Socca Niçoise Chickpea Bread

Tonight we’re having Greek Red Lentil Soup for dinner and I wanted some kind of bread to go with it. Socca Niçoise chickpea bread is the perfect accompaniment. Between the lentils and the chickpeas I certainly don’t need to worry about protein or flavor. This would be the perfect “meatless Monday” meal! And while I have no issues with gluten and happen to love almost all breads and pastas, this recipe is not only vegan, but it is gluten-free. The Socca was especially delicious drizzled with EVOO and with either tapenade or roasted smushed garlic spread on top. I’m just sayin’.

I will never be able to eat Socca without thinking of Julia Child. She did one of her TV episodes on the South of France and highlighted Socca. At the end of the show, in that inimitable Julia Child voice and with her joie de vivre, she looked at the audience and said “Socca to me!” [For those too young to recall the TV show Laugh-In, “Sock it to me” was a recurring phrase.]

What is Socca, really?

Socca Niçoise chickpea bread is a traditional Southern French treat. There are a dozen different ways you can make it. You’ll most often find socca cooked street-side on fiery grills, where the resulting flatbread is coarsely chopped and served in a cone with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. While every home cook in the South of France may have their own technique for preparing the batter, the ingredients are almost always the same: chickpea flour water, and olive oil. The Socca sold on the street are more crepe-like than this recipe but it still is delicious and worth making.

What is chickpea flour and is it the same as besan?

Chickpea flour is made from dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and is also commonly known as garbanzo flourgram flour, and besan. However, besan or gram flour is a flour of chana dal or split brown chickpeas. Chickpea flour or garbanzo flour is ground up white chickpeas. I happened to have besan on hand the first time I made this so that is what I used. I then bought chickpea/garbanzo flour and made it again. I also used 4.5 ounces of flour the second time instead of going with 1 cup. It turned out that one cup actually weighed out to 5.33 ounces. So which was better?

Both were good, but if I had to choose, I preferred the one made with actual chickpea flour and when I measured by weight rather than cups. The resulting socca had more flavor and was more reminiscent of what you would buy from a street vendor in Nice. I also drizzled olive oil on the top after 5 minutes in the oven and then returned it to the oven for another 3 minutes. When it came out of the broiler, I then drizzled more EVOO and sprinkled on my za’atar. The edges and bottom were brown and crispy and the middle was just barely flexible. I could get addicted to this especially since it is sooooooooooo easy to make. The second time I ate it with my delicious split pea soup. So, so satisfying.

Recipe for Socca Niçoise Chickpea Bread

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chickpea flour (4 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan and drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1+ teaspoon za’atar (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare the chickpea batter. Whisk the chickpea flour, water, olive oil, rosemary and salt together in a medium bowl until smooth. Let rest for 30 minutes to give the flour time to absorb the water.
  2. Preheat the oven with the pan. Arrange an oven rack 6 inches below the broiler element and heat to 450°F with a 10-inch cast iron skillet inside. About 5 minutes before the batter is done resting, turn the oven to broil. (Don’t try this with any other kind of pan. And if you don’t have a cast iron skillet – get one. They are the best for so many things but especially when you want to really sear or brown food.)
  3. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Add about 1+ teaspoon of oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan when the pan is swirled. Pour the batter into the center of the pan. Tilt the pan so the batter coats the entire surface of the pan.
  4. Broil the socca for 5 to 8 minutes. Broil the socca for 5 minutes. The top will begin to look a bit cracked. Drizzle generously with EVOO and return the pan to the oven for about 3 more minutes. The socca should be fairly flexible in the middle but crispy on the edges.
  5. Slice and serve. Use a flat spatula to work your way under the socca and ease it from the pan onto a cutting board. It should come right out leaving your pan practically clean. Drizzle with more EVOO and sprinkle with za’atar. Slice it into wedges or squares.

RECIPE NOTES

Storage: Socca is best if eaten immediately after baking while still warm, but can be refrigerated and re-toasted for up to 1 week.

