Saturday, August 6, 2016

Arab-Sicilian Cuisine (Spiced Olive Chicken)



A quick reflection on the word "Sicily" brings up a multitude of visuals and ideas: Italic ocean side paradise beaches; sky scrapped mountaintops; rustic village cliffs; great green fertile Mediterranean fields. And of course, pasta - lots of it - heaped with the freshest tomatoes one can imagine, and the shadow of Al Pacino hunched against the brick stones of Corleone trying to sway the hand of a beautiful Greek girl.
 Yet, were one to delve back into the deep history of this island, you'd find out that it's a hodgepodge of cultures intermixed. 

A quick peek at it's location reveals a number of things: 

Geographically, it's the most southern point of Italy, and it borders (through the Mediterranean Sea) several North African Arab counties .

Why is this important? 

Well, due to muslin invasions in the 10th century, Sicily became a medieval Arab province,  and this cultural diffusion birthed a cuisine ripe with the spiced foodcraft of an exotic
Arab pantry: 
Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, raisins, saffron, apricots, etc. 

Even the  language of Sicilian bears Arabic words in its lexicon up to today.

So with this merger of cultures in mind, here's an Arab-Sicilian dish that contains the delicious tangy salty flavors of Italy with the spice bite and complexity of Arab cuisine. 


1 pound chicken breast 
2 tbsp kalamata olives
1 tsp capers
6 tsp kalamata olive brine
5 cloves garlic
5 dry chili peppers
1 bay leaf
2 tsp black pepper 
1 tsp cinnamon
2 lemons (zest, and juice)
Olive Oil


1) Marinate slices of chicken breast in 6 tsp of olive brine (or enough to coat the chicken), the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tsp black pepper and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon for at least 30 mins

2) Add 2 tbsp olive oil to pot under med-high heat, then add 5 cloves of garlic, cooking until brown. 

3) Once browned, add 5 dried peppers (breaking them in half to scatter their seeds), and 1 large bay leaf. Cook for 3 mins.

4) Add the marinated chicken, and cook 5 mins on each side until brown. 

5) Add the zest of 1 lemon, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbsp olives, and 1 tsp capers. Cook for an additional 3 mins. 

6) Turn heat off, allow to cool for 2 mins, and then add 1-2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil  (It adds flavor, thickens the sauce, has beneficial affects on cholesterol,  and adds a great "mouth-feel" to the dish. 

I served this with brown basmati rice cooked with cinnamon and raisins, a parsley salad with artichokes, lemon juice, and sliced tomatoes, and Roman beans. 


Monday, March 14, 2016

Smokey Tandoori Chicken Breast (in an conventional oven)

Tandoori chicken, a North Indian Punjabi dish, is a meal that conjures up the scent of fragrant, charcoaled meats elaborately cooked to perfection in a clay tandoor oven. But did you know that you can make it in your own home, in your own conventional oven, and still get get that amazing, roasted flavor?

The trick to Tandoori chicken isn't actually a specific combination of spices - you can essentially use ANY spice combination in it, and call it Tandoori chicken. What makes it truly special is that pungent, knock-you-in-the-face smokey flavor that the Tandoori oven (or even a charcoal grill) gives it. However, unless you're living in a mansion in the Punjab, odds are, you don't have a Tandoori oven; and if you're living in a NYC apartment like me (or any apartment, for that matter), you probably don't have access to a charcoal grill. Does that mean you can't get that authentic flavor without it? The answer is... NO!

So how do you do it? By using a combination of pre-smoked ingredients that will give you the flavor WITHOUT the headache. Virtually any smoked ingredient can be added to list, but these are the 2 essentials.  

Essential Ingredients 

1) Liquid Smoke

Now, most people have probably never heard of this strange concoction, but liquid smoke is an all natural, sodium free product made entirely of water, hickory smoke, and mesquite smoke. It only takes a few drops to add an authentic smokey flavor to foods, and a 4 oz bottle can be purchased on amazon for $12 (considering you only need a few drops for a recipe, a 4 oz bottle will last you a VERY long time. Below this is a link to the brand I've been using).

2) Smoked Spanish Paprika 

While Hungarian Sweet paprika is the more commonly used ingredient in general American cuisine, it's the smoked Spanish variety that will truly add a depth of flavor to this dish, along with a beautiful red color.

