Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chicken tagine with prunes

A tagine is a slow-cooked Moroccan stew, and also the name of the dish in which it is traditionally prepared , a sort of a flat earthenware casserole with a conical top -- very poetic, but not very practical if you are cooking for more than two adults. I make no claims as to the authenticity of the recipe for this tagine, which I have cobbled together from a variety of sources, but it works. It is like a spicy chicken tzimmes. We made it for Seder (and served it with potato kugel), but it is a good year round dish and easy enough to make on weeknights. The key is that you don't brown the chicken before stewing it, but rather glaze it after while you are thickening the sauce, which regular readers of this blog will recognize as a favorite method of mine.

Chicken tagine with prunes

  • 1 three pound chicken, cut into eights, or 3 pounds chicken thighs (I think chicken thighs work best here, but some people like their white meat)
  • 1 large grated Spanish onion
  • 3-4 large sprigs of fresh coriander, washed well but left whole
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic (I left these out on Pesach because my mother hates garlic)
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (Moroccans use the dried spice, rather than fresh)\
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks (optional -- nice, but it depends on how the other dishes are spiced)
  • large pinch of saffron, toasted in a skillet briefly and then soaked in 1/4 cup water for a few minutes
  • pinch of turmeric
  • salt
  • 12 oz. dried pitted prunes
  • 1 cup black raisins (optional)
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  1. Soak prunes and raisins in warm water about 30 minutes.
  2. If you want a lighter dish, you can remove the skin from the chicken, in which case you should skip step #6, broiling the chicken.
  3. Put chicken in a pot with onion, coriander, garlic, spices (including saffron water) and salt. Bring to a simmer and stew about 20 minutes.
  4. Drain the raisins and prunes and add to the chicken, along with the carrots, and cook about 20-25 more minutes until chicken is done.
  5. Remove chicken from the pot and place skin side up in an oven and broiler safe serving dish.
  6. Broil chicken until the skin in brown. Be careful that you don't burn it.
  7. Meanwhile, remove the coriander sprigs and taste the sauce, especially for the balance of heat, sweet and salt. Adjust seasonings if necessary, and boil down until the sauce is thick.
  8. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve. It also keeps nicely if you hold it in a low oven, and reheats well, especially if you use the thighs. Serve with couscous, mashed potatoes, rice, kugel on Pesach, or thick Israeli-style pita.
  9. Serves 4 generously.
Couscous: I use Claudia Roden's method. Combine equal amounts of couscous and salted boiling water (1 to 1.5 cups should be more than enough for 4), in an oven safe dish, covered, for about 20 minutes. Oil your hands lightly and massage the couscous to separate the grains. This makes it fluffy and is actually kind of fun. Dot with a little pareve margarine (butter if you are not fussy about these things) and heat covered in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. The temperature is flexible, and it can also sit in the oven. While I used to only prepare couscous in a couscousierre, a tall cylindrical pot with a steamer on top for the couscous and massage it twice, following Paula Wolfert's directions. It was a pain in the neck and frankly doesn't come out appreciably better than Roden's way. In her recent cookbook, Mediterranean Grains and Greens, Wolfert really goes over the top and tells people to roll their own couscous from semolina. (For a great review/appreciation/sendup of this book, see Nicholas Lemann's review "The Diva" from Slate.) However, I do agree with Wolfert that instant couscous is an abomination.

Spices on Pesach:   Due to changes in the ways that spices are processed, some ground spices may contain hametz.  If this is of concern and you cannot find Kosher for Passover spices, you can leave out the turmeric and substitute a 1 tablespoon grated ginger for the dried.  The saffron should not present a problem, and black pepper is widely available K for P or may be ground fresh.  Pereg, an Israeli brand, produces many K for P spices.  Also, Penzeys spices are pure, high-quality, and prepared without any addititives that might contain hametz, such as anti-caking agents.  People far stricter than I am use them with confidence.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Indian-style chicken scallopine

Usually fusion is not my style, but this is a great way to get an Indian-flavored dish in a fraction of the time it takes to cook an authentic Indian chicken stew. Amy came up with this one, which is a slight variation of one that I made on Pesach. Soon I hope to post more on some post-Seder Pesach dishes that are good for year round, but meanwhile, hear is Amy's

Chicken scallopine with cumin and mint

  • 1-3 tablespoons oil (vegetable oil like canola)
  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seed
  • 4 chopped shallots
  • 1 pound think sliced chicken cutlets (enough for the 3 carnivores in our family when served with sides)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes (we used 1/2 can of del Valle chopped cherry tomatoes)
  • 1-2 tablespoons tamarind puree/pulp (not concentrate)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala(optional)
  • Handful of chopped fresh mint
  • Heat oil on high in a large non-stick skillet.
  • Add cumin and cook about a minute until it sizzles, smells fragrant, and darkens a bit -- do not burn.
  • Add shallots and cook about 5 minutes on medium, stirring occasionally.
  • Add cutlets and season with salt and pepper. Brown on both sides on high heat. Depending on thickness, they should cook through in 3-5 minutes.
  • Remove cutlets, and add tomatoes, cook on high another 5 minutes. Stir in tamarind.
  • Return cutlets to the skillet and warm through (or finish cooking through if necessary.
  • Serve on a platter sprinkle with garam masala and mint.
  • That's it!


You can vary the seasonings. Add some or all of chopped ginger, green chili or garlic when the shallots are almost done. Add 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric at the same time. Use fresh coriander instead of the mint (though I think the tamarind/mint combo is really nice here). Skip the tamarind and cook the tomatoes with some dry white wine, though you may need a few more minutes to cook it down. You could also substitute brown mustard seeds for the cumin, but this changes the regional character of the flavors drastically (from Northern to Southern India) so it deserves a separate recipe post.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Matzo Brei, Sri-Lankan and Galitzianer style

I am not going to provide a standard matzo brei recipe -- most people have their favorites already, and anyone else can find one in a cookbook or on the internet. However most recipes fall squarely into the category of breakfast foods, a French-toast substitute made out of the bread of affliction and usually served sweet. (Personally, I like mine with salt, pepper, cinnamon sugar, and sometimes date honey.)