Chickpea flour: You can find chickpea flour in the bulk bins at Whole Foods and other natural foods-type stores. Bob’s Red Mill also sells it in packages. Look for it under the name “garbanzo bean flour” if you’re having trouble finding it.

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Sheet-Pan Chicken with Chickpeas

So who needs one more chicken dinner recipe? Well, I do. And this Sheet-Pan Chicken with Chickpeas dinner by Alison Roman checks all of my boxes. It is easy to make, inexpensive and loaded with umami.

I came across this recipe and knew immediately that it was something I had to make – and it didn’t disappoint. With a few tweaks and served up with Mediterranean salads, I had a dinner that my husband loved and which I would gladly serve to guests.

Now as much as I hate cleaning and use foil-lined pans whenever possible, placing the ingredients on an unlined pan really gave me the crispy, roasted finish to the sheet-pan chicken and chickpeas that this dish cries out for. And with a good pan soak overnight, clean-up was easier than I had expected – especially since my husband supplied the elbow grease! If you really don’t want to do that, you may have to turn the broiler on towards the end of cooking to approximate the right effect.

My chicken marinated overnight, but you could do it all in the same day. However, the longer marinating left the chicken incredibly moist and flavorful. Give your family something special with this sheet-pan chicken and chickpeas or try it the next time you have friends over for dinner. Once everything is in the oven, you get to relax and enjoy the company.

One thing I have learned in over 35 years of cooking daily and entertaining is that you don’t have to make everything yourself. Find some good brands that you like and trust and augment your meals when you want to serve multiple courses. If you have access to good salads or dips, use them. I found a really excellent boxed soup brand (Pacific Foods) and I use their Butternut Squash, Spicy Red Lentil or “Creamy” Tomato Basil soup as a first course. I might tart them up a bit by adding some pumpkin seeds that I dry-roasted quickly in a pan and tossed with a wonderful spice blend that I bought or I add some fresh basil when serving. Nobody knows that I didn’t make these from scratch, but if asked, I’m happy to confess.

For some accompanying salad ideas, try any of the following:

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Greek Eggplant Dip

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Watermelon and Feta Salad

Easy Feta and Roasted Tomato Salad

Orange and Radish Salad

And, of course, don’t forget the hummus!

Recipe for Sheet-Pan Chicken and Chickpeas

Yield: 4 to 6 Servings, depending on sides and appetites

Ingredients

6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (About 3.25 pounds)

Kosher salt and Aleppo Pepper (Freshly cracked black pepper is fine too)

1.5 cups full-fat Greek yogurt, divided

Juice from 2 to 3 lemons

2 rounded teaspoons ground turmeric, divided

2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry

1 Tablespoon fennel seed

1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin

1 large red onion, peeled, thinly sliced and divided in half

EVOO for drizzling

Torn fresh mint or cilantro for garnish

2 Tablespoons tahini

1/4 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)

Directions

  1. Place the chicken thighs in a heavy-duty (freezer) resealable plastic bag. Combine 3/4 cup of the yogurt with the juice of 1.5 lemons, 1 teaspoon of turmeric and 2 Tablespoons of water. Season well with salt and whichever pepper you are using. (I used 1.5 teaspoons of salt here.) If you are using Kosher chicken, you will use less salt. Mix well to combine and pour it over the chicken. Seal the bag and using your hands, “massage” the yogurt mixture over all of the chicken. Refrigerate at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
  2. When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the oven rack in the top third of the oven.
  3. Mix half of the sliced onions with the juice of 1 lemon and season with about 1/4 teaspoon salt and whatever pepper you are using. Set this quick onion pickle aside until you are ready to serve.
  4. Combine the chickpeas, fennel seed, cumin, remaining turmeric and half of the red onion slices on an unlined, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with EVOO and season with salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) and whichever pepper you are using. Using tongs or your clean hands, toss everything together.
  5. Move the chickpea/onion mixture to the outer edges of the baking pan. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, scraping off any excess and place the thighs in the center of the baking pan, skin-side facing up.
  6. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake, moving the chickpeas around about every 15 minutes so they don’t stick. Bake until the skin on the chicken and chickpeas are well-browned and begin to crisp. This took about 45 minutes in my oven. I then turned the chicken pieces over and roasted for another 10 minutes to crisp up the skin on the underside of the chicken. Because you are using thighs, and because of the marinade, the chicken will not dry out.
  7. Combine the remaining yogurt with the juice of one lemon and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, 2 Tablespoons of tahini and 1/4 teaspoon of ground sumac. This can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to use. And if you like garlic, you could crush in 1 small clove as well, although it’s really not necessary.
  8. When you are ready to serve, scatter the pickled onions over the chicken and garnish with mint and/or cilantro. Serve the seasoned yogurt alongside.

