenties, the thought occurred to me that I didn’t have to go out to eat the Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai dishes I enjoyed occasionally at restaurants.  I could cook.  I wanted to cook.

Six years ago, I met my husband, and we shared (and still share) a voracious appetite for good food.  It was he, my mister, who first introduced me to Indian food.  I knew I was hooked on the aromas and complexity of spices early on, and decided to learn to cook it for myself, to quell the frequent cravings brought on by the mere mention of aloo gobi or tikka masala.  For the past couple years, I’ve built up a small collection of Indian cookbooks, my favorites being Indian Home Cooking, and World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, both by Madhur Jaffrey.  In America, Madhur Jaffrey is to Indian food as Julia Child is to French food.  I don’t have an Indian grandmother to teach me, so I rely on the advice I find within the pages.  So far, my repertoire consists of quite a few vegetarian dishes, a few relishes and chutneys, a couple of meat dishes, and a few different variations on basmati rice.

Now, I may have lost you at Indian food.  You may be politely reading on, thinking, “I don’t have the spices for that,” or, “It sounds like too much work.”  I shared similar thoughts as first paged through my cookbooks.  I found that the first conundrum could easily be remedied with an internet search and a fifteen dollar investment (see tips on buying spices below). The second issue?  Yes, Indian food takes a little time, but it all depends on your preparation. I have learned (the hard way) that, with Indian cooking (and most other cooking as well), preparation makes all the difference between chaos and calm.

You’ll be glad that you spent time chopping, measuring, and arranging, because once the first spices hit the pan, rhythm of Indian cooking really picks up.  Spices are added in quick succession, in an order that allows them to release their oils and aromas without burning them.  My first few tries, I was caught unprepared by rapid-fire directions like “two seconds later, after the mustard seeds begin to pop…”  They do pop. Like firecrackers.  Madhur Jaffrey wasn’t kidding.   “Add the cumin, coriander and turmeric.”  It took me a couple times of juggling spice jars to learn my lesson the hard way, which leads to…

Tip One:  Read and Rehearse

Read through the recipe.  Read through it again.  Mentally cook the recipe, picturing how the dish will come together.

Tip Two:  Mise en Place (“Everything in its Place”)

•Chop all ingredients and set them by the stove in the order in which they will be added.  If the recipe calls for making a paste (eg: out of garlic and ginger, etc…) make it ahead of time and set aside.

•Measure out your spices, and put them into small bowls in the order they will be added.  If spices will be added at the same time, put them together in a bowl.

Tip Three: Find a Spice Source

Once you have a set of spices for a particular cuisine, you can make almost anything.  I get my spices from:

•Specialty spice stores, such as Savory Spice.  They grind their own spices, and sell them in smaller amounts, so you can buy an amount that will last you a couple of months.  Your spices will stay fresh, and you’ll end up spending less money.

•Indian grocery stores:  In my experience, you can find all the good quality spices you’ll need at a very reasonable cost.

•Recently, even grocery stores have begun to sell spices in their bulk section.  You’ll be able to find many of the spices there, in any amount you choose.

I wouldn’t say Indian cooking feels completely innate, but I am starting to reach a certain level of comfort.  Some of the previously foreign rhythms of the cooking process have become automatic, and I find myself making little tweaks to original recipes, adding some chopped tomatoes here, or a little extra garam masala there.  There is a reason why so many people order chicken tikka masala out at restaurants.  If you’ve never tried an Indian curry before, it is both a gateway drug into the world of aromatic spices, and an old standby you can return to.  If you give it a go, you’ll end up with tender pieces of marinated chicken and vegetables bathed in a spiced tomato-based sauce layered with onion and ginger.  Warming curries such as these are always best enjoyed with steamed basmati rice and a cool, creamy raita to balance each bite.  Do you share my voracious appetite?  Do you quell your cravings at your favorite restaurants, or do you go straight to the kitchen?  I’d love to hear all about your successes, tips, and mishaps!

Chicken (or Vegetarian) Tikka Masala with Cumin-Scented Raita

I adapted this chicken (and vegetarian) tikka recipe from my new hoss of a cookbook, One Big Table by Molly O’Neil.  I enjoyed the dish as written, but re-vamped it to add quite a bit more sauce, and plenty of veggies.  To make a vegetarian version, see the notes below.

For the marinade, chicken and vegetables :

  • 3 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
  • 3/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon amchur powder (green mango powder)*
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound chicken breasts and chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch discs
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
For the sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne, or to taste
  • kosher salt
  • 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half (optional)
1. Marinate the chicken:  In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, cayenne, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of the amchur powder, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the turmeric.  Place the chicken in the bowl and toss to coat.  Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 12 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 325˚F.  Spread the chicken pieces onto a large baking sheet.  Bake the chicken for 8-10 minutes, or until it is partially cooked and somewhat firm.  Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of amchur powder, and set aside.
3.  Heat 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil in a dutch oven or large heavy saucepan.  When the oil is hot, cook the cauliflower in two batches, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes, or until golden in spots.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
4. Make the sauce:  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in the dutch oven or large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, carrots and cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion and carrot are softened but not browned–about 4 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne, and kosher salt to taste.  Cook for about 1 minute, then stir in the crushed tomatoes.  simmer for about 15 minutes.
4.  Add the chicken and vegetables to the sauce, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.  Stir in the half-and-half if using, and season with salt to taste.  Serve hot, over basmati rice.  Top with a dollop of cumin-scented raita.
Cumin-Scented Raita
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • juice from 1 small lemon, about 1 1/2 tablespoons
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or pressed
  • kosher salt
Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Season to taste with kosher salt.
Vegetarian Version:
Omit the chicken.  Peel two medium russet potatoes and cut into one-inch pieces.  Cover with water by one inch, bring to a boil, add a few big pinches of kosher salt, and boil for 5 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  Follow the directions for the chicken tikka masala, adding the potatoes to the sauce at the same time as the carrots and cauliflower.  Make the marinade as directed, and whisk into the sauce before adding the vegetables.

*juice from one small lemon can be substituted for the amchur powder


Filed under Indian, Main Dishes