During our years living in Columbia, we loved going to the Soda City Market on Main Street in downtown Columbia. Now that we live in Richmond, we’ve turned to the South of the James market for our Saturday morning perusing. For better or for worse, Soda City Market isn’t exactly a farmers market in our opinion. There are a handful of farmers with fresh goods, but they are definitely outnumbered by food vendors and artisans. South of the James is more of a true farmers market, with quite a few farms and farmers in attendance, in addition to some other vendors. Pro: there are way more options of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats from which to choose! Con: there are not as many brunch-while-strolling-the-market options, though there are several.
This is in fact relevant to our recipe today and our goals of having this blog. While we were browsing through the produce at one stand, one of the proprietors was popping open these little tomatillos for people to taste. He told us these were “pineapple tomatillos” and would you believe it, they really do taste like a combination of a tangy, sweet pineapple and a sharply earthy green tomato. We bought a carton without a second thought. We’re certainly not tomatillo connoisseurs, but we’d never heard of these little guys. We also acquired some pretty purple beans, a few bell peppers and onions (which are also making their appearance in this salsa), and delicious plump blackberries that we finished before we even got to the car! Overall a successful trip 🙌🏼 Soooo… hopefully no one clicked on this link looking for a pineapple AND tomatillo salsa, because that’s not what we’re making tonight!
With a little research, we learned that tomatillos generally belong to two species of the same genus (Physalis philadelphica and Physalis ixocarpa), but that there are dozens of varieties. Tomatillos are native to Mexico and Central America, but are generally cultivated all over the Americas today outside of the coldest reaches to the north and south. The largest natural and cultivated variety of tomatillos grow in Mexico. Our pineapple tomatillos are one of those many varietals! Another interesting tidbit: the modern Spanish word tomatillo is derived from the Native American/Aztec word for the same plant and ingredient, tomatl.
I know these pineapple tomatillos aren’t exactly an ingredient everyone has on hand or can run out to the store and pick up, but if you come across them anywhere, get some! This salsa was refreshing – light and fresh! Everyone who ate it remarked that it tasted like a tropical fruit salsa, even though it obviously doesn’t contain any mangoes or pineapples or the like!
I think I’m an anomaly of my generation. I still love the lunchbox sandwiches of the 90s. Egg salad, chicken salad, tuna salad? Yes please! (Side note, what makes these “salad?”) I think most of my peers either a) ate so many of these sandwiches in childhood that they refuse to even glance at them now or b) are trying to be more healthy in their lunch choices and therefore avoid mayonnaise-based sandwich stuffers. Either way, I pretty much never see people our age munching on a ‘salad’ sandwich in the breakroom anymore. I’m here to say that they’re missing out. I will say, I do make a few changes from whatever the lunch ladies used to offer. I don’t hate mayonnaise but I don’t want gobs of it smothering my chicken either. I just use enough to loosely bind the other ingredients to each other. I also like sneaking the shredded carrot into the mixture for some extra vegetable. Furthermore, I can make a batch of this fairly quickly and then have it ready for sandwiches for the rest of the week’s lunches! #mealprep 🙄
Curried Chicken Salad
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (~1.5 lb)
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp (5 tbsp) mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp paprika
10 turns fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 large carrot, grated
1 cup halved red grapes
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Submerge the chicken breasts and poach at a simmer for 12-15 minutes, until entirely opaque. (Safe chicken internal temp = 165)
In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, garlic, ginger, curry powder, paprika salt, & pepper.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, chop or shred it. Place in a mixing bowl.
Add the carrots and mayo mixture into the bowl with the chicken. Stir to combine.
Lastly, add the grapes and stir everything together.
If you peruse our blog, you’ll notice that we try to minimize our usage of prepackaged or canned foods. I think that if you showed Selim a can of cream of <fill-in-the-blank> soup, he’d shrivel up like a vampire exposed to garlic and sunlight. Sometimes it’s unavoidable and sometimes the convenience outweighs all other factors, but we do try to err on the side of fresh ingredients. With that being said, I’m not going to lie. Soaking beans overnight in preparation for cooking them the next day just is not my cup of tea. I know there are many people out there who consider canned beans an anathema, but honestly I don’t think they taste much different and they’re SO convenient and time-saving. So we definitely use them.
