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Just P-p-p-p-pump it Up – Pepitas and Pumpkin Back Bean Soup

Let us begin Part II of the pumpkin chronicles. As Dustin and I discovered last week, one average sized pumpkin makes A LOT of pumpkin puree. Which is great if you are planning to feed an army of pumpkin pie eating adults during the holiday season, but if, on the other hand, you are two young professionals who like to eat food on occasion that does not involve pumpkin, using all of the puree requires a significant amount of creativity. First and foremost I highly, highly recommend freezing a portion of the puree. I typically pack portions into large zip lock bags for freezing, just make sure to extract as much air as possible before placing the pumpkin in the freezer. Once frozen the puree will keep for several months and can be easily defrosted by submerging the bag in a bowl of room temperature water for a few hours.

Now, in my mind, one of the greatest pleasures of slicing, dicing, roasting, and pulsing your own pumpkin to make puree, is that you also have a golden opportunity to take advantage of the little treasure that hides inside of the pumpkin, the seeds. Like pumpkin puree, pumpkin seeds, which are often referred to as “pepitas” (the Spanish name for the seeds) can be bought in many supermarkets, but home made pepitas are noticeably different than their store bought counterparts. Most store variety pepitas are sold with the outer shell removed, which makes for a softer bite but a less toasty flavor. I found a recipe for home made pepitas which calls for the seeds to be first boiled in salted water and then roasted, the result is a crunchy exterior, strongly toasted flavor, and delicate center. I personally, much prefer this to the store variety, and highly recommend trying your hand at it at home!

To make the pepitas, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Separate the seeds from the stringy core and rinse them well. In a small saucepan, add the seeds to water, you will need about 2 cups of water for every half cup of seeds. Stir in about a half tablespoon of salt for each cup of water and bring to a boil. Let the water simmer for  about 10 minutes before removing the pan from the heat. Pour the seeds into a colander over the sink to drain.  Toss the seeds in about a tablespoon of olive oil and spread them on a baking sheet. Bake the seeds for 15 mins or until they turn a nice golden color. These make a nice crunchy afternoon snack and are great on salads.

Part of my motivation for the great pumpkin puree project was to have an opportunity to try out a great fall soup recipe I had found for a black bean and pumpkin soup. As I read over the recipe and began to thinking about a strategy for incorporating some of my own favorite flavors into the original, I thought about how I could better leverage the pumpkin itself, and the byproducts of the roasting process, to make a better soup. What I discovered, was that a roasting pumpkin tends to release a lot of water, and I decided that, rather than discarding the pumpkin water I would try to save as much as possible and us it as a sort of broth for the pumpkin soup.

This soup really has that special “Je Ne Sais Quoi.” There is a nice subtle hint of smokiness and spice from the sausage, vegetarians can recreate this flavor profile with a little hickory salt and some pepper flakes. In terms of pepper flakes, my veggie friends, I would try either Aleppo or Chipotle, don’t go overboard, the soup is not intended to be “spicy” just spiced, a pinch or two will suffice. The texture is really divine, give the beans a good long whirl in the food processor, if the mixture is too thick to really “whirl, try thinning it out with a bit of water, or broth, or tomato puree from your canned tomatoes, whatever makes the process easier. To all of the vegans out there, the butter in the recipe isn’t really necessary and a nice olive oil can be easily substituted – combining this with the spice substitution I recommended above will transform this into a delicious and vegan friendly fall recipe.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 TBSP Olive Oil
1/2 Pound Cooked Chicken or Turkey Sausage (Preferable an Andoullie, Chorizo, or other Smoky and Spicy Variety)
Three 15 1/2 Ounce Cans Black Beans, Rinsed Well
1 Cup Canned Plum Tomatoes, Chopped
1 1/4 Cups Diced Onion
1/2 Cup Shallot, Thinly Sliced
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 TBSP Plus 2 TSP Ground Cumin
1 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Freshly Cracked Pepper
2 TBSP Unsalted Butter
4 Cups Pumpkin Broth – See Note Above on Pumpkin Broth (or Vegetable or Chicken Broth)
1/2 Cup Vodka
1 1/2 Cups Pumpkin Puree

Start by placing the beans and tomatoes in a food processor. Lock on the lid and let it whirl. If the mixture is too thick add up to a 1/3 cup of water to make the pureeing process easier.

While the beans puree to a nice smooth consistency, begin cooking the turkey sausage (vegans and vegetarians, omit this step.) Heat a 8 qt stockpot of medium heat, add a TBSP of olive oil and sautee sausage until lightly browned on all sides. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add enough oil to the pot to equal about a TBSP and a half. Once the oil is hot add onion, shallot, garlic and cumin and sautee until translucent. Add salt, pepper, broth and vodka and bring to a boil. Boil for about 3 mins to cook off some of the alcohol, reduce heat to medium and add beans and pumpkin puree.

