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Recipe: Peruvian-Style Peanut Chicken (Pollo Arequipeño)

31 Aug

There are two signature Peruvian dishes consisting of boiled potatoes topped with a spicy, creamy, cheese sauce:  Papas a la Huancaina and Ocopa Arequipeña. They both feature yellow chilies, cheese, and milk–and frequently, onions and garlic. An Ocopa sauce often contains nuts as a thickener, while a Huancaina sauce usually includes crackers (and an herb that is difficult to find: huacatay, sometimes referred to as black mint). However, I’ve seen Ocopa made with crackers, too…. Regardless, both sauces and their many variations are delicious!

The following recipe departs from the norm: it features an Ocopa-style sauce over chicken rather than potatoes, and it is broiled in the oven until the sauce begins to turn golden brown.

Peruvian Peanut Chicken

Peruvian-Style Peanut Chicken (Pollo Arequipeño)
Serves 8

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
juice of 2 lemons or limes
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
2 scallions (green onions), trimmed and sliced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. aji amarillo (yellow chili) paste –add more if you like your sauce hot
1/2 c. roasted, salted peanuts
1/2 c. grated Münster cheese (or feta or queso fresco)
3/4-1 c. evaporated milk
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste

chopped cilantro
Kalamata (or other black) olives


1. Trim the chicken breasts and cut each into two pieces.
2. Combine the lime juice and olive oil in a glass container and add the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper to taste, mix well, cover, and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the red onion and scallion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and aji amarillo paste (and huacatay puree if available/desired) and cook for another couple of minutes. Turn off the heat. Put the onion mixture into a blender along with remaining sauce ingredients; blend until smooth. If the sauce appears very thick, add a bit more milk. Place the sauce in a  covered container and refrigerate until needed. Set the skillet to the side on the stove; do not clean or rinse.
4. After the chicken has marinated, heat the skillet over high heat and cook the chicken (in two batches if needed) until the pieces are golden brown on both sides (no need to add extra oil to the skillet first, since the marinade contains oil). Place the chicken pieces in a single layer in a baking dish, top each piece with an ample amount of the peanut sauce, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil, sprinkle Kalamata olives around the chicken, and broil until sauce begins to turn golden brown in spots.
5. Remove the chicken from the oven, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

Recipe: Turkey Burgers with Tomato Jam, Feta, and Kalamata Olives

26 Aug

Feta and kalamata olives–a match made in gastronomic heaven. Great on a mezze platter, divine in a Greek Salad, and a flavorful way to jazz up turkey burgers. Paired with a Greek Salad to keep the flavor theme going, this is a nice, light meal that pops. Adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe.

Turkey Burgers with Tomato Jam, Feta, and Kalamata Olives
Makes 8-10 burgers

2 lb. ground turkey
½ large onion, chopped fine (red onion is nice)
6 oz. feta, crumbled
½ c. chopped, pitted kalamata olives
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
extra chopped, pitted kalamata olives and crumbled feta

Tomato Jam
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ large onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14-oz.) cans diced tomatoes in juice (I used petite diced)
1 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. salt pepper
freshly ground pepper

1. BURGERS: Mix all ingredients together and shape into patties. Grill on griddle, using olive oil.

2. TOMATO JAM: Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft and translucent. Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium-high heat until almost all the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes. Cool. Serve burgers with tomato jam on top, and sprinkle with more chopped kalamata olives and crumbled feta.

Recipe: Peruvian Chicken in Creamy Walnut Sauce with Chili (Ají de Gallina)

4 Jun

We lived in Peru for a couple of years, and considered ourselves to be in gastronomic heaven. Peruvian cuisine takes advantage of the country’s geography (coast, jungle, mountains) and history (including the Inca, Spanish conquistadores, African slaves, Chinese indentured labor, and many other immigrants). All these influences–different foods and cooking techniques–came together to contribute to an absolutely wonderful cuisine, one that continues to evolve.

Of the many Peruvian dishes I like, Ají de Gallina is one of my favorites. Ají means chili; the yellow in this dish comes from the signature yellow chili peppers that symbolize Peruvian cooking (plus a bit of turmeric). Gallina means hen–in this case, shredded chicken. And the creamy, cheesy, nutty part of the dish speaks to European influences. It is traditionally served with black olives (which I had on hand) and boiled yellow potatoes and quartered hard-boiled egg (which I belatedly discovered I did not have on hand).

