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Smoky Chicken "Tikka Masala" Kebabs with Raita

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

It's almost Memorial Day, and you know what that means -- time to take the cover off your grill, stock up on the charcoal and propane, and fill your grocery cart with your favorite pieces of meat and grillable vegetables. But though I know we're all excited about the first burgers and brats of the year, I want to share one of my favorite grilling recipes. It's complex and unexpected in its Indian flavors, but also a total crowdpleaser!

If you’ve ever looked at your spices and wondered, “Why on earth do I need two different kinds of paprika?” well, this recipe is the answer to your question. These kebabs use both Hungarian and Smoked Spanish Paprika to create a depth of flavor that is both sweet, smoky, and a little spicy. Add in some cumin, cayenne, and ground black pepper, bound together with yogurt and other flavorful ingredients, and you end up with a kebab version of an Indian takeout favorite -- Chicken Tikka Masala. 

So, it’s only natural to pair these kebabs with some creamy, cooling cucumber raita, which incorporates cayenne, cumin, and brown mustard seeds for a sauce that is both refreshing and zesty! 

INGREDIENTS

Chicken

PREPARATION

  1. Put yogurt, lemon juice, oil, ginger, salt, smoked paprika, paprika, garlic black pepper, cumin, and cayenne in a bowl and stir until totally combined. Taste for salt and for heat, and adjust the salt and cayenne if you need to.
  2. Put the chicken pieces in a large plastic bag or container and pour the marinade over, stirring to make sure each piece is coated. If using a bag, remove as much air as possible. Place in refrigerator and marinate for 4-8 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, make the raita, which should have a few hours in the fridge to make sure all its flavors meld together nicely.
  4. Peel the cucumbers and grated them on the large holes of a box grater. Place them in a bowl and toss with the salt. Let the cucumbers sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, then pour them into a strainer and gently press out as much liquid as you can, before patting them dry with a paper towel.
  5. Combine the yogurt, cayenne, cumin, lemon zest, and mint in a medium bowl and whisk until combined. Stir in the cucumbers.
  6. In a small frying pan, heat the sesame oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the mustard seeds and fry for about a minutes, until seeds sputter and turn a lighter color. You may need a spatter screen to keep them from hopping out of the pan.
  7. Remove from heat and quickly pour over the yogurt-cucumber mixture. It will sizzle and sputter a bit. Quickly stir the oil into the yogurt until evenly combined. Sprinkle with a little paprika to garnish. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to combine.
  8. Now, back to the kebabs. One hour before cooking, soak your wooden skewers in water to prevent burning. If you're using metal skewers, no need to soak. After soaking, thread the chicken tightly onto the skewers, but don’t smash the pieces together too much -- they should be touching each other firmly, but not so smashed together that they won’t cook quickly.
  9. If using a charcoal grill, light one chimney full of charcoal. When coals are evenly covered with a layer of ash, carefully spread them over the entire surface of the coal grate in an even layer. Place cooking grate on top, then cover the grill and allow it to preheat for 5 minutes. After preheating, clean and oil the grill grate -- cleaning it is much easier after it’s been sitting over hot coals for a few minutes!
  10. If using gas, preheat the grill to a medium-high heat.
  11. Grill the skewers until well-browned on all sides and the center of the largest piece of chicken on the skewer registers between 160°F-165°F on a meat thermometer, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer skewers to a platter, and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with raita.

Serves 4-6. Adapted from Serious Eats and Vegetarian Recipes of India.


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Shrimp, Tomato, and Feta Stew

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

This simple recipe makes the absolute best of all the ingredients involved. Salty feta complements the sweet, plump, ocean brine-y shrimp, all bound together in a flavorful tomato sauce, seasoned with Mediterranean Oregano. It’s easy enough that you could serve it on a weeknight, but impressive enough that you could also serve it as a dinner party main. It works well in hot and cold weather, the Greek flavors both refreshing and cozy.

