Ga Kho Xa (Lemongrass Caramel Chicken)

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Less than a week into the New Year and my excitement has transformed, but in a way, I am even more motivated – disappointment, frustration and spite are pretty motivating. I’m putting together a plan of attack. A plan of attack!

I was listening to The Nerdist podcast, an interview with Emma Caulfield (who I love! Admittedly for Buffy but also for doing all this other creative stuff and embracing web culture), and she said she is really busy and frustrated which is how I feel sometimes. The host Chris Hardwick throws out some sage wisdom, ideas like “controlfreakism” and “make your third reaction your first reaction.” Hmm.

But enough reflection. She says she turns off the internal chatter by running, I do it by cooking (obviously). This week I made ga kho xa, which is Vietnamese lemongrass caramel chicken – my friend Gloria sent me several recipes for what to do with my lemongrass. Small triumph, I managed to turn my frustrations into something sweet and salty and delicious.

Ga Kho Xa (Lemongrass Caramel Chicken)

Adapted for convenience from Gloria’s recipe

1 lb chicken thighs or drumsticks – leave on skin and bones for more flavor
2 tbsp + 1 tsp brown sugar (I actually misread this and there should be more sugar in the sauce, but I’ll just tell you what I did and it was still yummy)
2 tbsp + 1 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemongrass stalk, chopped in half and smashed with a rolling pin
1 onion, sliced
2 red chiles, thinly sliced (I left this out per usual for Zoeya, served with chili sauce for me and Shan)

In large bowl, marinate chicken with 1 tsp fish sauce and 1 tsp brown sugar.
In separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients and set aside.

In large deep pan, sear chicken skin-side down with some oil until browned.  Add a little bit of sauce to the pan to coat bottom of pan.  Allow sauce and chicken to caramelize.  Flip chicken and add in the remaining sauce cooking over medium heat until sauce thickens and chicken is fully cooked. Remove lemongrass stalks.

Serve with rice. I served with brown rice and sauteed kale.

My plate looks like My Plate. Also, Zoeya is so silly.

Spiced Thyme Chicken and Green Beans with Coconut Rice

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Yesterday evening I was puttering around in the kitchen, wondering what to make for dinner, and came up with this little weeknight one-pot meal. Well, two pots if you count the coconut rice, but I had that leftover from the weekend barbecue. I’m a little smug about my invented method of steaming green beans on a bed of Jamaican-inspired chicken. Also a bit smug about using homegrown thyme from my windowsill.

These spices are nice, but if you are not cooking for little ones, I encourage you to turn up the heat.

Spiced Thyme Chicken and Green Beans with Coconut Rice

For chicken and green beans:
1 lb chicken legs and thighs, skinned
olive oil
4 allspice berries
4 cloves
salt & pepper
paprika
ground thyme
cayenne (optional – I skipped it)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, sliced
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1 lb green beans, trimmed
1 tbsp butter
a few sprigs fresh thyme

Heat olive oil with allspice berries and cloves. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and a generous dusting of paprika, thyme, and cayenne. Brown chicken on both sides and remove to a plate. Saute garlic and shallots for a couple of minutes and add chicken broth, plus a cup of water. Scrape brown bits off the bottom of the pan, add back the chicken pieces. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through. Add a splash more water if necessary and toss green beans on top of chicken. Cover and steam until green beans are cooked al dente.

Arrange green beans and chicken on top of rice. Stir up and reduce pan liquid to a quarter cup or less. Stir in pat of butter, and pour over chicken and green beans. Garnish with fresh thyme.

For coconut rice:
1 c basmati rice
1 c coconut milk
1 c water
1 cinnamon stick
salt

Soak and rinse rice. Combine rice, coconut milk, water, cinnamon stick and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a low simmer until rice is cooked, about 15 to 20 min.

Note: I serve this rice with everything. It’s easy and it goes with all kinds of food.

I chose this as my best recipe in July!

