Categories
Mucho Gusto

Snowball Cookies

‘Tis the season of painfully cliché Hallmark movies: the constant reworking of the same plot line tinted with near-overwhelming Christmas cheer. The holiday finds the return of an independent working girl to her small, gossiping hometown to coincidentally reconnect with a high-school not-so-sweetheart. Christmas carols and gift wrapping turn into an irritating almost-kiss under the mistletoe. The directors test our patience, leaving us waiting until the last two minutes of the movie to see their lips finally collide under the first fall of snow. 

Everything in these movies approaches a sense of being extraordinarily overdone, but nevertheless, they perfect the feeling of home. Each film bestows the warm, cozy, holiday atmosphere complemented by the recurrent scene of Christmas cookies by the fire light. Every time I switch the channel to Hallmark, there is an incessant desire to have cookies on standby and to fantasize about awakening to Boston beautifully frosted the next morning. 

As temperatures are quickly dropping, I am longing to see the first fall of snow to remind me why the exchange of a light jacket for my bulky puffer coat, that still fails to keep me warm, is worth it. Images of how nice it ought to be to attend college in Florida run through my mind, but the magnificent glisten of snow in Boston calls me to be thankful for the unwanted chill. Hopefully, we will be seeing snow sooner rather than later, but until then, these snowball cookies guarantee to satisfy our winter appetites and give us something to reach for when our televisions tease us with the perfect holiday setting. And even better, they will promise to leave us merry as exam season rolls around. 

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for rolling/dusting the cookies

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups flour

½ to 2 cups ground pecans 

Directions

In a large bowl, cut the butter into 1-inch cubes and lightly warm in the microwave or, preferably, remove the butter from the refrigerator, allowing it to soften for 10 minutes at room temperature. If you choose to microwave the butter, be careful not to heat it for too long; you are looking for a soft but not melted consistency. Next, cream the butter with an electric mixer on its lowest speed setting or whisk by hand until you see the fluffy texture that is desired. 

Add in the remaining ingredients—the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, flour, and ground nuts. I typically use pecans, however, you can adjust the choice of nuts to your preference. Ground walnuts and almonds are also commonly used with this recipe. Mix the ingredients well and then chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 325℉. Roll out the dough into 1-inch balls and place evenly on ungreased baking sheets. 

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in confectioners’ sugar to give them that dusty, snow-ball appearance. Let the cookies cool, and then roll them in the sugar once again to make sure they are evenly coated. Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Delish

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Veggie Bolognese

Earlier this morning, I was still mourning the tragic loss of my sense of taste. Sipping on my black coffee — a cup that I would never choose to drink on an alternate occasion but not for the fact that its utter lack of flavor resisted any amelioration by a sweetener or cream — I may have felt a tear slide down my flushed cheek. 

Testing positive for COVID-19 has been quite the teaching moment. As I tried to look on the bright side of things, I imagined the extra opportunities to cook with the absurd amount of lonesome time on my hands, yet I found myself disappointed. Cooking felt useless when the meals I plated all tasted like, well, nothing, and the process itself consumed all my energy. Yet, this experience has shown me how inextricably intertwined my life is with food. It has allowed me to be grateful for the joy it brings me in the evenings, with my neck crooked over the stove, and in the mornings, as I indulge in my first bite of oatmeal. 

Fortunately, my pathetic reminiscence of food and cooking was put to a seizing halt, as on the night of the seventh day after testing positive with COVID, my taste buds reawakened, in fulfillment of my deepest desire: they ascended into flavor heaven. 

So, here, brought to you live from my quarantine kitchen, is my rendition of a vegetable bolognese that promises to resurrect the most muted of taste buds. To be completely honest, this recipe is a by-product of “wow is this really all I have in the fridge” and “oh it feels good to smell oregano again. But I was significantly impressed at the somewhat random occurrence in the saucepan. Still, given its creation by my mildly unreliable taste buds at the moment, if it is a miss, I urge you to blame COVID-19 and not the cook. 

The dish is perhaps a misuse of its title as bolognese without its classic meat base, but if you’re looking to enjoy this Italian cuisine favorite in a vegetarian style (by choice or convenience) it mimics many of the same hearty flavors with its robust spices.