This is not a difficult dish to make, but does require some preparation time, so if your weekdays are busy, this may be best made on a weekend. I tend to make it in stages while taking care of other tasks around the house and in the garden.

Ají de Gallina (Peruvian Chicken in Creamy Walnut Sauce with Chili)
Serves 8

3 lb. (1.4 kg.) boneless chicken breast halves
½ onion
2 carrots, peeled
2 bay leaves
4 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into quarters
1 (12-oz./354 ml.) can evaporated milk, plus extra milk if needed
3 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
2 large onions, diced
4-6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. aji amarillo paste (yellow chili paste)–available at international/Latin food markets
2 tsp. turmeric
1.5 tsp. salt
pinch pepper
1 cup (120 gr.) chopped walnuts, toasted (see below)
¾ cup (84 gr.) grated Parmesan cheese

boiled yellow potatoes, peeled and halved
black olives
hard-boiled eggs, quartered


1. Place chicken breasts in a large pot, and add onions, carrots, and bay leaves. Add enough water to cover the chicken, then lightly salt the water. Bring water to a boil, immediately turn off the heat, cover pot, and let the chicken poach for about an hour. Remove chicken from the broth, let cool, and then shred with clean fingers. Reserve all of the broth.
2. Meanwhile, soak the bread in the milk.

Clockwise from top left: chicken broth from poaching process, shredded chicken, aji amarillo (yellow chili) paste, bread soaked in milk.

3. Sauté onion in oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch Oven or large pot over medium heat until softened and turning golden at edges. Add garlic, cook 2 more minutes, then add the turmeric, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, then add aji amarillo paste and cook for 5 more minutes. Note: 2 tbsp. chili paste gives this dish a nice little kick; for more heat, add 3 tbsp.
4. Toast the walnuts (place walnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer, and toast in a 350-degree oven for about 5-10 minutes or until lightly golden and aromatic; be careful not to burn them, as I have done on more than one occasion when trying to do too much multitasking….).

Left: onion-garlic-chili paste mixture. Right: toasted walnuts

5. Put the bread and milk into a blender or food processor, add the toasted walnuts and a splash of reserved chicken broth (about 1/4 c.), and blend until smooth. Add this mixture to the onions in the pot, cook for a few minutes, adding more broth if necessary to thin, then add chicken and parmesan cheese. Thin as needed with more milk or broth (you will probably need a fair amount; add more milk for a creamier texture, more broth for a lighter dish). Add more salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve over rice and with suggested accompaniments. Garnish with some chopped parsley for additional color, if desired.

Recipe: Sausage, Fennel, and Mushroom Pastry Puffs

6 Mar

Puff pastry is a magical ingredient. If you have some in the freezer, you will be able to pull together a savory meal or a sweet dessert in barely more time than it takes to cook the pastry once it has thawed. If you are someone who makes puff pastry from scratch, my hat is off to you. I may get there one day, but for now I am happy to rely on the prepared kind. In this recipe, the onion and fennel almost melt together, adding a subtle layer of flavor to the sausage and mushroom. And crisp, flaky pastry makes everything better.

Sausage, Fennel, and Mushroom Pastry Puffs
Yield: 12 puffs

1 pkg. puff pastry (about 17.5 oz. = 2 sheets), almost thawed
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely chopped
1 bulb fennel, trimmed, cored, and finely chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
sprinkle red chili flakes
salt & pepper
6 links sweet Italian turkey sausage (1.5 lb.), casings removed
6 tbsp. grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
chopped parsley (optional)


1. Let puff pastry thaw while you make the filling — but before the pastry comes to room temperature, unfold it and slice each sheet vertically into three sections along the fold lines (each sheet is folded like a letter), then cut each section in half. After cutting up both sheets, you will have 12 small rectangles of pastry. It is easier to cut the pastry, and to maintain the rectangular shapes, when the dough is still a tiny bit frozen. Set the pastry rectangles to one side in a single layer (if they are touching each other, they may stick together).

2. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add onions and fennel. Cook until onion is soft; add chili flakes (if using) and season with salt and pepper. Add mushrooms to the onion/fennel mixture and cook until liquid is released and mixture is relatively dry. Add the sausage, and cook until all liquid has evaporated, breaking up sausage as much as possible. Check seasonings, then let mixture cool for a few minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray. Place one pastry rectangle into each muffin cup; the edges will drape over, which is fine–the end result will be somewhat free form. Distribute the filling among the muffin cups, sprinkle parsley (if using) and about 1/2 tbsp. Parmesan/Romano on top of each puff, and bring the pastry edges over the filling to loosely cover.

4. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Recipe: Mulligatawny Soup (Curried Rice Soup)

11 Dec

What do you do when 1) you have omnivores and vegans coming to dinner, and 2) it’s cold outside and you want something warm and filling that everyone will enjoy? Well, you could offer your guests a deconstructed curried rice soup to suit every palate (and dietary preference). Mulligatawny–with or without chicken–is another example of cross-cultural fusion: an Anglo-Indian soup with a name that means “pepper water.”  And like many other hybrids, there are infinite variations on the theme; this is just one version that can be served two ways.

When I am making this for the family, I prepare it with chicken broth and chicken as in the photo below. But it is just as good (and more versatile) made with vegetable broth and served with a variety of accompaniments on the side, so guests can add the ingredients they prefer.

Note: The instructions below are for making the soup to suit both omnivorous and vegan guests. If not meant to be vegan, the soup can be made with chicken broth and chicken; cook the chicken in the pot before you cook the onions, celery, and carrots. Remove the chicken from the pot when it is no longer pink, add the onions, celery, and carrots to the pot and proceed with the recipe as indicated below; return chicken to soup along with the apple and rice.

Mulligatawny Soup (Curried Rice Soup–with or without Chicken)

Soup Base

3 tbsp. canola oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely diced
2 carrots, grated
3 tbsp. flour
1.5 tbsp. curry powder
10-12  c.  vegetable broth (or water and equivalent bouillon cubes)
1 green apple, peeled, cored, and grated
1 c. rice (I usually use white jasmine rice, but have also made this with brown basmati)
salt and lots of freshly ground pepper to taste
1 (13.5-oz.) can lite coconut milk

[Choose as many as desired and serve each separately alongside the soup]

2-3 boneless chicken breast halves, cooked and cubed
1 (15-oz.) can chickpeas/garbanzos, simmered in their liquid until warm, then drained
8 0z. mushrooms, sliced and cut in half, sauteed in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper
2 zucchinis, sliced and cut into quarters, prepared same as mushrooms
1 small head broccoli, cut into small florets and steamed
handful baby spinach, raw


1. Saute onion, celery, and carrots in oil in large soup pot until soft and golden. Add flour and curry powder, and cook 5 minutes. Add broth (start with 10 c.), mix well, and bring to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes.
2. Add apple, rice, salt, and pepper, and simmer 15-20 minutes more, or until rice is done. Add more broth as needed to maintain a fairly soupy consistency.
3. Just before serving, add coconut milk and adjust seasonings to taste.
4. Serve soup in bowls and allow your guests to add any of the accompaniments they desire.

Recipe: Pakistani Chicken Patties

3 Dec

These patties are from an old New York Times recipe for Pakistani Seekh Kebabs. I first tasted them cold, at a picnic on the edge of a river after a hike with our friends. Our friends brought the patties as their picnic contribution, and they (the patties) were heavenly (though our friends are quite nice, too).

You could grill these, but you would miss out on the main reason to pan fry them in olive oil: the onions. As the patties cook, some of the onions fall out and turn golden brown in the olive oil. There is a battle at our house for those onion bits; their appeal cannot be underestimated.

So, hot or cold–all parts of these patties are delectable. We eat them with curried couscous (a bit of cross-cultural fusion) and the accompanying Cilantro Mint Chutney.

Pakistani Chicken Patties
Serves 8

2 lb. (.90 kg.) ground chicken or turkey, or a combination of both
1 egg yolk
1 large onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. turmeric
¼ c. cilantro, leaves and stems–finely chopped  (Note: if you are buying the cilantro in a bunch, you can use 1/3 for the patties 2/3 for the chutney)
2 teaspoons salt

olive oil

Cilantro Mint Chutney
1 c. (240 gr.) plain yogurt
1/4 c. (25 gr.) mint leaves
1/2 c. (50 gr.) cilantro, leaves and stems
1 tbsp. lemon juice (I’ve used 1/2 tbsp. vinegar in a pinch)
1/2 tsp. sugar

1. For patties, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mix well. Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet, shape meat mixture into patties with a spoon, and cook the patties in batches until golden. Serve with couscous and Cilantro Mint Chutney.

2. For chutney, combine ingredients in a blender or a small food processor and process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Refrigerate up to 2 days.