Yemenite Beef and Bean Soup

Nothing is better on a cold wet day than this Yemenite Beef and Bean Soup. The days now are shorter, the winds are sharper and the damp is already beginning to seep into my bones. This may not cure all that ails you, but it sure comes close.

We eat a LOT of soup in our house – especially as a main meal with some homemade bread and maybe a salad. In the summer, the soups are usually served cold. However, as soon as the weather starts to turn, I am looking to hearty, warming soups that satisfy my soul. This Yemenite Beef and Bean soup is easy to make. I put it up in the morning and allowed it to cook over a low flame all day. When I left my apartment, the lovely, rich aroma greeted me before I even opened the door. I’m actually surprised that my neighbors didn’t come knocking to ask for a bowl.

The original recipe by Einat Admony and Janna Gur was truly a poor man’s soup. Mine is a slightly more middle class version, with a richer stock, more meat and the addition of carrots. Either way, it’s still a bargain. My instructions are also simplified because who wants to make more work? And when I make soup, it usually just sits on my stove, getting reheated each day until it’s gone. The depth of flavors are only enriched and I’m always ready when we need to drive away the blues or that chill.

The primary spice mixture is Hawaij – one of my absolute favorites. Hawaij means “mixture” in Arabic. I also use it in my Yemenite Chicken Soup and in my Cauliflower Tabbouleh. While you likely can purchase it in a Middle Eastern grocery or online, I make my own. It only takes minutes to grind your own spices and the difference in flavor is huge. Once you try making your own freshly ground spices, you will never go back. The recipe for Hawaij that I use can be found with my Yemenite Chicken Soup, but I will repeat it below.

Recipe

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

1 pound dried navy beans (Other white beans can be used such as cannellini or Great Northern)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 pounds of beef short ribs or beef shank

8 cups beef broth plus 4 cups of water (Use only 8 to 10 cups liquid total if you want a thicker soup. Depending on the bean you used, you may need then to add more liquid when reheating since generally beans expand and thicken the broth as it sits.)

6 ounces tomato paste

1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, cleaned and tied in a bundle with kitchen twine

1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 whole head of garlic, with just the papery outer skin removed

2 to 3 teaspoons of Hawaij (See recipe below)

2.5 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

Directions

Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with 3 to 4 inches of cold water. Soak for at least 8 hours or over night. Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place your short ribs, meat side up on a foil covered pan and sprinkle with salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. If you are using kosher meat, you do not need to add salt. Roast for 15 minutes. Then turn the ribs over and roast for 12 minutes. Turn them on their side and roast for about 8 to 10 more minutes or until well-browned. Set aside.

You can brown the meat in the pot instead of in the oven. I find this a tedious process and one that invariably spatters grease all over my stove. I also find that when I brown the meat in the oven, I really don’t have to skim the soup liquid – another tedious process. And almost all of the excess fat remains on the foil which I simply discard, instead of either having to clean the pot in between or later skim off.

In a large, heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the carrots and onions. Sprinkle with a little salt. Cook the vegetables until the carrots just begin to soften and the onion to brown – about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the meat to the pot, allowing the fat to remain on the foil, which you will discard. Add the beans, garlic head and parsley or cilantro bundle.