Paki Tacos

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I absolutely love Latin culture. I love the language, the food, the music, the dancing. When I met Shan, I was pretty much immersed. I was going salsa dancing every weekend, and I was eating arroz con gandules instead of biryani. After we got married, I started cooking mostly Pakistani and Indian food, but I will never stop cooking Latin food; it’s such a nice reminder of that time in my life and the people that are still dear friends, even though we don’t see each other as much anymore.

Tonight I made a dish that’s a fusion of the foods that Shan and I both love. This dish is my past and my future on one plate.

Instead of pulled pork (we don’t eat pork!) this is made with pulled chicken thighs, with a spicy tomato sauce flavored with both South Asian spices and smoky chipotle pepper, and just a little brown sugar. With gingery basmati rice, a fresh, sweet corn relish, and delicate pickled shallots (I put pickled shallots on everything), this is a delightful mix of flavors and textures.

Shan approved; he ate four and gave them their name – Paki Tacos.

Paki Tacos

For pickled shallots
Combine 2 sliced shallots, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp honey, and a couple pinches of salt in a coffee cup and let pickle while you cook the rest.

For chicken + tomato sauce
4 chicken thighs
salt & pepper
olive oil
1/3 c sherry (white wine, chicken broth, or water also fine)
1 tbsp butter
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp each: ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, garam masala
1 can diced tomatoes
1 large carrot, chopped
2 chipotle peppers (and a tbsp or so of the adobo sauce)
1 tsp brown sugar

Heat olive oil on high while you salt and pepper chicken thighs. Brown chicken thighs on both sides, covered so they start to cook through. Check for doneness, you may need to add a splash of water and cover so they cook through the rest of the way. When they are cooked, let water evaporate and remove chicken to a plate to cool.

Deglaze pan with sherry, reduce by at least half, then add butter, cinnamon, and cloves and reduce heat to just above medium. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent. Add garlic and ground spices and cook, stirring, for several minutes. Add tomatoes, carrots, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, and about a cup of water, cover and crank the heat back up. Cook for 10 minutes or so, uncover and reduce if it’s too liquidy (you want it not too dry, but thick), remove from heat, and stir in brown sugar.

While the sauce cools, shred chicken thighs with two forks. Transfer sauce to a food processor, puree, then combine chicken and sauce in the pot and gently warm through.

For corn relish
2 ears white corn
small handful cilantro
1 lime (zest of all, juice of half)
2 tbsp yogurt
salt & pepper

Boil corn in pot of generously salted water. Drain and cool. Finely chop cilantro and combine with lime zest, lime juice and yogurt. Cut the corn off the cob and gently stir with yogurt mixture.

For gingery basmati rice
Rinse and soak 1 c rice (15 min is fine). Boil and salt 2 c water, grating in 1/2 inch ginger. Add rice, cover, and reduce heat to low, cooking until done, about 15 to 20 minutes.

For tacos
Assemble all of the above in warm corn tortillas and enjoy.

Chicken Corn Soup

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This Chinese soup is very popular in Pakistan. It’s simple and homey, the perfect thing to whip up on a rainy day or to nurse someone with a cold. This was one of the first things my husband cooked for me when we moved in together, and to me the memory is just as warming as the soup.

This recipe makes about four bowls, but can easily be doubled. Delicious with just a drizzle of sriracha.

Chicken Corn Soup

olive oil
1 chicken thigh, cut into small pieces
6 cups chicken broth
couple slices of ginger (optional)
1 ear corn
2 tbsp corn starch
1 egg white
chopped green onions, parsley, or cilantro for garish
sriracha, optional

In a small soup pot, heat olive oil and add chicken pieces, stirring until they are cooked. Add broth, ginger, and the corn, and bring to a simmer. When the corn is cooked, remove, slice the kernels off and return them to the pot.

Mix corn starch with a little water to make a slurry, and add to the pot. Stir and simmer (not boiling) until the soup thickens. Stirring, slowly add the egg white. Serve piping hot.