Recipe: Chicken (or Veggie) Tajine

13 Oct

There are certainly as many ways of making a tajine (tagine) as there are ways of making Spaghetti Bolognaise, but all boil down to the same delicious result: a fragrant, soul-warming North African stew that is perfect for a crisp autumn day. This version–with just a hint of sweetness from the cinnamon, currants, and honey–is a favorite.

Tajines are named for the two-piece clay pot that they are traditionally cooked in. The pot has a flat bottom with deep sides, and a conical lid. The brightly colored glazed versions are gorgeous. Alas, I don’t have a tajine, so instead prepare this dish in a large, enameled, cast-iron Dutch Oven with a lid. This version is made with chicken, but is very easy to convert to a vegetarian or vegan dish:  substitute garbanzos beans (chickpeas) and veggies for the chicken. I usually add chickpeas anyway since I am quite fond of them, but this time around had a smaller crowd at home so omitted them. I also forgot the carrots, but luckily this dish is very forgiving. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients–most of them are spices. I put the spices into a small bowl while the onions are cooking, and add them all at once.

Toasted almonds are a must as an accompaniment–they add a nice crunchy texture to the dish; toasted pine nuts would work, too. Serve with couscous.

Chicken Tajine
Serves 8

2-6 tbsp. olive oil
2 large  onions (cut onions in half, julienne, then cut slices in half again)
1 c. shredded carrots
6 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. fennel or anise seeds
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
10 whole cloves
2 (14.5-oz.) cans petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 c. chicken or veggie broth
juice from 1 lemon
3 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat removed, cut into thirds
1 c. currants
1 (15.5-oz.) can chickpeas, drained
1 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. butter (or non-hydrogenated buttery spread)
1/2 c. toasted almonds (slivered or sliced), or pine nuts

1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy, large Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown chicken (in batches if necessary); remove from pot.
2. Add onions, carrots, and garlic to pot (plus more olive oil if needed). Cover and cook until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add paprika, salt, turmeric, coriander, fennel seeds, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes, broth, and lemon juice; bring to boil. Put chicken back into pot in a single layer and add currants and chickpeas (if using). Nestle chicken into sauce; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes. Remove lid. Add honey and butter and simmer about 30 minutes longer, uncovered.
3. Check and adjust seasonings. Before serving, sprinkle with almonds and cilantro. Serve with couscous.

Recipe: Chicken Satays with Peanut Sauce

20 Aug

This is the dish I was beginning to prepare yesterday when I got side-tracked by my daughter’s lovely Mediterranean Wrap.

I first tasted these satays at a friend’s house when we were living in Australia. I could not get enough of the peanut sauce and I could not get over that fact that our friend had made it from scratch. Even now, I’m happy to just have the sauce on rice after the satays have all disappeared, which they will do soon after making their initial appearance. I usually serve the satays with some diced cucumber sprinkled with seasoned rice vinegar and crushed red pepper.

If  threading satays and making sauce seems like too much, just marinate boneless chicken breasts (or thighs) in the marinade and throw on the grill for a delectable dinner; the chicken by itself is also fantastic.

This recipe is originally from an Australian Women’s  Weekly cookbook. Note the time needed to marinate the chicken.

Chicken Satays with Peanut Sauce
Makes about 20+ satays

2 lb. (or about 1 kg.) chicken breast, cut in half horizontally, then cut into thin strips

4 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
4 tbsp. canola oil
1.5 tsp. curry powder

Peanut Sauce
1-2 tbsp. canola oil
1 finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
4 oz. low-sodium roasted peanuts, very finely chopped (or crushed with a mortar and pestle)
1/4-1/2 cup (60-120 ml.) cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt or soy sauce
3 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup fruit chutney (Major Grey, mango)
¾ cup (177 ml.) lite coconut milk
1/8 cup (25 gr.) sugar; you can use brown sugar if preferred**

Marinade: Combine marinade ingredients in large bowl with lid. Add chicken, coat well, cover, and marinate in refrigerator overnight (or at least for a few hours). If you will be using wooden skewers, soak in water for at least 30 minutes before cooking the chicken.

Sauce: Cook onion and garlic in oil until onion begins to turn golden. Add spices and peanuts, and cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer slowly for 30 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring occasionally. Cover and keep warm.

After the chicken has marinated, thread the  strips onto skewers. Grill or broil chicken. Serve satays with peanut sauce (and cucumber salad if desired) as an appetizer, or add rice to make into a meal.

** [Note Feb. 2013: I recently made the sauce and forgot to add the sugar — and discovered it tasted great without it; use the sugar if you like the sauce to be a bit sweeter.]