Stir well and add additional water if needed to reach the desired consistency. Simmer for about 15 mins. Finally, taste for seasoning adding additional salt and pepper as needed.

Serve topped with home made pepitas and enjoy!

A Spoonful of Comfort – Mangalore Chicken Curry

When the going gets rough, the tough eat curry, or at least I do. It might seem a bit odd to some that curry is my comfort food but I grew up in a quasi Indian family. By this I mean an Americanized, but notably not American Indian, household that was neither strict nor religious but which held dear a love of all things garlicy, oniony, salty, and spicy. All holiday celebrations featured a big batch of my dad’s single curry recipe, which he concocted shortly after moving to the US back in the 60s. The dish falls somewhere between Thai and Indian and reflects what was a vast unavaiability of Indian ingredients and spices that are now almost ubiquitous in the many Indian markets that can be found all over the US.

While generally a man of very, very, few words, occasionally I can get my dad going on stories about his early years here. He initially moved here to attend graduate school at Cornell, he will typically note that in comparison to the university education he received at India’s notoriously tough IIT, Cornell’s Graduate Engineering Program was a bit of a breeze. Which was convenient as he quickly decided that it was far too cold to venture out of his room to attend lectures. In addition to missing the significantly more temperate environment of India’s Maharashtra region, my father longed for the pungent and familiar flavors of Indian cuisine.

Its is funny, though not surprising, that as more and more first generation Indians have emigrated to the US, the availability of authentic Indian cuisine has skyrocketed. Even in the middle of the country, in Nashville TN, there are several decent Indian restaurants that feature slightly Americanized versions of Indian dishes. And at least 20 Indian stores are scattered around the city.

When I returned from a long week of business meetings, hotels, and bland food I could not wait to cook up a big batch of chicken curry. Rather than cooking the heavy creamy curry that my father so often made, when making curries at home I typically look to the lighter, and spicier notes of South Indian cooking for inspiration. This curry is derived from a recipe I found for a Mangalore Style Chicken Curry. Mangalore is situated on India’s South West coast, just south of Goa. True to South Indian cuisine the curries of the region include the nutty notes of coconut, herbaceous flavors of curry leaves, and creamy taste of coconut milk, all of which can be found in this chicken curry.

While I made this curry with boneless skinless Chicken thighs, you can use any chicken you like. I prefer to use boneless skinless chicken as it makes it much easier to eat, and the lack of skin keeps the dish from becoming too oily. The chicken thighs stand up well to long cooking without drying and impart a nice rich and meaty flavor to the dish. I tend to go a bit heavy on ginger as I like the hot spicy flavor it gives the curry, feel free to reduce the amount of ginger if you are not a big fan. I use one long hot Indian chile, generally a Kashmiri Lal Mirchi Chile, seeds in, cut in half lengthwise. If you don’t like heat leave it out, or seed it, your choice.

You will see below that I attempted to cook this in a large cast iron skillet. This made for great photos, HOWEVER, I ended up having too much curry in the skillet and had to transfer it to a large pot so that it could simmer without boiling over. I highly recommend using a large cooking vessel for this project.

Mangalore Chicken Curry

For the Curry Paste:
1 Cup Grated Coconut (NOT Sweetened)
2 Cups Chopped Onion
2 TSP Red Pepper Flakes
25 Peppercorns
8 Cloves Garlic
2 1/2 Inch Segment of Ginger
1 TSP Turmeric
3 TBSP Coriander Powder
1 Cup Coconut Milk

For the Main Dish:
6 Cups Chicken Cubes (I Used Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs)
1 Medium Onion Thinly Sliced
6 Fist Sized Red Bliss Potatoes Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Hot Indian Chili Sliced Down the Center, Lengthwise
2 TBSP Good Quality Curry Powder
About 30 Curry Leaves
4 TBSP Tomato Puree
1 Cup Coconut Milk
About 1 1/2 Cups Water
1-2 TSP Salt

In a large pan, dry toast the coconut until golden. Remove the coconut from the pan and set aside.

Heat approximately 2 TBSP oil in a large pot, when the oil is hot fry the onions over med heat for about 3 mins. Add the garlic, ginger, toasted coconut and spices and fry another 5 mins. Add coconut milk and stir to deglaze the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat, transfer to a food processor and mix until it forms a smooth paste.

Rinse the pot and dry it. Place it back on the stove and heat 3 TBSP oil until hot. Add chicken and fry over med high heat until seared on the outside. Add onions, chili, potatoes and curry powder and fry until onions are slightly colored. Add curry leaves and tomato paste and fry for an additional minute before adding coconut milk, all of the curry paste, and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Place a lid on the pot and simmer for 30 mins.

Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional 15 mins. Taste for seasoning again. Serve with rice or nan and enjoy!

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