Mix the tomato paste with about 1/2 cup of the broth or water to thin out the paste. Add all of your liquid to the pot, including the tomato paste mixture. Add the Hawaij (Start with 2 teaspoons and add more later if you wish.) and mix through.

Bring the soup to a boil and then cover the pot. Reduce the heat to very low so the soup is just barely simmering. Allow it to cook for 4 to 5 hours. Remove the bundle of parsley/cilantro. Don’t worry if some pieces fall back into the soup or get loose. It’s fine. Remove the head of garlic and allow it to cool enough to handle. Then squeeze the softened, unctuous garlic cloves out of their skin, mash them slightly and add back to the pot. Taste and adjust your seasonings.

Hawaij

Yield: About 5 Tablespoons

2 Tablespoons black peppercorn

1 Tablespoon black caraway seed (Kalonji or Nigella)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon of the seeds from green cardamom

2 teaspoons turmeric

pinch of saffron (optional)

Either pound the spices with a mortar and pestle or use a coffee/spice grinder. This can also be purchased online. I made mine.

Valerie’s Roasted Cauliflower Steaks

I consider it a huge win when I find something to make that is easy, delicious and visually very appealing. Even better, Valerie’s Roasted Cauliflower Steaks will make both meat lovers and vegans happy.

The “Valerie” in this dish is Valerie Bertinelli. Both an actress and an accomplished home cook, her recipes have proven easy to follow and reliable as well as delicious. Even though I was expecting this to be good, my husband and I were surprised at just how delicious it really was. ANd so pretty!

I made half of her original recipe and eyeballed most of the ingredients. So below is Valerie’s recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Steaks for those who feel most comfortable with exact amounts. This easy-going recipe will work either way. And while I did use the butter for the pine nuts and raisins, you could just as easily use either a buttery vegan spread or a good fruity EVOO to keep this dish vegan-friendly.

Any left-over raw cauliflower (and there will be) can be zapped in a food processor to use as cauliflower rice for Cauliflower Tabbouleh, Cauliflower Fried Rice or even a Cauliflower pizza crust.

Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

2 heads cauliflower (if you use larger heads you will get the 6 servings)

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/4 cup golden raisins or raisin medley

1 tablespoon unsalted butter/vegan buttery spread or EVOO

1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped or torn

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut off the cauliflower stems, then place the heads cut-side down and slice into 1/2-inch-thick steaks. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, flipping after the first 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, add the pine nuts to a dry medium saute pan and toast over medium heat until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add the raisins and butter and season with salt. Cook, tossing, until the butter has melted and coats the pine nuts and raisins. Off the heat, stir in the parsley.
  3. Transfer the roasted cauliflower to a serving platter. Pour the pine nut-raisin mixture over the top. Season with salt.

Curried Cauliflower and Potatoes (Aloo Gobi)

Curried Cauliflower and Potatoes (Aloo Gobi) is a classic Northern Indian dish. The name is a literal translation of the ingredients with “aloo” meaning potato and “gobi” meaning cauliflower. This combination is perfect as part of a vegetarian, vegan or meat meal. And if you just want to add a little spice to an otherwise plain piece of broiled or baked meat or fish, this is just the dish to kick things up a notch. It makes wonderful left-overs too.

Don’t be put off by the list of spices. This is an easy dish to prepare, and uses the classic spices that would be on hand in any kitchen that enjoys either Indian or Middle Eastern cuisine. And you can be in control of the heat, making the curried cauliflower and potatoes (aloo gobi) as spicy – or not – as you like. I do strongly encourage you to grind your own spices. I can’t emphasize enough the difference it will make in your cooking. Using a spice or coffee grinder, this only adds seconds to your prep time, but will immediately transform you into a better cook.

This recipe dates back to a May, 1980 Bon Appetit article on the cuisine of northern India. The chef is Paul Bhalla and his recipes do take some preparation, but they are all well worth the effort. Unfortunately, I have not been successful in finding any of his recipes online….

For a few ideas of putting together a complete Indian meal check out these links.