Hence our quick version of Cuban black beans here. Certainly, they probably would be better (and certainly more authentic) if we used dried beans, soaked them overnight, and cooked them longer with the herbs and spices. But this quick version provides for a superior flavor to time ratio, in my opinion. You get to jazz up your black beans with just a few additions and barely any active time in the kitchen, allowing you to focus your energy (culinary or otherwise!) elsewhere.
In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once warm, add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Top with a few turns of fresh black pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant, approximately 6 minutes.
Add the black beans, stock, and spices. Stir together.
Lower heat to low-medium. Partially cover and cook for at least 10 minutes. With the heat turned quite low, you can cook long and allow the flavors to blend more!
One of the best things about writing this blog is the introduction to foods and dishes that I didn’t know about beforehand. Today, I learned about chermoula! (Or charmoula – like so many words translated from the original Arabic, this one has more than one spelling.) When we decided to make our Tangy Moroccan Meatballs yesterday, I wanted to stick with the flavors of Morocco for the entire dinner. This lead us to this recipe, from a lovely site that I think I’ll visit again – Taste of Maroc.
Chermoula itself is a condiment in the pesto family in terms of texture or consistency. It is traditional to North African countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, although the Moroccans claim original ownership. It’s one of those things where there is no one single recipe – there are regional variations, as well as changes from neighbor to neighbor. The basics include fresh herbs (parsley and cilantro), olive oil, and lemon juice. The other ingredients can range from basic spices like cumin, paprika, and coriander to harissa paste to onions or even pureed grapes (Tunisian tradition)! The paprika and cumin additions we used tonight seem to be fairly common in Morocco, at least as my internet perusing has informed me.
These carrots are basically just a vessel for the chermoula. It makes them (and anything else you might feel so inclined to cover with chermoula) into a bright and herbaceous dish. These are a perfect side dish to any meat, especially something that’s heavier or spicy. Furthermore, the flavor and lovely presentation belies the fact that it really takes you no time to prepare the dish. As I was eating (and enjoying!) this last night, I also thought that it probably would be equally as delicious and maybe a little fresher tasting if we’d cooked the carrots and just topped them with the chermoula without cooking the condiment at all. Note to self for next time.
(Adapted from Taste of Maroc)
6 large carrots
~1 cup chermoula
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 turns fresh ground black pepper
Slice the carrots on the bias, cutting pieces roughly the size of a baby carrot.
Steam the carrots in a pan. Depending on the size of your pan, add just enough water create a thin layer of water coating the bottom and place over medium heat. Add the carrots and cover with a lid to steam.
Cook the carrots for ~ 8-10 minutes, until they are al dente.
Meanwhile (or make ahead!), make the chermoula by combining all of the remaining ingredients in a food processor (or, if you’re cooler than we are and have a mortar & pestle, crush them that way!). Pulse briefly until you have a well-combined, but not obliterated sauce.
Pour the chermoula into the pan with the carrots. Cook, with the lid on, over low heat for an additional 5 minutes.
I think chicken salad is one of those dishes that gets a little bit of a bad reputation. Whether it’s because your great aunt’s recipe had a real problem with the chicken to mayonnaise ratio (I am in no way referring to any of my great-aunts) or you hate how people chop celery up into their version (I am with you there!), I just don’t see a ton of people raving about their love for a good chicken salad. This is sad because chicken salad is just a great black canvas! You can really stir in whatever you want, and you’ve still got chicken salad. Got some leftover chives? Throw ’em in! Craving some bacon bits? Mmmm… bacon chicken salad! Fridge is full of fruit? Rumor has it that grapes and apples go great in chicken salad!
This chicken salad that I made for my lunches this week took no time to throw together and is packed with flavor. No bland chicken salad for me this week! I’ve been eating it on a pita with a few slices of cucumber. As I’m sitting here enjoying this version of a classic, I’m wondering why I haven’t been eating chicken salad more often.
