I have a peculiar issue with my food preferences. I generally dislike fruit in with my savoy dishes. Spinach and strawberry salads have become quite popular, as well as Caribbean salads with mandarin oranges, and I always wonder why you would want to spoil your fruit with salad dressing, and vice versa. Then, I tried a Chinese chicken salad with avocado and mango. I don’t consider myself a convert by any means, but I’ve learned there are some circumstances when fruit with savory foods can be quite delicious.
Part of the reason I have typically shied away from the better-known African and Middle Eastern dishes is because it is common to see dried fruits, particularly raisins (or sultanas), and apricots, in the dishes. Still unconvinced about the merits of fruit in a savory, spiced dish, I added carrots and sweet potatoes for a milder sweet flavor.
North African-Style Chicken (2 servings)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 sweet potato, diced
- 1 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. ginger
- 1/4 tsp. turmeric
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- pinch saffron
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced
- 1/2 c. Israeli couscous
- 1 1/4 c. chicken broth
- 1/2 c. frozen (or 8 oz. fresh) spinach
- Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook until fragrant. Add remaining vegetables and saute about 5 minutes, or until sweet potatoes have begun to soften.
- In a small bowl, whisk together all the spices. Add the chicken and toss until thoroughly coated by the spices. Add to the saute pan and cook, stirring often, until it is browned on all sides.
- Add the chicken broth with the spinach and bring to a boil. Add couscous and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until couscous is cooked and liquid has been absorbed.
Let’s make this clear: although I LOVE bacon, ham, sausages, I have never liked pork chops or pork roasts in particular. I only heard about pork tenderloin a couple of years ago, and I never thought I would like that either, seeing as how it wasn’t smoked or salted to within an inch of its life. I was surprised to find it was really good, and since then I have had it a couple of times, grilled as well as pan-roasted, the way I made it tonight. As mustard goes well with pork, I made a pan sauce with grainy German mustard and golden syrup.
Pan-Roasted Pork with Couscous (3 servings)
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 pork tenderloin
- 1 tbsp. grainy mustard
- 1 tbsp. honey or golden syrup
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 large carrots, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. each dried basil, thyme, and oregano
- 1 1/4 c. boiling water, divided
- Preheat oven to 425.
- Heat vegetable oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Season pork tenderloin on all sides with salt and pepper, and then sear for a few minutes on each side to brown it. Place the entire pan in the oven for 15-20 minutes, then remove the pork tenderloin to a cutting board to rest.
- Pour 1/4 cup of water into the skillet along with mustard and honey. Whisk until thoroughly combined and then boil down to desired consistency. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in another pan over medium heat. Add vegetables and dried herbs and saute for 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through. Add couscous and stir for a moment to toast the grains. Add 1/2-1 cup of boiling water and stir until couscous is cooked.
- Slice pork tenderloin and serve over couscous.
I found myself in a conundrum the other night, having decided on making paella for dinner, but finding that I didn’t really have the time to wait for the rice to cook. Since I was already making “mixed” paella, a version virtually unknown in paella’s homeland of Valencia (but popular elsewhere in Spain), I decided it wouldn’t matter if I ditched the rice in favor of a quicker-cooking grain. I haven’t experimented enough with other grains to know which would offer a good texture, so I chose Israeli couscous, a more pillowy, chewy version of the small-grained pasta.
The original Valencian paella was a rice dish prepared in a large, shallow pan that included fresh butter beans, tomatoes, saffron, paprika, olive oil, and snails. Over time, additional meats such as chicken, rabbit, and duck could be added and still considered authentic. Valencians who live on the Mediterranean coast make a seafood paella, which replaces land proteins with any combination of shrimp, lobster, mussels, and cuttlefish. Spaniards living outside of Valencia mixed these two forms, and chefs in Spain and worldwide have now created paellas with any number of different vegetables and proteins. The version I threw together is below.
Mixed Paella (4-6 servings)
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 2 onions, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 lb. fresh chorizo, crumbled
- 2 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, diced
- 1 1/2 tsp. each paprika and smoked paprika, or to taste
- 1 pinch saffron
- 3-4 c. chicken broth – start with 3 cups and add additional broth if needed; I used 4 cups and it was a bit too brothy
- 1/2 lb. raw, shelled shrimp (about 4 per person)
- 1 1/2 c. Israeli couscous
- 3/4 c. frozen peas
- 3/4 c. frozen spinach
- Heat olive oil in a 12-inch saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for several minutes, or until softened. Add chorizo and break up with a wooden spatula. Cook about five minutes, or until cooked through.
- Add chicken, and cook another three minutes. Add spices, and cook a minute or two, until fragrant.
- Add chicken broth and bring up to a boil. Add shrimp, couscous, peas, and spinach. Cook 8-15 minutes or until couscous is done and broth has evaporated.