Ingredients

2 red bell peppers

1 package baby bella mushrooms (roughly 10 mushrooms)

1 white onion

Olive oil

4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)

1 tablespoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 box pasta

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

½ tablespoon dried basil leaves

Parmesan cheese to taste

Instructions

Thinly slice the mushrooms and peppers lengthwise, and then dice the white onion. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and cook for roughly 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and hot red pepper flakes and cook for one minute. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1½ teaspoons of pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil to the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. I often use a shell-style of pasta for this recipe, as the shape helps scoop the sauce in every bite, but any type of pasta can be used. 

While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce.  Add the nutmeg and basil to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.  When the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the pan with the sauce, saving the pasta water. Cook the sauce for one minute and then add ¼ cup of the pasta water. Let the sauce simmer for another 5 minutes, as the starchy pasta water helps to bind and thicken the sauce. Serve hot with Parmesan cheese on the side. Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Dishingouthealth

Categories
Mucho Gusto Uncategorized

Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

The recent semesters—remarkably short of socialization—deliver an unmistakable sense of urgency to compensate for lost time. There is a distinct flavor of the moment that demands us to take lessons from our quarantine kitchens, indulge our taste buds, and endeavor in entertaining and gathering again. 

This recipe comes from trial and error and the nearly forgotten, yet adorned, busyness of rummaging around the kitchen, awaiting the impending arrival of guests. Inspired by the spirit of entertaining and by the curiosity of flavor, I tried my hand in making bacon-wrapped, goat cheese stuffed dates this past week. It’s an appetizer that I biasedly chose due to its glorious description of bacon-wrapped, but also, in part, by reason of its more creative nickname as “devils on horseback.” 

Something of its nontraditional title reminded me of the forthcoming autumn season, humorously prompting me to imagine the headless horseman. Also, I’ve found that something about food named after devils rarely disappoints. And even more so than its playful name, these dates fit perfectly for fall with their warmth when they are pulled right out of the oven, and with the tasty explosion of their diverse set of flavors and textures that arrive in every bite. 

For this recipe, the sweet and chewy dates contrast with the tangy, smooth, and earthy flavor and texture of the goat cheese. The crisped, caramelized bacon on the exterior completes the bite. And the finely chopped candied pecans on top perfectly balance the saltiness of the bacon. These dates pair exceptionally well with the accompaniment of a charcuterie board. Not only do they provide a delicious addition, but guarantee to draw in one’s eye on an appetizer spread. 

So whether you are entertaining your friends or just looking to cook for yourself, I’d highly recommend testing this recipe. Who doesn’t like to gloat about the amazing date they had the other night?

Ingredients:

6 ounces goat cheese (1 small log)

24 Medjool dates

12 slices thinly sliced bacon

1/3 cup honey

¼ cup brown sugar

Kosher salt 

½ cup candied pecans

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 ℉ and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Split the dates in half lengthwise, being sure not to slice them all the way through. After removing the pit, stuff each date with goat cheese, just enough for the dates to still be able to close with its contents. Then slice your strips of bacon in half, making the pieces more fitted to wrap around each date. After wrapping each date with bacon, puncture the dates with toothpicks to hold the bacon strips in place, and then move them to the prepared baking sheet. 

Once the dates are separated on the baking sheet, evenly drizzle them with honey and lightly sprinkle them with the brown sugar and a pinch of salt. The coating of honey and brown sugar will help the bacon caramelize in the oven. Finely chop the candied pecans, sprinkling them on top as well. Bake the dates for 20 minutes or until bacon is crisp to your liking, remove from the oven, and allow time to cool. Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Walder Wellness

Categories
Essays

The Sixth Love Language

In the ceremonious birthday week of my mother, I’ve come to reflect on her most distinct love language—food. My mother is a leading exemplar of the argument that food is, in fact, the sixth love language, posed next to touch, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and words of affirmation. Elegant and poised, she softens our hearts with beautiful meals that are never served on a cold plate. However similar, this love language label is not to be confused with “acts of service.” Her cooking is to be enjoyed as a collection of metaphorical words in its own right, strung together as an equally magnificent sentence of affection. 