Zesty Chicken Salad
1 1/2 lb chicken breast
1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
2 tbsp Frank’s hot sauce
1/2 packet (~1.5 tbsp) dry ranch mix
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Cook chicken however you prefer (or use leftovers or store bought rotisserie chicken). We baked ours, seasoned with a little black pepper.
Chop or shred the chicken in a large bowl.
In another smaller bowl, stir together all of the other ingredients. Season with a little extra pepper if you’d like.
Combine the chicken with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to coat the chicken thoroughly.
I don’t know if you noticed, but we haven’t shared too many posts this month so far (although our Sultan Selim Kofte was amazing & you should check it out!). A two-fold problem – we attempted a few recipes that we thought would be “blog-worthy,” that just didn’t turn out well, so we definitely couldn’t share our failures 🙄😬😣😉. And also, we used a few of our saved up vacation days to visit friends and watch UVA beat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem one weekend and to see our families in Nashville for a cousin’s wedding on another weekend! So we really haven’t cooked quite as much as normal this month!
Our lack of blogging this month is a little bit of a tragedy because January is National Soup Month, and I LOVE SOUP! I don’t know what month is better suited to officially be National Soup Month – what sounds more cozy and warming for chilly nights (and days!) than a big flavorful bowl of soup. It’s actually National Slow Cooker month too (probably for similar reasons…), so we just went ahead and did the two birds, one stone thing with this recipe – ✔️ & ✔️!
I’ve had this recipe saved on Pinterest for literally years I think. It comes from Gimme Some Oven, which actually is the very first blog I think I ever started following. I’ve made many of her recipes over the years, prior to the birth of our little infant blog. Check it out for some great recipes from a veteran blogger and much better pictures than ours! We tweaked her recipe just a tiny bit, adding a little extra vegetables & spices, because the entire world (or the 467 commenters on her post at least…) seems to love the original just as is! One little side note… one day we would like to make our own, traditional enchilada sauce, for this recipe or others. We were just feeling a little too lazy today for finding and roasting our own chilies. But we can only imagine how much better this soup would be when substituting authentic homemade enchilada sauce for the canned stuff!
Ok y’all, I know I say things like this all the time, but… This dip is SO easy to make and SO worth it. Bring this to your next family gathering, book club, or just make it for tomorrow’s dinner! It’s spicy without being overpowering. And everyone loves feta cheese!
On that note, now is a good time to talk about feta again. There is feta cheese and then there is feta cheese. If you bring someone from Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Israel, France, or, you know, basically anywhere else in the world, to the United States and show them the crumbly stuff that we sell in our grocery stores as feta – prepare to be laughed at. It is just nowhere near as good as what they have. But fear not! We Americans now have access to much better qualities of feta (usually imported from Europe or the Middle East) pretty easily here. Trader Joe’s & Whole Foods will always have some, your local grocery store might in some areas, and if those all fail, it’ll give you the opportunity to check out your nearest Middle Eastern market or international food shop! Look for feta in blocks, usually in brine. It’ll be wet and have some holes in it. While it crumbles easily between your fingers, it shouldn’t be dry and pre-crumbled for you. Believe me, I was a lover of American grocery store feta for years, so I’m not judging. But do yourself a favor and upgrade! Mmmmmm… feta 🙂
Also, you may have noticed if you read our blog semi-regularly (heyyy Baba, Aunt Suzanne, Mom 🙋🙋🙋), that we share recipes that make a wide variety of serving sizes. For example our Garlic & Truffle Pimento Cheese basically feeds an army, while this dip was easily eaten by the two of us tonight. This just goes to show you that we only share what we’re actually making for ourselves at any given time. We ate this dip with crudites to accompany some lahmacun tonight (perfect combo in case you were wondering!).
Spicy Feta Dip
(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Juice from a lemon wedge
Pulse all ingredients together in a food processor until smooth.
Refrigerate until serving.
Top with a drizzle of olive oil when serving, if desired.