Additional Ingredients 

2 tsp of Tandoori Chicken Marsala (optional - if you don't have this on hand, just double the amount                                                                              of  cumin and coriander)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp smoked sea salt (or to taste)
1 tsp black cardamon seeds crushed (optional)
2 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder (or cayenne powder)
1 tsp smoked ghost pepper powder (optional)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (beaten with a spoon before use)
2 limes
7 cloves garlic
1 itch piece of ginger
1 pound chicken breast

*optional - any additional smoked ingredient that you might have, such as smoked Serrano chili powder

*sidenote - Tandoori chicken served in American/British resturants are typically prepared with red food dyes (as is the case with the 2nd picture posted), and that's the reason for their deeply red color. For health reasons, I've omitted any unnatural food dyes.


1) Marinate 1 pound chicken breast in the juice of 2 limes, 2 tbsp Smoked Spanish paprika, 1/2 tsp smoked sea salt, 6 drops of liquid smoke, and 1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder, for 15 mins.
                  *this first marination allows the chicken to pick up a red color, and insures that the                               acidic tang of the lime gets deep into chicken

2) In a seperate bowl, add 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/2 tsp smoked sea salt, 1 tbsp smoked Spanish Paprika, 2 tsp Tandoori chicken masala, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander,  1 tsp black cardamon seed powder, 1 tsp ghost pepper powder, 10 drops liquid smoke, mix together, and taste. Add additional spices/salt if desired. When satisfied, add the marinated chicken and whatever juices are left from the dish. 
                     *Before you add the spices to the yogurt, make sure you beat the yogurt for a min, in
                       order  to create a smooth texture that will not curdle when exposed to the heat)
                        Yogurt is essential to this dish, and when cooked, creates a delicious crust around 
                        the chicken. 

                        *Marinate up to 2 hours - any longer, and the enzymes in the yogurt will 
                         cause the chicken to turn to mush. 

3) Dice 7 garlic cloves and 1 itch piece of ginger, and add it directly on top of the chicken.
4) Cook under the broiler for 10 mins. When finished, the chicken should be slightly charred, will have an incredible smokey quality, a clean tang from the lime, a bouquet of flavor from the spices, and a burst of brightness from the garlic/ginger. Enjoy!

Spice Tutorial: Panch Phoron (Indian Food For Dummies)

Panch Phoron, aka Bengali 5 Spice, is a combination of whole spices widely used in Bengali cuisine.
It's typically fried in oil for a minute before adding additional vegetables or meats, in order for the flavors to develop, and to do away with any bitterness. This spice blend adds a depth of flavor to any meal, and is comprised of the 5 flavor components in the Indian lexicon of taste sensations - sweet, sour, bitter, savory, and astringent. This union of scents and spices is highly aromatic, and can transform a simple meal into sophisticated, complex dish.

You can find this combination in your local Indian markets, or you can make it yourself with the recipe below.


1 tsp fennel seeds (sweet)
1 tsp mustard seeds (sour)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds (bitter)
1 tsp cumin seeds (savory)
1 tsp nigella seeds (astringent)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bengali stir fry mixed vegetables

This is really easy, really quick recipe, that draws out the deceptively simple (yet delicious) flavors of West Bengal's cuisine. Panch Phoron (Bengali 5 Spice), one of the main flavor components, can either be bought prepackaged, or you can learn make it right here:  (enter link!!!).  I used frozen mixed vegetables to make this dish, and, being in a hurry, served it with some canned sardines.


1 cup of mixed frozen carrots and green peas 
1 tbsp mustard oil (or olive oil)
1 tbsp of Panch Phoron (Bengali 5 Spice)
1/2 teaspoon of ghost chili powder (or cayenne)
1/2 tsp asafoetida (or 1/2 tsp garlic and onion powder)
1/2 tsp turmeric 
1 itch piece of diced ginger
1 chopped, fresh long chili pepper  
Salt (to taste)


1) Add 1 tbsp of oil into a pot over med heat
2) Add 1 tbsp Panch Phoron, and let it fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly
3) Add the diced ginger and fresh chili peppers, stirring constantly. Cook for 3 mins 
3) Add 1/2 tsp asafoetida,1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp chili powder, and stir
4) Add the frozen vegetables, and cook 5 mins on medium heat (or until they're no longer frozen)
5) Add salt to taste, and enjoy.