There is something unique about food that defines itself to be a new dimension in expressing love. It is an indescribable, all-encompassing experience, when performed, shared, and enjoyed. There was once a time when I was young, aflame by my own feminist ideology, and holding onto a slight resentment of cooking, hating comments that combine a woman’s worth with the quality of her cuisine. Pulling away from the kitchen in fear of becoming tailored to an ill-fitting, pre-modern identity, I disserviced myself in a way, inhibiting the commencement of my favorite hobby. Now, learning to reweave the conversation, I have replaced the idea that cooking is a responsibility with the idea that what I produce in the close corners of my kitchen carries a derivative of affection that I am not forced to, but desire to share with others. It is expressive and filling, in more than one way. 

I thank my mother for teaching me to love cooking and how to show love through cooking. Her plated meals, and her beautiful glide through the kitchen, radiates a passionate warmth. Despite the common linkage between cooking and motherhood, I love to see how she adopts it as her personally chosen language of love for everyone she meets. Now, living apart from my mother, I aim to recreate the tender atmosphere she nurtures in our home. Every Sunday morning witnesses me dancing in the kitchen in harmony with the percussion of my spatula on the counter. The symphony of the hour complemented by the sizzle of butter in the pan and, of course, the quintessential and corny accompaniment of Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” playing its soft tune in the background. Palms down on the counter, slowly tapping my fingers, I await the browning edges of gooey batter, perfectly content in my patience. Where restlessness finds me almost everywhere else—grocery store aisles, books with elongated plots, and slow traffic in Chestnut Hill—cooking pancakes pauses time and pleases me with a sense of peace as I think of others’ pending smiles and satisfied stomachs.

From all this reflection, my current penny thought is this: of course, you should make an effort to cook for others if you wish, but also let others cook for you. The catch is that you should make sure to sit and watch. There is a perfect mutualism present in this event. Keeping my mother company as she prepares a meal for me (and vice versa) arrives in synonymy with a sentiment of love. I’ve spent too many evenings tucked away while someone else is making a meal for me, missing out on the unmatched experience of seeing someone show me affection in their favorite frame. 

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Grilled Corn Summer Salad

The perennial 4th of July menu: hamburgers, hot dogs, with a side-act accompaniment of corn on the cob. While the Independence Day tradition carries an abundance of nostalgia that our taste buds savor, I’d argue that even the classics yearn for an upgrade. 

Of all the summer staples, I have always found a hassle with corn on the cob. Butter dripping down my face, an awkward turn of the cob, and far too many kernels getting stuck in my teeth. For me, eating corn on the cob always tastes like indulgence at an uncomfortable expense. And cutting the corn off the cob with a plastic knife on a flimsy paper plate is always a challenge. Plus, the act of doing so guarantees to be followed by the glares of those who ask, “What are you, five-years-old?,” and the subsequent arrival of my blushing cheeks that can prelude white and blue. 

This grilled summer corn salad promises to please those who want to refurbish their neighborhood cookout spread, or those who simply have wrestled with tricky cobs of corn long enough, like myself. The best thing about corn on the cob is that its preparation is effortless. This fresh corn side remains easy to make, serve, and most importantly, easy to eat. 

This dish introduces a hint of lime and cilantro, which along with a slight bite of red onion perfectly complement the fresh flavors of the corn.  Red bell peppers and sweet cherry tomatoes add substance and a variety of textures to the salad, creating the perfect spoonful. For spice-loving crowds, chopped jalapeño can be woven into its fresh flavors, and for those who want to transform the side into a centerpiece, the dish superbly matches with a bowl of cold orzo pasta. The recipe that I introduce below is a wonderfully simple rendition of the dish, yet it is easily adaptable to any occasion.

Ingredients:

5 ears of corn

1 red bell pepper

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup red onion, diced

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

1 lime

¼ cup of cilantro

Preheat the grill to 425 ℉. Shuck a few layers of the husks—the leafy green covering—off the five ears of corn. Leaving a couple of thin layers on, wrap each ear in tin foil and place on the grill to cook on each side for about four minutes. Once cooked, uncover the corn ears from the tin foil and place them directly on the grill for two minutes on each side to lightly blacken the kernels. Remove from the grill and place on a plate to cool. Without a grill, you can also easily prepare the corn by placing it in a large, tall pot of boiling water for roughly six minutes. 