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

Ah, a classic. The fact that it’s quick and easy, not to mention pretty much made with pantry staples, only adds to it’s charm. As in web design (my daytime identity), so often simple equals elegant.

Chicken Piccata

2 chicken breasts, sliced width-wise
salt & pepper
1/2 c flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 c white wine
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp capers
small handful parsley

Place split chicken breasts between sheets of parchment paper or saran wrap and gleefully pound away with a rolling pin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and lightly dredge in flour.

Heat olive oil and brown chicken breasts in batches for 2-3 minutes each side. Remove from pan and keep warm in foil. Deglaze pan with wine and reduce for a couple minutes. Stir in butter, capers, and parsley. Arrange chicken on a plate and pour sauce over top.

Enjoy like so:

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

Our friend Karan used to make the most delicious Butter Chicken. We haven’t eaten it since he moved away, so, missing it, I decided to try my hand at it. I was really happy with how this turned out, especially the flavorful and delicate gravy.

The one thing I would do differently is to try to grind up the cashews a little finer, to a paste. I’ve been planning to get a mortar and pestle and that would probably do the trick. The other thing is, in this and in most of my curries I usually go pretty light on the cayenne and/or chillis so that Zoeya can enjoy it too and I just let Shan spice it up later. If you aren’t cooking for kids (or wimps), you can go a little heavier on the spice.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the crazy ingredient list, most of them are spices.

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

1 lb boneless chicken thighs
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp cayenne (more to taste)
salt, pepper
2 tbsp yogurt
olive oil
3 cloves
3 black peppercorns
1 inch stick cinnamon
2 green cardamoms, cracked
1 and 1/2 sliced white onions
3-4 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated or finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp tumeric
2-3 cups water
1 lb roma tomatoes diced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
small handful cashews
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream or half and half
Cilantro to garnish

Cut the chicken thighs into 1 inch chunks, and marinate for about an hour in the lime juice, salt, pepper, cayenne and yogurt.

Heat a little olive oil on high, brown the chicken and remove to a plate. Add a little oil if necessary, scraping up anything left by the chicken, lower heat to medium, and add whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamoms). Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding your onions. Sprinkle onions with salt and stir occasionally until they are turning golden. Add ginger and garlic and cook for a minute, add powdered spices (coriander, cumin, turmeric) and cook for a minute.

Add water and deglaze, then add tomatoes, bay leaves and fenugreek leaves. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, then uncover and cook to reduce liquid by about a third.

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, grind cashews to a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves from the sauce and transfer to food processor (be careful, it’s hot!) Puree and return to pot along with chicken. Stir butter and cream into the sauce. Serve with basmati rice, garnished with cilantro.

Notes where I stray from the authentic: where most Indian food is cooked in vegetable oil I usually prefer light olive oil; it doesn’t alter the flavor and it’s a little healthier. Also, most Indian recipes will have you cook your onions and then your meat, but sometimes I cook the meat first, remove to a plate, then add it back later to finish in the sauce, especially if I’m planning on pureeing the sauce. Also, I salt my onions to sweat them where most Indian recipes do not. Do as you will!

Red Thai Curry

Here is a delicious weeknight meal that you can whip up quickly and not mess up even if you are chatting with your sister and drinking lots of wine.

This uses store-bought curry paste. I make my own sometimes (I’ll post a recipe at some point), and encourage you to as well because it’s fun, but the store-bought stuff is tasty and convenient. I used Thai Kitchen brand.

Red Thai Curry

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
light olive oil, salt, pepper
1 onion sliced
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste
water or chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 spring onions

Heat olive oil. Add onions and salt, and fry until they start to turn translucent. Add garlic and chicken, and fry until chicken is cooked. Add curry paste and stir for a minute or two (just so it has a chance to cook but not so much that it starts to burn). Add a cup or so of water or chicken broth, scraping the pan, then add tomatoes, carrots and coconut milk. If needed, add some more water or chicken broth until the chicken is almost covered, cover and lower heat to a simmer.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and carrots are softened. Depending on how much liquid is left, you can remove the top and cook a little more to thicken your sauce.