I’ve incorporated a technique below that is great for all pasta dishes -- finishing off the cooking of the pasta with some of the sauce and some pasta-cooking water. The starch in the cooking water helps to bind the sauce to the pasta, giving you a much more cohesive dish than you’d have if you simply spread the sauce on top or mixed it in with the fully-cooked pasta.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. Vanns Kosher Salt
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. Vanns Mediterranean Oregano
  • ½ tsp. Vanns Black Tellicherry Peppercorns, freshly ground
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled, divided
  • 1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
  • ¼ cup parsley leaves and tender stems, finely chopped
  • ½ lb. fusilli or other short pasta

PREPARATION

  1. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the onion and salt, and saute gently until it is translucent. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and bring the heat up to medium high. Reduce the wine by half.
  2. Add the tomatoes and their juices, oregano, pepper, and water. Bring the sauce to a boil, and then lower heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, run a potato masher through the sauce, breaking the tomatoes up into small pieces. Alternately, you can do this with your fingers before you put the tomatoes into the pan, but a potato masher is a bit tidier.
  3. Stir in half of the crumbled feta and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. 
  4. While the sauce simmers, cook your pasta in well-salted boiling water. Undercook it by 2 minutes, and reserve ½ cup of the cooking water before draining the pasta. Return the drained pasta to its pot, and add 1 cup of the tomato-feta sauce. Simmer the sauce and pasta together for a few minutes, thinning as necessary with splashes of the pasta cooking water. This method helps the sauce bind to the pasta.
  5. Right before you serve the dish, add the shrimp to the remaining tomato-feta sauce and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, until shrimp are just tender. Stir in the remaining feta, and serve the shrimp stew over the pasta, garnished with chopped parsley.

Serves 4-6.

Note: To reheat the sauce the next day without getting rubbery shrimp, take the time to pick all the shrimp out of the sauce first. Then, reheat the sauce on the stovetop until it’s bubbling away, turn off the heat, and stir in the shrimp. They’ll heat up in the hot sauce without becoming overcooked.


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Tabbouleh

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

Have you ever had Tabbouleh? No, I’m not talking about a grain salad demurely flecked with parsley, that tastes mostly of bulgur or couscous or quinoa or whatever grain someone needed to use up. I’m talking about a salad that is almost all green, grains used sparingly to bulk out the delicious herbs that provide most of the volume and flavor. But it’s not just parsley and mint that provide the wonderful summer taste of tabbouleh -- there should be some spices that bring warmth to the green flavor of the herbs as well. Add some finely diced tomatoes for extra summery flavor, some shallots for onion-y sharpness, and the time-tested combination of lemon, olive oil, and salt and pepper, and you have the perfect summer salad, one that holds up to refrigeration and transportation admirably.

This recipe calls for fine bulgur, the smallest size of a variety of cracked wheat. If you can’t find the fine size, feel free to use medium, or couscous, or quinoa, if that’s what you can get. The important thing here is the ratio of herbs to grains. And the spices, of course.

INGREDIENTS

Tabbouleh Spice Blend:

PREPARATION

  1. Make the spice blend: Combine all spices until mixed evenly. Store in an airtight container for up to 8 weeks.
  2. Rinse the bulgur in a fine sieve, tossing with your hands until thoroughly wet. Place the bulgur in a bowl and cover with hot water for 10 minutes. Drain fully, and fluff with a fork.
  3. Cut the tomatoes into small dice, starting with ¼-inch slices and then dicing the slices. Discard the cores and seeds, but keep as much juice as you can. Transfer the diced tomatoes and juices to a large mixing bowl. Add the dried and fluffy bulgur as well.
  4. Pack a few sprigs of parsley together tightly and chop finely, stopping at the thick stems and discarding those. Try to shred the parsley as finely as you can -- it may take a few times through with a sharp knife. Add the parsley to the bowl and continue the process until all is chopped. Do not use a food processor -- you will end up with stringy, fibrous shreds that will not make an appetizing tabbouleh.
  5. Pick the mint leaves off the stems. Stack a few together and then roll tightly into a cigar shape. Use your sharp knife to make clean slices crosswise across the mint cigar, leaving you with thin shreds. Do not run your knife through the mint again -- it discolors and bruises easily, unlike parsley. Continue the process until the mint is chopped.
  6. In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, lemon juice, Tabbouleh Spice Mix, shallot, and pomegranate molasses (if using) until combined. Drizzle the mix over the tabbouleh and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4-6. Adapted from Jerusalem.