Indian Sides with Something to Please Everyone

Red Lentils with Ginger

Punjabi Chana Dal

Moong Dal and Lemony Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita

Eggplant Pate (Bharta)

Karhi (Yogurt Sauce)

Indian Rice Pudding (Kheer)

Carrot Halwa (Gajar ka halwa)

Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce

Recipe

Yield: About 6 to 8 servings, as part of a complete dinner

Ingredients

About 6 Tablespoons of margarine or vegetable oil

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5-inch cubes (I used red potatoes but Yukon Gold would also be nice)

1 teaspoon black or white whole mustard seeds

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (this makes the dish mildly spicy)

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

Pinch of asfetida (Optional, but I have it so add it. Asfetida has a unique flavor and is worth getting if you do Indian cooking)

2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1.5-inch cubes

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons slivered fresh ginger root

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (optional)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

About 3 pounds of cauliflower, broken into florets (You can include some tender green leaves if you like. I did not.)

Garnish Options

Coarsely chopped parsley or cilantro

Chopped scallion

Lemon wedges

Directions

Melt the margarine (or heat the oil) in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and saute just until lightly browned. Remove the potatoes to a bowl and set aside.

Return the oil to hot and add the mustard seeds, shaking the pan until they begin to pop. This only takes about 30 seconds. Add the onion and brown lightly. Reduce the heat and add the dry spices and blend well with the onion.

Add the tomatoes, cilantro, ginger, jalapenos (if used) and salt. If your tomatoes are not particularly juicy, you will want to add about 2 Tablespoons of water so things don’t become too dry. Now add the cauliflower and potatoes, and turn them to coat well with the spices.

Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and cook for about 15 minutes. You want the vegetables to be firm but tender. Garnish when ready to serve.

Apple, Goat Cheese and Pecan Salad

We eat a LOT of salads in our house. They can be a complete lunch or dinner with some crusty bread and a glass of wine. Or they can be the myriad and varied salatim that are an essential part of any Middle Eastern meal. The Apple, Goat Cheese and Pecan Salad is another entry from Adeena Sussman’s Sababa cookbook.

It can be made with persimmons or peaches instead of the apple. You also can vary the flavor palate depending on the type of goat cheese that you choose as well. What cannot change is the freshness of the produce, the quality of the pecans and goat cheese and the brightness of the lemony dressing. This is a very satisfying salad and is visually quite appealing. So the next time you want to dress things up a bit, give this Apple, Goat Cheese and Pecan salad a try. It is an especially nice accompaniment to the Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes and would be great with any fish dish.

Recipe

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 as a side salad

Ingredients

For dressing

1/2 cup fruity EVOO

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1.5 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

1.5 teaspoons date syrup (silan) (double the honey if you don’t wish to use silan)

1.5 teaspoons honey

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper or more, to taste

For the salad

1 large head if butter lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces (You could use another soft, flavorful lettuce if butter lettuce isn’t available.)

1 large, firm persimmon, peach or crisp apple (I like Honeycrisp or Pink Lady)

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup toasted pecans – whole or coarsely chopped

4 ounces of a soft goat cheese (I used one with vegetal ash, but you could use an herbed or good plain goat cheese.)

Directions

Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar until emulsified and creamy. Set aside until just ready to serve.

Arrange the salad ingredient in a shallow bowl or platter in an attractive arrangement. When you are ready to serve, give the dressing a good stir or shake and drizzle over the salad. You do not want to drown the salad and any extra can be refrigerated for another salad. You can also serve some additional dressing on the side after the initial drizzle so that people can add more if they wish. Now eat!

Perfect Lemon Chess Pie

What is bright and tart with lemon, silky and unctuous with a hint of pecans? Perfect Lemon Chess Pie! This easy dessert is so delicious that you have to close your eyes with the first bite and simply sigh. And every bite afterwards. It’s just THAT good.