Garnish with sliced spring onions and serve with limes and jasmine rice. I love to serve my curries steaming at the table right out of the pot.

Afterthought: what would really take this to the next level is some chopped peanuts, mmmm….next time!

Balti Zafrani Chicken

Even as a non-Muslim, I love Ramadan, and as I’ve been celebrating it with Shan for the last five years I’m starting to feel that it’s my tradition as well. I feel that believers and non-believers alike can appreciate the sentiment of the holy month: to reflect, to be thankful, to avoid negativity. I enjoy the peaceful days and the fun evenings with friends. During this month the evening meal, Iftar, is kind of a big deal, so all month I am cooking exclusively Pakistani.

The meal: It is traditional to open the fast with a date as did the prophet (Shan is very picky and does not like dates, and so opens with salt, also acceptable). Then we have pakoras, which are potatoes or other vegetables battered in besam (chickpea flour) and fried, and watermelon. We have delicious sweet drinks like Rooh Afza or some concoction of peaches, Fanta and milk that our friend Mansoor has been mixing up. Then round two – whatever entree we’ve got going – and finishing up with milk tea.

I have a handful of Pakistani dishes already in my repertoire, but ventured to KhanaPakana.com to learn something new. They have lots of recipes in English, so I chose Balti Zafrani Chicken.

Balti Zafrani Chicken

This is a spiced, rich and stewy chicken dish. It had me at Zafrani – saffron – which I love although I don’t cook with it often ($$$). “Balti” means bucket, and refers to the type of pot that this dish is traditionally cooked in. It’s apparently quite popular in the UK although I have not heard of it here in the US, but Shan and Mansoor seemed to know what it was so I took that as a sign.

I’ll go ahead and rewrite the recipe since I have a couple of different “western” techniques – I don’t know that they are western in particular, but just things I like to do differently. Namely, I salt the onions in the beginning so they sweat as well as adding salt later if I need to (but probably less in the end than your average Pakistani, at least the ones I know). I realize the onions brown better if you don’t salt them, but they also take longer, and I’ve never really noticed much of a difference so really I think you can do whichever you prefer. Also, instead of paste I like to use fresh garlic and ginger, and add the garlic at the same time as the onions so it can cook. Finally, none of the recipes I’ve seen have put an emphasis on browning the meat, but I think by carmelizing it a bit you really get a better flavor than by essentially just boiling the meat.

Recipe: Balti Zafrani Chicken

2 tbsp butter
1/4 c oil – by this point you realize this is not diet food
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
One whole chicken, cut into 1-2 inch pieces – the original recipes calls for one lb of boneless cubes, but we usually get the bone-in variety and this is fine
One inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp red pepper – add more to taste
2 tbsp ground almonds – what a lovely way to thicken the sauce!
3/4 c yogurt
1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 tsp allspice – a nice alternative to cinnamon!
2 tbsp cream
2 tbsp lemon juice

On high heat, melt the butter in the oil, and fry the onion until translucent and starting to turn golden brown. When the onion is almost done, toss in the garlic so that it can cook and not burn. Add chicken, ginger, black and red pepper, and fry for 5 minutes or so.

Stir it up, cover, and simmer on medium heat until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally and especially not letting it stick. In the meantime, warm the cream and combine with the saffron and allspice. When the chicken is cooked through (it should be very tender, almost falling off the bone), add the cream mixture and the lemon juice.

Cook a minute longer, garnish with cilantro and serve.

This turned out delicate and fragrant, really delicious. You can serve it with warm naan or as I did with pulao (lightly spiced rice and onions). I roasted some carrots with cumin as well and we had a very nice Iftar.