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Artichoke and Green Olive Tapenade with Herbes de Provence

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

This is one of those appetizer recipes you’ll want to have on hand for all occasions -- it’s a pantry-ingredient tapenade that has a much more sophisticated flavor than you’d expect, given the ease of making it. That’s thanks to the Vanns Herbs de Provence, a classic combination of herbs that is wonderful for elevating recipes and giving them a hint of the French countryside. Serve it with your favorite crackers, or on toasted baguette rounds. Leftovers, if there are any, are wonderful on sandwiches the next day -- think fresh mozzarella, smoked turkey, some beautiful fresh tomatoes, and a handful of arugula on sourdough, and you’re in lunch heaven.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • ¾ oz. Parmesan cheese, roughly chopped (approximately 1-inch by 1-inch cube if you don't have a scale)
  • 1 can artichoke hearts in water or brine, drained
  • 12 oz. pitted green olives, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tsp. Vanns Herbes de Provence
  • a few grinds Vanns Black Tellicherry Peppercorns, to taste
  • ½ medium lemon, zest of
  • ½ medium lemon, juice of
  • 1 tsp. white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • large handful parsley leaves and tender stems

PREPARATION

  1. Place the garlic and Parmesan in a food processor and process until they’re in tiny pieces. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse for a chunky tapenade, or allow the machine to run for a smooth one. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice if desired.
  2. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette rounds, slather on sandwiches or dollop on fish, mix into warm pasta for a quick and easy sauce. This tapenade goes with everything!

Makes about 1 1/2 cups. Adapted from Serious Eats.


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Spiced Pita Chips

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

Here’s the deal with pita chips at my local grocery store -- a bag of pita chips, which often seems to be mostly air, runs for around $4.00. A bag of pitas is generally around half that, and contains almost no air. And much as I love pita chips and the convenience of those that come ready made from a bag, the frugal side of me can rarely justify buying them, especially since homemade pita chips are always so much better!

Homemade pita chips are crisp, like the store-bought kind, but due to the slight imperfections of home baking, often have little pockets of chewiness, where the pita bread hasn’t completely dried out. That difference in texture is just wonderful when combined with a perfectly creamy hummus! Homemade chips also have the advantage of great flavor -- they’re made with lots of spices, with which you can easily experiment to find your favorite version, and extra-virgin olive oil, which adds a new dimension to the toasty pita bread. Once you’ve made these, you may never go back.

INGREDIENTS

PREPARATION

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut each pita bread into 8 wedges, using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. 
  2. Place the wedges in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, spices, and salt, until evenly coated. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with your favorite dip!

Try some of your other favorite spices on these chips -- these are just a starting point! Vanns Zahtar would be another great Middle Eastern twist, or try a little bit of Vanns Garlic Powder for a punch of flavor! Middle Eastern isn’t the only way to go either -- Vanns Greek Isles Seasoning or Vanns Italian Seasoning for a Mediterranean twist!

Serves 3-5 as an appetizer.


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Greek Skillet Pies with Mustard Greens, Feta, and Herbs

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

This dish is like spanakopita, if it were made by a Greek grandmother. Chopped greens, fragrant herbs, salty feta, and dried Mediterranean Oregano and Aleppo-Style Pepper are enveloped in a thin and tender homemade phyllo dough (yes, you read that right — homemade!), before being brushed with olive oil and cooked on a grill pan to give you a flat little pie that’s crispy and golden on the outside and green, creamy, and flavorful on the inside. 

The Mediterranean Oregano and Aleppo Style Chili Flakes add a punch to the greens that is normally missing from a store-bought spanakopita, and once you get the hang of rolling out the phyllo dough, it’s an awesome trick to add to your cooking skills repertoire! It’s really not that difficult, I promise. And even if you end up with slightly lumpy pies, you can call them “rustic” and still enjoy their delicious flavor.