Dice your peppers, red onion, and halve your cherry tomatoes. Once the ears of corn are cool, cut the corn off of the cobs by placing the narrowed end of the ear on your cutting board and slicing downward with a large knife perpendicular to the cob. Make sure to break up the kernels from one another after cutting. Place the ingredients in a large serving bowl.

Drizzle olive oil and squeeze the lime over the fresh ingredients. Add salt and pepper and toss the corn salad to make sure it is evenly coated in the olive oil and lime juice. Chop up the cilantro and mix it through the dish. Serve and enjoy!

Cover Image

Categories
Features

Culinary Creativity at Local Cape Cod Farms

With every item and ingredient ever-so accessible in long, overstretched grocery store aisles, sometimes I feel as if my culinary creativity is slipping from my grasp. With every option and possibility at my fingertips, I find myself falling into the same patterns, looking at the same shopping list, and never forced to think critically or creatively to innovate.

We all fall victim to shrinking to what we are comfortable with—the same meals, the same clear-cut path through Trader Joe’s including exactly 7 turns, and 11 stops. However, have you ever sighed in mourning of the creativity you may have lost over the years? Do you desire the encouragement to still be as creative as you were at a worn-out desk in an elementary school classroom? I do. 

“Adulting” in some shape or form typically means cooking for ourselves, even if it is just a box of pasta or a half-salvageable burnt piece of toast. Although, I’ve decided that to repossess all the natural and childlike creativity we have to share with this world, it can be brought to us again in the kitchen. We don’t all have time to squeeze finger painting into our busy, “matured,” schedules, but we always manage to have time to eat. 

I find that coordinating cuisine and creativity is the perfect complement—synchronously nurturing our minds and, of course, our stomachs. But, nonetheless, being creative is not an easy feat when the automatic door slides open and everything and anything can be found and rung up by a cashier. 

I often see myself in this compromising position, where the freedom to choose what I want inversely inhibits my mind’s capacity to create. However, living in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I have discovered the abundance of small family-owned farms and markets to be the perfect solution. Trailing through a supermarket does not do our creative instincts any justice, yet local farmer stands, with little on display and sometimes just a basket of mix-matched produce placed in your hands, functions as the best creative exercise. 

This creativity routine seems to find me like an inkblot. If you’re familiar with the inkblot practice, it is where you are given a just splotch of ink on paper and urged to draw something from its organic and unique form. The produce at local farms display a similar test. They provide an exercise to work our creativity muscles as we encounter the unpredictable. 

The local, in-season, and fresh produce change rapidly. Every trip to the farm stand feels like a brand-new canvas that invites me to use different colors and techniques. This is why spotting a farm stand lays witness to a beautiful sort of spontaneity. I typically have no idea that it is just down the street, and then one day, I stare at the sign a short second longer, pull into the drive, and here I meet my creative match in a basket of watercress greens. 

I take what is given, yet limited, and create a meal. There’s no overthinking, just the transformation of produce to product. It is nearly an unconscious exercise to measure my creative potential. In this process, I feel more attachment to my food, as I can personally testify to its transition from farm to table. In this repeated experience, I have found that it is ever-so important to re-attach ourselves to the process. Yes, a meal can be bought and prepared with ease and efficiency today. Yet, there is a symbiotic relationship between investing in local farms and investing in ourselves. When we leave the grocery list and meal-prep ideas behind, we can allow ourselves to discover new greens, fruits, and more. We can present ourselves simultaneously with a challenge and magnificent experience to reignite our inventive side. 

I urge everyone to forget the overpriced tabs and many mediocre meals gone bye. Rather, take on the distinctive creativity-inducing experience that is delivered through local farms and home cooking this summer season.

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Blueberry Brie Grilled Cheese

Writing this recipe, I imagine myself sitting in the conference room of Runway Magazine; well-acquainted with the infamous fictional character Miranda Priestly. I see her furrowed brow, I shiver from her glaring eyes, and I hear her cold tone as she sarcastically remarks, “Fruit? For Spring? Groundbreaking.” 