What is lemon chess pie and where does the name originate? “Chess” is really a colloquial or mispronunciation of “cheese.” In this case, the cheese is actually lemon curd – a beautiful curd that develops as the pie bakes. For a chess pie that is an old variation on a pecan pie, check out the recipe for Thomas Jefferson’s Chess Pie. It is also delicious but quite different from this perfect lemon chess pie by Gale Gand. I made a couple of tweaks, including adding some chopped pecans. Don’t get put off by the amount of sugar in this recipe. The finished pie is not overly sweet thanks to the amount of fresh lemon juice and zest. It is really just perfect.

Refrigerated, the pie will last for several days, although it is best to bring it to room temperature to eat – assuming you have the will power to wait!

Recipe

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups sugar

1 Tablespoon flour

1 Tablespoon fine yellow cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4 large or extra large eggs

1/4 cup milk (1% milk worked fine)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of unsalted butter, melted

Grated zest of 3 medium lemons (about 2+ Tablespoons)

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup of coarsely chopped pecans

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine the sugar, flour, cornmeal and salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs and mix well.

Add the milk and mix. Then stir in the melted butter, pecans, lemon zest and lemon juice until everything is well distributed. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Cover the rim carefully with foil or a pie shield, which I highly recommend getting if you are into baking pies. Bake for 30 minutes and then carefully remove the pie shield. Continue baking until the pie filling is well-browned and barely jiggles. The original recipe said for a total baking time of 45 minutes, but mine took closer to an hour. Ovens vary so watch it. The finished pie forms a very brown, slightly sugary crust.

Allow to cool completely before cutting. Refrigerate left-overs.

Za’atar Roasted Chicken Over Sumac Potatoes

Sababa, an Arabic word, has come to mean “cool” or “awesome” in Hebrew slang. The Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes included in the 2019 cookbook Sababa by Adeena Sussman, is the perfect Shabbat or Sunday dinner. It’s not difficult to make and is a wonderful change from the typical roast chicken. I can attest that it is truly Sababa! The resulting chicken is incredibly moist and juicy and loaded with flavor.

I find it amusing that all of a sudden Middle Eastern food is “in.” Every time I open a newspaper to the food section, another Middle Eastern dish, restaurant or chef is being lauded. It is wonderful that this rich and varied cuisine is receiving its due, but many of us happily been enjoying it for years.

Like this Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes, many of the dishes rely on fresh foods livened by a liberal use of herbs and spice mixtures. Za’atar can be found already mixed in many grocery stores these days and is easily available online. You can, of course, make your own if you wish. It is originally a blend of the Biblical hyssop, sesame and salt. Wild thyme is often used in place of the hyssop. Sumac, which was cultivated in Mishnaic times is high in vitamin C and lends a wonderful citrus flavor to foods as well as a lovely almost saffron color.

This dish is simple to create and I paired it with a tomato basil bisque and a lovely salad. For dessert I made tahini cookies, which can be easily whipped up and will last for days in an airtight container – that is, if you can resist eating them all!

Recipe

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 roasting chicken, approx. 4 pounds

5 to 6 smallish red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

4 medium shallots, peeled and quartered

4 Tablespoons EVOO

2 Tablespoons ground sumac

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (If you are using Kosher chickens, you will probably want less added salt.)

1 small lemon

5 Tablespoons Za’atar Spice blend

1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2 to 3 large garlic cloves

6 fresh thyme sprigs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the potatoes and shallots in a rectangular baking dish large enough to hold everything (about 9 x 13). Toss the potatoes and shallots with 1 Tablespoon of the EVOO, all of the sumac and about 3/4 teaspoon of salt and some generous cracks of black pepper.

Rinse and pat dry the chicken, being sure that there are no giblets inside. (If there are giblets, remove them and freeze them for soup.) Season the inside and outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.

Zest the lemon into a bowl and then halve the lemon and set the pieces aside. Add the remaining EVOO to the lemon zest along with 4 Tablespoons of the za’atar and the red pepper flakes. Mix gently.