INGREDIENTS

PREPARATION

  1. Start a medium-large pot of salted water boiling on the stove while you make the phyllo dough.
  2. Stir together flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add olive oil, vinegar, and water and mix on medium speed with the dough hook attachment until you have a smooth, soft dough, about 5 minutes. If dough is too dry and doesn’t come together, add up to 3 Tbs. more water, 1 Tbs. at a time. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove stems and ribs from your greens and blanch them for 30 seconds. Drain and rinse with cool water, tossing until all of the greens are cooled. Squeeze out as much water as you can, then chop finely. Stir the greens, feta, herbs, oregano, chili, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl, using a fork to combine evenly. 
  4. Once the dough is rested, knead it a few times and then cut it into 6 equal pieces. Dust each piece with cornstarch or rice flour and set aside. On an un-floured surface, roll each piece out to a diameter of about 16 inches. It will take a little practice to get the dough smooth and even — you might have to pick up the edges of the dough a few times to keep it from catching on the board — but it’s not that difficult! It’s also good that the dough sticks to the board — it will keep it from snapping back into a thicker, smaller circle.
  5. Once you’ve rolled out a circle to its thinnest possible, dust it lightly with cornstarch or rice flour and cut it in half. I like to use a pizza roller for this. Stack the pieces of dough nearby and continue with the rest of the pieces of dough. 
  6. Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat on the stove. Brush each half-circle of dough with olive oil, and then spread 3 Tbs. of filling over one half, leaving an 1/8-inch border around the edges. Fold the dough in half on top of the filling and firmly press around the edges to seal. Brush each side with olive oil and gently place on the preheated grill pan. 
  7. Cook for 3-4 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary, until dough is fully cooked on one side and golden brown, with nice dark grill marks. Gently flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Continue the process with the rest of the pies.
  8. Serve warm, cutting in half or into smaller pieces if you want!

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer or light main. Adapted from The New York Times.


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Coffee-Cinnamon Horchata (Almond-Rice Milk)

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

If you’ve never had horchata, you’re missing out on an icy cold drink that is somehow both creamy and refreshing. Essentially, it’s a sweetened, flavored almond-rice milk. If that doesn’t sound super appetizing, I understand. It’s sounds like a health food, and while this recipe is not unhealthy, it’s purely an indulgence, a sweet, creamy drink to be enjoyed on hot days when you want something a little spiced, but still energizing and refreshing. The coffee and cinnamon work wonders together, and the almonds and rice, blended and strained, create a creamy but not-too-thick texture that is just right.



INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup long-grain rice, white or brown 
  • 2/3 cup raw almonds 
  • 2 Tbs. whole dark-roast coffee beans (or whatever you have on hand, really) 
  • 1 2-inch Vanns Cinnamon Stick, broken in half 
  • 3 cups hot water, not boiling 
  • 1 cup cold water 
  • 4 Tbs. agave nectar or honey

PREPARATION

  1. Place almonds, rice, coffee beans, cinnamon stick, and hot water in a blender and blend on high for one minute. Make sure the lid is on tightly, or you may experience an explosion of rice and coffee beans that is very difficult to clean up. Pour the blended liquid into a jar or other covered container and let it soak overnight at room temperature.
  2. The next day, put the blended liquid back in the blender and add 1 cup of cold water. Blend on high for two minutes.
  3. Line a fine-mesh sieve with one layer of cheesecloth and set it over a deep bowl, or use a nut milk bag, which, if you make milk from nuts frequently, is something that is very useful to have on hand.
  4. Pour the re-blended liquid gently through the cheesecloth-lined strainer. When it has all been poured through, gather the cheesecloth in your hands and gently squeeze to extract as much liquid as possible.Whisk the agave or honey into the horchata. Serve over ice and store remaining horchata in a container in the fridge for up to a week. Shake before serving again.
  5. You can use the horchata in smoothies, with granola, or anywhere else you might use almond milk — just make sure the other flavors go well with coffee and cinnamon! Or just drink it straight and enjoy.

Yields 1 quart. Adapted from Serious Eats.


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Curried Chicken Salad

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

Here’s the deal with curry powder -- it’s not technically a spice. It’s a spice blend, which varies from location to location, depending on the specific tastes of the people making it. Some curry powder is bland and flat. Fortunately, Vanns Mild Curry Powder is blended in small weekly batches, keeping the flavors of the ground turmeric and cumin that make up some of its ingredients as fresh as possible. It also has just the perfect moderate amount of heat to it, but if you’re a spice fiend like me, go for the Hot Curry Powder instead!

Curried Chicken Salad

Either way, curry powder really shines in this Curried Chicken Salad, which is just right on a warm day when you want something cooling and flavorful with a little punch of spice. Rather than the traditional mayonnaise-based salad, the recipe below uses mostly yogurt with a little mayo added for flavor and texture, drastically reducing the fat content of the recipe. And curry flavors and yogurt are meant to be together -- just think of how great an Indian curry is when topped with a creamy yogurt raita.