Fruit, like florals, evoke this exaggerated eye-roll in the name of an outdone, over-used, and repeated theme when introduced as the statement piece in a Spring dish. They are the equivalent of florals of a spring clothing line—severely lacking the element of surprise. How many times have fruit, specifically berries, been the cover of food magazines this time of year? Probably far too often. Yet, despite my hesitation to choose this recipe in an often dire need to move away from the status quo, I pick this blueberry-based dish because it is, in fact, groundbreaking.  

This recipe presents a new take on a classic comfort food, exquisitely repurposing blueberries in an unpredictable combination. Pairing the bitter flavor of arugula with the creamy texture of brie and the salty-sweet trade of honey and balsamic vinaigrette, the homemade blueberry compote perfectly enhances every bite of this sandwich, creating a redefined grilled cheese. 

Posing as strong contender to the pineapple-on-pizza debate, this salty-sweet pairing may open the floodgates to controversy. However, the buttery brie, and the sweet, fresh berries, in this grilled cheese guarantee to win over any skeptics. And while this recipe may stretch the traditional, and simplistic, definitions of a grilled cheese, it proves to enhance the glory of the original sandwich to make it a Spring must-try.

Image courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries

4 tablespoons (or more) unsalted butter, room temperature

8 slices sourdough bread, 1/2 inch thick

1 wheel brie cheese

2 tablespoons honey

Kosher salt to taste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cups arugula 

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Instructions:

Place the blueberries into a saucepan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of butter. Mash the blueberries softly and let them cook for about 5 minutes while stirring frequently. Move the pan off the stove and let the blueberries sit until they are ready to be used.

Cut the sourdough into 8 half-inch slices and lightly butter both sides of each slice. Cut the brie cheese into quarter-inch slices with or without the rind, depending on your preference. Place 4-5 slices of brie on each of 4 slices of sourdough. Drizzle the brie with honey and sprinkle salt to taste. Spoon the cooked blueberries on top of the brie. 

Now, move onto the remaining 4 slices of sourdough. Lightly coat one side of each piece with balsamic vinaigrette, and then place a handful of arugula on top. When ready, flip these slices on top of the other slices prepared with brie and blueberries, making 4 closed sandwiches.

Next, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place 1 or 2 sandwiches in the skillet, depending on what fits comfortably. Lay another skillet on top to add weight, functioning like a panini press. Cook for about 4 minutes, while adding pressure on the top skillet so that the bottom of each sandwich turns golden brown. Turn the sandwiches over, adding a bit more butter to the pan if needed. Cover again and cook, pressing, until the other side is golden brown and cheese is fully melted. This should take about 4 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into halves. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches and enjoy!

Makes 4 sandwiches. 

Cover photo courtesy of Two Peas & Their Pod

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Spring’s Spicy-Sweet Potato Crisps

In my habitual attempt to advance a controversial opinion, I have decided what I want my new statement-piece penny thought to be: if spring had a flavor, it would be sweet and spicy. 

My nonconformist calculation derives itself distinctly from one, and only one, piece of evidence—the New England weather.

Is the season sweet with the sun emerging in and the winter parka disappearing in the back corner of your closet? Or, conversely, is it the “spiciest” few months in the Northeast with forecasts far more unpredictable than reliable? I assure you, it’s a bit of both. There is a simultaneous beauty and nearly worrisome spontaneity to spring, yet the season harmonizes the uncertainty and brings us months that we must savor. 

With a taste of spring on our tongues in the first week of April, this maple chili sweet potato crisp recipe proves the unmatched matrimony of sweet and spicy, and demands us to relish in the flavorful spirit of the season. This dish fits as the perfect complement to spring greens or that first piece of chicken cooked out on the grill. As it is surely time to let go of the chunky, dense sweet potato bites that remind you of that old winter sweater, these thinly-sliced sweet potato crisps will give you that crunch to prelude a summer plate of fish and chips – while, of course, adding some of the heat we are so desperate to see on the forecast. 

You’ll find that the flavors mutually amplify one another in every bite. It is the gift of their pairing, with nothing else quite able to compare. It is a perfect balance that appears contradictory, yet guarantees to intrigue one’s taste buds in every bite.