Place the chicken, breast side up, on top of the potatoes and shallots. Stuff the lemon halves (I could only get one half in so saved the other half for another use), garlic and thyme sprigs into the cavity of the chicken. Tie the legs together with some kitchen twine.

Rub the za’atar mixture all over the outside of the chicken and a bit under the breast skin if you like.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Continue roasting for 1 hour and 20 minutes more or until the juices run clear and the leg jiggles easily when pulled. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Cut the chicken right over the potatoes so that the juices run over the vegetables.

Lamb Korma at Home

Preparing Indian cuisine does take some time and lots of spices. But the rewards are worth the trouble. This lamb korma at home recipe comes from the same source as the oven-baked chicken tandoori that I posted previously.

What is korma and how does it differ from curry? Korma is a mild curry made with yogurt and nuts and includes lots of coriander. It is rich in flavor and texture with many layers.

As I have mentioned before, while Indian recipes call for lots of spices, the same ones are used often in both Indian and Mediterranean cuisines. I like to buy the whole spice and grind them as needed, which takes only minutes if you use and inexpensive coffee or spice blender. The difference from the pre-ground spices that you buy in stores is huge and will make or break these dishes. Once you get in the habit of grinding your own spices you may never go back to buying them ground again.

As with many cuisines, organizing your ingredients before you actually begin to cook is essential. Things get added quickly and there is no time to suddenly start chopping or blending ingredients once the cooking commences. Preparing these recipes with someone else to help makes short work, but they can be done by one person.

For some ideas of how to put together a complete Indian meal, check out the suggestions I give on my post for tandoori chicken. And always be sure to have some good naan, roti or other bread and basmati rice to soak up the delicious sauces. Even if you only serve the lamb korma at home with a simple rice and a veg, you won’t be disappointed.

Recipe

Yield: About 6 to 8 servings as part of a full Indian meal

Ingredients

2 ounces of garlic cloves (about 8 large)

2 ounces of fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into small pieces

1/2 cup of milk

2 ounces of raw cashews

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1/2 cup butter or ghee

1/4 cup of Canola or vegetable oil

1 pound (about 1 large) onion, finely chopped

2 pounds of lean lamb, cut into 1/5 inch cubes

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1.5 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground green cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 pound tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

Directions

Puree the garlic and ginger in a processor or blender and set aside.

Combine all of your spices and the salt and set aside.

Mix the milk with the cashews and poppy seeds in a blender and process until smooth. (I found that this worked best if I first ground the cashews and poppy seeds in my spice grinder.)

Melt the butter or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until lightly browned. Increase the heat to high and add the garlic/ginger puree. Brown lightly.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the lamb pieces. Saute until lightly browned on all sides, turning as needed. This takes about 8 minutes. Scrape the skillet as necessary to prevent sticking. You can add a few drops of water to loosen any brown bits, but I found that the butter and oil was sufficient.

Add the spices and mix well being sure to coat all of the lamb pieces. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes until the lamb is nicely glazed.

Add the tomatoes, yogurt and cashew, poppy seed milk mixture and stir through.

Serve garnished with chopped cilantro, if desired.

Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken at Home

Now anyone can make delicious Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken at home. If you follow my blog it’s easy to tell that my favorite cuisines are Indian and Mediterranean. Both are incredibly varied, complex and have some huge regional differences. That said, however, these cuisines are lively with spices and use lots of vegetables and pulses. The spices are similar, albeit in different combinations and quantities. The meals are accompanied by salads and pickles and both have wonderful flat breads. And its easy to feed both vegetarians and omnivores since there are so many great non-meat options.

Because spices are at the heart of these cuisines, I have relatively recently started grinding my own as I use them. It is incredibly simple and quick to do with a coffee grinder and the difference is incomparable. Smell freshly ground coriander versus store bought and you won’t even recognize them as the same spice. And while the spice list may appear long in many Indian dishes, if you do this kind of cooking, they are spices that I always have on hand in my pantry. If you purchase the whole spice or seed – only grinding what you need – the fragrance and flavor will last longer too.