This salad also incorporates some currants plumped in red wine vinegar, for a little punch of sweet and sour, some crunchy celery for texture, and a little honey in the sauce for sweetness. It’s all finished off with some sliced scallions, which add that perfect amount of green, onion-y flavor. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

Serves 6. 


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Zahtar Spiced Popcorn

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

Popcorn is one of the easiest snacks you can make for yourself at home -- even the non-microwave kind! But I find it can get a little monotonous in flavor with just melted butter and salt involved.

Once I've stood over the pan, shaking it patiently until all the kernels are popped but none of them have burned, I want it to taste a little more special, a little elevated from what I can get in a movie theater.

Zahtar Spiced Popcorn

Enter Zahtar, the Middle Eastern spice blend that's heavy on the dried thyme and sesame seeds, with a punch of sour brightness from sumac. It's the perfect thing to toss in with popcorn -- the herbs work nicely with the crunch of the corn, the sesame adds extra texture, and the sumac keeps things interesting. Give it a try and mix up your popcorn routine, or start a new one!

 

 

INGREDIENTS

PREPARATION

  1. Pop the popcorn kernels with whatever method you prefer -- you should end up with about 8 cups of popped kernels. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, drizzle the popcorn with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil at a time, tossing with your hands in between drizzles. Sprinkle with zahtar and toss to coat evenly. Add kosher salt to taste and serve. It’s best eaten the same day, but you can store the popcorn overnight in a sealed bag or container.

Makes 8 cups. Adapted from Serious Eats.

 


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Smoky, Spicy Black Bean Soup with Braised Chicken

by Lydia Whitlock — May 24th, 2016

It’s starting to feel like real springtime weather these days -- cool in the mornings and evenings, warm during the day, weather that sometimes makes it hard to know what to eat. A cool, refreshing, summery salad or a comforting, warming wintery stew?

I think this recipe is the best of both worlds. Black beans and chicken gently braise with a mixture of the spices commonly found in chorizo to yield something with deep, delicious flavor and a nice pop of spice. On top is a hit of freshness -- cilantro leaves, sliced scallion greens, serrano chiles, avocado, lime juice, and a dollop of sour cream.

Smoky, Spicy Black Bean Soup with Braised Chicken

 It’s enough to keep you warm on a cool spring night, with flavors that will knock the final dregs of those winter blues right out of sight.

 

INGREDIENTS

PREPARATION

  1. The day before you plan to make the soup, soak the beans. Place the dried beans in a large bowl with 3 Tbs. of kosher salt and cover with about 1 gallon of water, stirring until salt is dissolved. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight.
  2. The next day, make the spice blend. In a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or clean coffee grinder, combine the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ground cinnamon, oregano, thyme, granulated garlic, ½ tsp. Kosher salt, peppercorns, chile powder or and cayenne, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder and process until evenly ground. Set aside.
  3. Season the chicken thighs on both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add the chicken thighs, skin side down, and brown on both sides. You may want to brown the chicken in two batches to prevent crowding. Remove the chicken and place on a large plate. While the chicken cooks, drain and rinse the beans, and measure the stock so it’s ready to go.
  4. Lower the heat to medium and add the scallion whites, garlic, and chopped serrano to the pot. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot as you go.
  5. Add the spice mixture to the pot and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring frequently, so spices do not burn.
  6. Add broth to pot and stir to combine with spice mixture. Add the beans and bay leaves and stir to combine, scraping up more brown bits from the bottom of the pot if needed. Place the chicken thighs into the pot, nestling them into the beans, and pour in any juices that have collected on the plate.
  7. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Cook until beans and chicken are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  8. Remove and discard bay leaves. Using tongs, remove chicken to a plate to cool slightly. Discard skins.
  9. While chicken cools, ladle 2 cups of beans and broth into a blender and puree until smooth. Stir back into soup. Repeat process to further thicken soup if desired.
  10. When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred with two forks or with your fingers. Discard bones and stir shredded chicken back into soup. Serve with cilantro, sliced scallions greens, sliced serrano chiles, avocado slices, sour cream, and lime wedges.

Serves 6-8. Adapted from Serious Eats.


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