Ingredients:

2 large sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon chili flakes

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves minced

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

Preheat your oven to 425 °F. Then, prepare the sweet potatoes. First, slice them in half lengthwise. Placing them on their flat side, slice the potatoes thinly, just under a quarter-inch to guarantee a crispy product. Next, soak your potatoes in a mixing bowl filled with cold water and a few ice cubes for 10-15 minutes. The cold water is a quick and easy trick to help your potatoes cook more evenly. After this, drain the water and pat the slices dry. Transfer your potatoes into another mixing bowl and add olive oil, maple syrup, chili flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the potatoes well to evenly coat them in the spicy syrup mixture. Then lay the potatoes out on a baking sheet and drizzle with honey and fresh minced rosemary leaves. Once the oven is preheated, place in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until desired crispy texture. Be sure to turn over the potatoes roughly halfway through to ensure they are evenly cooked. Once finished, top your sweet and spicy potatoes on a summer salad or include them as a side to any meal. Enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Delicious Meets Healthy

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Chicken Shawarma

From the aesthetically-pleasing whipped coffee, to the new-and-improved tortilla fold, and the infamous baked feta pasta, TikTok is leaving its mark on culinary pop culture. Since we’ve been swapping old-school cookbooks for social media and using scrolling as the new way to savor, I’ve pulled a page from TikTok’s book, taking inspiration from its new obsession with feta cheese for this recipe. 

Feta cheese combines a sharp flavor with a softer texture. While typically produced and purchased in a firm block, feta crumbles easily to make the perfect topping for many Mediterranean dishes. The cheese originates from Greece and continues to be a highly-consumed and produced good in the region. Its salty taste balances more mild dishes and ingredients, such as vegetables. Its use as a garnish never fails to make your meal look top-dollar even with limited prep time. 

After visiting GreCo, a casual Greek restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston, I decided to intertwine my desire to indulge continually in Greek-inspired food and my wish to tackle the feta trend in one recipe. 

Here, I present an easy and undeniably tasty meal wrapped up in my favorite thing: bread. In this dish, warm pita pockets hold shawarma chicken, Mediterranean salad, tzatziki sauce, and—of course—feta cheese. Shawarma is the cooking term used to describe how the meat is stacked on a spit and slowly roasted in a traditional Middle Eastern kitchen. However, this recipe allows for the simpler approach of preparing the chicken on a stove. While not perfectly authentic to the Greek preparation, this meal guarantees to replicate many of the wonderful spicy flavors with ease for anyone new to the kitchen. And not to forget, the feta’s tangy flavor promises to complement the abundance of robust spices, while the creamy tzatziki sauce further mellows the dish. 

Ingredients:

Shawarma Chicken:

2 pounds boneless chicken breast

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mediterranean Chopped Salsa:

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 medium red pepper, chopped

1 small sweet onion, chopped

10-15 Queen stuffed green olives, sliced

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil to coat

Salt and pepper to taste

Tzatziki Sauce:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons tzatziki spice (can be bought pre-made or made at home with the combination of 2 tablespoons of dill, 4 cloves of minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste)

4-6 pita pockets

Procedure:

First, cut the boneless chicken breast into thin strips. The strips should be roughly a finger-length long to make for an easy fit into the pita pockets. Next, in a large bowl, combine the chicken, lemon, oil, and spices. Toss the chicken well to be sure it is coated evenly in the mixture. Allow the meat to marinate while you prepare the salad and sauce. 

In a large bowl, combine all the chopped salad ingredients. Add just enough olive oil to coat the vegetables, then season with salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt and sour cream, then season with tzatziki spice. 

To cook the chicken, heat a cast-iron skillet until hot. To test if it’s ready, drop a bit of water on it; if the water sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Add a little oil and then some of the chicken to the skillet. It’s important not to overcrowd the pan. Allow the pieces to brown for 1 to 2 minutes before turning them. Because the pieces are thin, they will cook in only 4 to 5 minutes. When the chicken slices are done, transfer them to a bowl to keep warm while you finish cooking the rest of the chicken. 

Next, halve your whole pita breads to create open pockets that can deliciously and effectively carry the chicken and Mediterranean salad. Once halved, lightly warm the pita pockets in a skillet. Place the chicken in the opening of the halved pita pockets with the salad and tzatziki sauce. Garnish the top of your open pita pockets with crumbled feta cheese, serve, and enjoy!