But I digress. My husband and I have found that eating out is very expensive and often a less than totally satisfying experience. And, of course, I enjoy cooking and my husband and family are such an appreciative audience that I have chosen to learn how to prepare many of our favorite foods at home. And the aromas! There is nothing like walking into a house where the air is redolent of spices or the smell of fresh bread.

All of this is by way of introducing Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken at home. This recipe dates back to a May, 1980 Bon Appetit article on the cuisine of northern India. The chef is Paul Bhalla and his recipes do take some preparation, but they are all well worth the effort. I hopefully will be blogging his recipe for Lamb Korma and Alu Gobi in the coming weeks. The only change I have made in the Tandoori Chicken recipe is to reduce the quantity. This can easily be doubled. The other slight change is that my oven unfortunately shuts down if I try to heat it to 500 degrees F. So I have slightly reduced the temperature to 475 degrees F. at the beginning of the cooking time and will zap it under the broiler at the end to get that caramelized look.

For a complete Indian meal, check out some of these ideas:

Indian Sides with Something to Please Everyone

Red Lentils with Ginger

Punjabi Chana Dal

Moong Dal and Lemony Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita

Eggplant Pate (Bharta)

Karhi (Yogurt Sauce)

Indian Rice Pudding (Kheer)

Carrot Halwa (Gajar ka halwa)

Be sure to have plenty of naan, roti or one of the other many Indian breads on hand for all of the wonderful sauces and dips. If you cannot locate these breads easily and don’t feel like making them, the ubiquitous pita and wheat flour tortillas are acceptable substitutes. And definitely cook up basmati rice.

And if you don’t eat meat, check out Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce. These wonderful recipes are just a sampling of delicious Indian foods on my blog.

Recipe for Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken at Home

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, cut-up and skinned

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1 Tablespoon boiling water

4 large garlic cloves

4-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into about 8 pieces

1/2 cup plain yogurt (I do not use Greek yogurt here. Find a good plain, whole milk yogurt to use instead like a Bulgarian yogurt.)

1/4 cup beetroot color extract (See note)

A couple of drops of red vegetable food coloring (optional)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Rounded 1/2 Tablespoon ground coriander

Rounded teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Garnishes (Optional)

Lemon or lime wedges and lettuce leaves and sliced onions.

Directions

Remove the skin from the chicken. I find it helps to use a paper or cloth towel to gran and pull off the skin in one piece. Cut 4 to 5 slits (almost to the bone) in the thighs and breasts. Place in a glass or stainless bowl.

Soak the saffron in the water for about 5 minutes. I heat the water and saffron in the microwave for about 20 seconds or you can simply boil water and then add the saffron. Brush the mixture generously over the chicken pieces on both sides and into the slits. Cover and allow to stand for 20 minutes at room temperature.

In a blender, puree the garlic, ginger and then add the yogurt, beet extract and spices. Continue pureeing until you have a smooth liquid. Using a pastry brush, generously paint the chicken pieces with the spice mixture, making sure that it gets into the slits. You can also just place everything in a heavy duty plastic freezer bag. Massage the chicken pieces once you have gotten out as much air as possible and the bag is sealed. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken from the fridge about an hour before cooking. Heat your oven to 500 degrees F if you can or 450 to 475 degrees F if your oven doesn’t go that high.

Use some of the melted butter to coat a shallow roasting pan. Add the chicken pieces and drizzle with remaining butter. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue roasting until the chicken tests done and is a poppy red color – the perfect Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken. This will take about an additional 25 to 39 minutes. Arrange on a platter with lettuce leaves and the garnishes of your choice. [I did not use the red food coloring and my beets were a bit anemic in color this time, so my chicken was not that lovely poppy red. It does NOT, however have any effect on the taste.

NOTE: To make beet extract, cut in eighths 1 large or quarter 2 to 3 small beets. Combine in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water. Cover and boil until the beet is fork tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well, reserving the liquid. Use the cooked beets for salad. The reserved liquid is your extract. You can also buy canned beets and use the liquid from the can.