Here I offer two savory matzo breis:

Matzo Brei, Sri-Lankan style (Kotthu Roti)

Kotthu Roti (Litvak style)
Our Montreal cousins often go to a Sri Lankan restaurant in their neighborhood called Jolee, which serves a dish called kotthu roti which is made of leftover bread, chopped up, and fried on a griddle with seasonings, eggs, veggies and other ingredients. It is a great way of using up leftovers. This is popular street food and supposedly, in Tamil cities in Southern India and Sri Lanka, the night is permeated by the sound of bread being chopped on griddles for kotthu roti. It is so popular that a lot of bread never makes it to the leftover stage and is produced especially for this dish. My first reaction on tasting it was that it was like a South Asian matzo brei, and this year I finally tried it:

  • 6 matzos
  • 1-3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1/2 tablespoon mustard seed (if you swing that way, see below)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
  • 1-2 cups chopped oniony stuff (white parts of scallions, shallots, red or yellow onions)
  • 1-3 green chilies, chopped
  • 10-20 curry leaves (optional, if available)
  • 4 -8 oz. finely shredded cabbage
  • 1-2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped (you can also substitute a chopped sweet red pepper)
  • salt
  • 1-4 eggs, lightly scrambled and salted
  • handful of fresh coriander

  1. Break matzos into medium size pieces. Put in a large bowl and cover with cold water, and leave for about five minutes. You may need to weight the matzos down so that they are covered. Drain well, even if the matzos are still a little hard. Leave it in the bowl, covered, while you gather and chop the other ingredients, and it will continue to soften. (Matzo brei cooks better if the matzo is not oversoaked.
  2. Heat oil in a very large nonstick skillet until very hot.
  3. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, and heat until the cumin darkens slightly and the mustard pops.
  4. Add the curry leaves and stir.
  5. Add turmeric and stir.
  6. Add onions (sprinkle with salt) and chilies and stir until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add cabbage and cook until wilted. Brown it a bit if you want.
  8. Add tomatoes and stir fry a few minutes. Add a bit more salt.
  9. Add the matzos and let it sit for a few minutes, and then stir fry about 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned and no longer soggy. They will sort of swell and crisp lightly at the same time. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.
  10. Push the mixture over to one side of the skillet. Pour a bit of oil onto the exposed part of the skillet, and add the eggs. Let it cook undisturbed for about a minute, and then scramble and cook until done. Stir to incorporate into the other ingredients.
  11. Add fresh coriander, stir and serve to the relief of people who are getting very bored with their diet as Passover starts to drag.

Serves 3-4 for lunch with a salad.

Why don't you soak the matzos with the eggs? Most recipes call for soaking the matzos in egg after the water soak, but that leaves you with a texture too similar to regular matzo brei and not enough like kotthu roti. The matzo will steam and soften in the skillet and doesn't need to be soaked in egg for this dish.

Mustard seeds: (You may skip this section if you eat kitniyot. You may also skip this if you don't know what kitniyot are and therefore don't care whether you eat mustard seeds on Passover or not.) I personally follow David Golinkin (http://www.responsafortoday.com/engsums/3_4.htm ) on the issue of the prohibition of kitniyot and consider it a "foolish custom." I have never been much for stringency, and if Ovadiah Yosef eats it, why can't we? (Not that he would ever eat in my house anyway.) Besides, my grandfather said that our last name, Divack may have been derived from Dweck, a common Syrian name and that we might have some Middle Eastern ancestry. For grains like rice I can almost understand holding to the stringency, but mustard seeds? Would anyone every mistake ground mustard with flour from one of the forbidden grains? Adding prohibition to prohibition is contrary to the joy of the holiday which already has enough restrictions to keep us all busy. That having been said, you can skip the mustard seeds, use only cumin and it will be fine.

Other ingredients: You can really make this with what you want -- these are the vegetables that I had on hand. I used mostly scallions, since every year, we have a plate of scallions that we intend to use to whip each other while singing dayenu, and always forget to do it, so it was a good way to use up the scallions. Shallots are probably the most authentic, but use what you have. The same goes for the other veggies. I liked the cabbage and tomato combination (don't overdo the tomatoes) but you could add other greens, shredded zucchini (I would salt this lightly first and then rinse to eliminate the extra moisture), and chopped green beans, if you consider them acceptable during the holiday. If you want, instead of the eggs, it would also be good with some leftover shredded roast chicken. In any case, you need to use plenty of oil.

Galitzianer-style savory Matzo Brei:

Over 30 years ago, Celia, the mother of my mother's friend Susan, made this matzo brei. She said that the got the recipe "From a Galitzianer woman." In retrospect, I wonder if the original inspiration was Tamil. I can't believe that people who put sugar in their gefilte fish would think a such a wonderful, savory thing to do with matzo brei.

To make it, make matzo brei the ordinary way: soak and drain the matzo, and then add one beaten egg per board. For about 4-6 pieces, grate in one medium to large onion and season with plenty of salt an pepper. Cook in vegetable oil or schmaltz (chicken fat) in a non-stick skillet. This should be scrambled and not pancake-style. I like it best somewhat long cooked until at least some of the pieces are browned, crisp and chewy. This is a perfect side dish with any dish with gravy. like a brisket, or even with a plain roasted chicken if you are sicker of potatoes than you are of matzo.