Cover photo courtesy of Blue Jean Chef

Categories
Mucho Gusto

Lilly’s Holiday Honey-Roasted Pear Salad

This is the fifty-eighth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

The word “pear” occasionally slips past our tongues in December when we hum the infamous Twelve Days of Christmas refrain, imagining the gifted partridge in company. Yet other than in tune, pears rarely draw near our taste buds in the modern holiday season. Perhaps it is a consequence of the winter fruit paradox—the nudge of fruit to the periphery of our minds as the North begins to frost over. However, despite our neglect of pears, they are the national fruit of December, with the day of the pear fast-approaching on the 8th. 

Dating back to 5000 B.C., the antiquity of pears remembers praise by Homer as the “gift of the Gods.” Now, the historically-popular fruit rarely appears in anecdotes of public appreciation despite the prolific pear orchards in the temperate North West, United States. As agricultural production expanded in the U.S., finicky pears failed to grow in the New England climate, only later to find success in their cultivation in Oregon and Washington. Although, posing pears to their opposition—apples—indicates that their dissipation from popularity is, more so, a reflection of our demanding consumer culture. Pears require an additional one to two months after being picked to ripen before being eaten. Compared to the readily available apples that overwhelm the produce aisles this time of year, the pears’ lack of casting in leading roles in pies and other seasonal dishes is somewhat predictable.

However, though we may overlook pears today, they continue being a Christmas favorite. Since the 1800s, pears have been a treasured part of Christmas celebrations, admired for their elegance, versatility, buttery texture, and sweet taste as an adored present under the tree. Though we have shifted away from receiving and gifting fruit in stockings, the nostalgia of pears in the holiday season evokes a personal desire to recreate some recipe favorites that adorn this winter fruit as the centerpiece. Several pie recipes and other dessert dishes utilize the flavor of pears to perfection. However, I decided to showcase a recipe for a honey-roasted pear salad. This dish fosters sentimentality coupled with modern festivity that guarantees to please our quarantine-sized crowds for this holiday season. 

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

Honey Roasted Pears

  • 2 ripe but firm Bartlett pears
  • 2 bunches fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup  honey
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Salad

  • 1 medium-sized bag (about 7 oz) of arugula 
  • ¼ cup toasted walnuts
  • ½ cup of crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 pomegranate

Dressing

  • ¼ cup champagne vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon  fresh thyme leaves

Instructions:

To prepare the pears, first, preheat the oven to 400 °F. On a cutting board, halve and core the two unpeeled pears. Then, place the pears cut-side down and put your knife at their stems. While keeping the pear uncut at the top, thinly slice into quarter-inch long sections to the bottom of the fruit. On a baking sheet, scatter the thyme sprigs, placing the pears on top while gently expanding the overlapping slices out while they remain attached at their stems. This fanning technique takes its name from its comparative structure to old-fashioned hand fans, seemingly adding an elegant display to your salad. However, you can easily replace this step by completely slicing the pears and removing their stems with no effect on the fruit’s rich flavor. Next, lightly drizzle the four pear halves with honey and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake the pears for 15 minutes, or until they are tender. Let the pears cool for 30 minutes.

The walnuts function as an additional garnish to your salad, complementing the flavor of the pears while simultaneously preserving the holiday theme. Place the walnuts in a skillet over medium heat, sporadically moving them around to avoid burning, and toast until lightly brown and aromatic. Allow the walnuts to cool in a small bowl. 

With your palm, roll the pomegranate on the cutting board to loosen the seeds. Then, slice the fruit in half, remove the seeds, and set aside. The pomegranate seeds, a bit tart, balance the sweetness of the pear and honey while brightening your salad with a festive touch of red.

To make the dressing, whisk the champagne vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, shallots, and fresh thyme together in a small mixing bowl. Place the arugula in a large bowl and add the dressing. Be sure to toss and coat evenly. 

Finally, divide salad onto plates, placing the pear halves on top while garnishing lightly with goat cheese, toasted walnuts, and pomegranate seeds to taste. Enjoy!