Kuku Paka (Chicken & Coconut Curry)

I was happy that the weather cooled down a little bit so that I could sneak this dinner into our springtime menu. The sauce was beyond creamy and delicious. Typically, this dish is prepared with charcoal-grilled chicken; I loved that this recipe was adapted to make using the broiler instead- perfect in cooler weather.

This recipe was adapted from Let’s Eat by Zaynab Issa, via Bon Appétit. It is a wonderful version of this popular East African-Indian chicken curry. It gave my son, who is studying World History in high school, a moment to review the impact and influences of the Indian Ocean trade routes prior to 1450 with our family. 😉 In Swahili, the trade language formed across the Indian Ocean, Kuku means chicken and Paka means to smear, to spread, or to apply.

The original recipe recommends using boneless thighs but notes that any cut of chicken, or a mix of breasts, tenders, or drumsticks (with pieces of similar size), could be substituted. A mix of vegetables can also be used in lieu of chicken to create a vegetarian version. I served it over rice with steamed spinach. Fast and fabulous.

Yield: 4 to 6 Servings

  • 3 to 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 lemons, divided (one for marinade & one for serving)
  • 1 1/4 tsp Morton kosher salt, divided, plus more (or 2 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika or Kashmiri chile powder
  • one pinch or dash of cayenne pepper (omit if using Kashmiri chile powder)
  • 2–3 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 8 to 10 large)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 plum tomato
  • 1 medium jalapeño or 1–2 green Thai chiles, seeded and ribbed
  • 1/4 cup (packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems, plus more for serving
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 can (13.5 oz) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4 T (1/4 cup) heavy cream (can substitute nondairy milk or additional coconut milk)
  • Basmati rice and/or crusty bread, for serving
  1. Finely grate the garlic cloves into a large bowl with a Microplane; alternatively, a garlic press can be used.
  2. Cut 1 lemon in half and squeeze juice into the bowl; discard seeds.
  3. Mix in 1/2 tsp Morton kosher salt (or 1 tsp Diamond Crystal) and the smoked paprika and cayenne pepper (or Kashmiri Chile powder).
  4. Add the skinless, boneless chicken thighs (I used 10) and toss to evenly coat.
  5. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the curry base.
  6. Coarsely chop the onion, tomato, chile(s) (depending on how spicy your chiles are and your heat tolerance), and cilantro. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend or process until smooth. (I used a Vitamix.)
  7. Place an oven rack in the highest position. Heat the broiler. (I set my oven to Broiler+Max at 500 degrees.)
  8. Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a high-sided skillet or large pot over medium. (I used a large, low, and wide enameled cast iron pan.)
  9. Add ground coriander, ground cumin, and ground turmeric. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  10. Pour in purée and add 3/4 tsp Morton kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal). Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until raw onion smell subsides and curry is paste-like in consistency, 15–20 minutes.
  11. Arrange chicken on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet and broil until cooked through, charred in spots, and a thermometer inserted into the thickest parts registers 165°, 14 to 20 minutes. (I placed the chicken “skin side down” for 7 minutes, flipped each piece over and cooked an additional 7 minutes.)
  12. While the chicken is cooking, shake the can unsweetened coconut milk to ensure coconut cream is incorporated, then add coconut milk to curry and stir well to combine. Curry should be pale yellow. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until warm and slightly thickened, 5–10 minutes.
  13. Once chicken is finished, add chicken and all of the pan juices to the curry and reduce heat to low; mix well to combine. Stirring constantly to prevent curry from breaking, dribble in the heavy cream.
  14. Taste and season with more salt, if needed.
  15. Serve the chicken and sauce over Basmati rice garnished with additional cilantro.
  16. Cut remaining 1 lemon into wedges. Serve kuku paka with crusty bread and lemon wedges for squeezing over at the table, as desired.

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Cauliflower & Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce

This is another quick and easy weeknight dinner. I love sheet pan meals! The yogurt sauce was absolutely essential- we all gobbled it up dolloped over both the cauliflower and the chicken. The spice blend, especially the smoked paprika, gave the chicken a great depth of flavor. Nice.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Yossy Arefi. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs and modified the proportions as well as the marinating and cooking times. I served it with roasted potatoes (made simultaneously in the same oven) and crusty sourdough bread.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

For the Roasted Chicken Thighs & Cauliflower:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 pounds) or 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 2-inch florets (about 5 cups)
  • 3 shallots, quartered lengthwise (about 1 heaping cup)

For the Herbed Yogurt Sauce:

  • 10 oz (about 1 1/4 cups) Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley or mint
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more for serving (I used Meyer lemon juice)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated (I used a garlic press)
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the coriander, paprika, Aleppo pepper, and red pepper flakes with 1 1/2 tablespoons oil and a big pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Pat the chicken dry and trim excess fat.
  3. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat in the oil and spices. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. (I marinated the chicken for 2 hours.)
  4. Heat oven to 425 degrees and set a rack in the center. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  5. Arrange the chicken, “skin-side up”, on a large parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
  6. Add the cauliflower, shallots, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to the bowl with the residual marinade. Toss to coat, then arrange the vegetables in a single layer surrounding the chicken.
  7. Bake until the chicken is deep golden brown and cooked through and the cauliflower is browned, tossing the vegetables once or twice, about 20 to 25 minutes for boneless and up to 40 minutes for bone-in. The internal temperature should read 165 degrees on instant read thermometer. (If the chicken is done before the cauliflower, transfer the thighs to a plate, cover, and continue cooking the cauliflower until golden brown.)
  8. While the chicken bakes, prepare the yogurt sauce: Whisk the yogurt, parsley or mint, cilantro, lemon juice and grated garlic with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving. (I made the sauce after making the chicken marinade and let it sit in the refrigerator during the marinating time as well.)
  9. Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a platter and top with any juices left on the sheet pan and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  10. Serve with yogurt sauce on the side, sprinkled with fresh cilantro, if desired.

One-Pot Crispy Gnocchi with Burst Tomatoes & Fresh Mozzarella

This is a variation of one of my favorite quick dishes that also uses store-bought gnocchi as a shortcut. It is less spicy which pleased my husband. 😉 The cheesiness of this version definitely made it a crowd-pleaser.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Ali Slagle. It was the perfect dinner to make and serve after making cupcakes all afternoon with my daughter. Fast and fabulous.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 2 (12- to 18-ounce) packages shelf-stable or refrigerated potato gnocchi (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 cup (4 T) unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 8 to 10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more, to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups (2 pints) small tomatoes, such as cherry, grape or Sungold
  • 4 to 6 T thinly sliced (chiffonade) or torn basil leaves, plus more for serving
  • 8 to 9 ounces (8 slices) fresh mozzarella, cut or torn into 1/2-inch pieces
  1. Heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the heat source.
  2. In a large (12-inch) skillet on the stovetop, heat enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan (about 1 tablespoon) over medium-high. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
  3. Add half the gnocchi to the pan, breaking up any that are stuck together. Cover with a lid or baking sheet and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on one side, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  4. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi and olive oil.
  5. Add the butter to the skillet and cook over medium-high, stirring often, until golden-brown and toasty, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Add the garlic, red-pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper, reducing the heat slightly if necessary to avoid scorching.
  7. Add the tomatoes and 3 tablespoons water and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened and the liquid has slightly thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Smash the tomatoes as they burst to help them along.
  8. Add the seared gnocchi and basil, stir to coat, then shake into an even layer.
  9. Top with the mozzarella and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
  10. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned in spots, 2 to 4 minutes. (I set my oven to 500 degrees Broil+Max.)
  11. Top with more basil, red-pepper flakes, and black pepper as desired.

Roasted Salmon with Lemon-Brown Butter Asparagus & Peas

This dish is a fresh and healthy springtime meal. It was also very quick and easy to prepare. I served the salmon and vegetables over rice, making it a complete meal.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Kay Chun. I used Meyer lemons and modified the method and proportions. Nice.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 pound salmon fillet, with or without skin (I used skinless)
  • 3 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 2 1/4 pounds asparagus, tough stems trimmed, stalks sliced 1/4-inch-thick on a slight bias (leave tips whole)
  • 6 T unsalted butter
  • 2 to 3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste, plus wedges for serving (I used Meyer lemons)
  • 3 T drained capers
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup (4 T) coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
  • white Basmati rice, for serving, optional
  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. (I set my oven to convection roast.) Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil; lightly coat with cooking oil spray.
  2. Arrange the salmon “skin side-down” on the baking sheet. Rub the top surface of the salmon with 1 tablespoon of oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast the salmon in the preheated oven until medium, 10 to 15 minutes. (I roasted mine for 12 minutes on convection roast.)
  4. While the salmon roasts, prepare the asparagus: In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium to medium-high heat. (I used a 14-inch stainless steel skillet.)
  5. Add asparagus, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer asparagus to a plate.
  6. Reduce heat (if set to medium-high) to medium and add butter to skillet. Cook, stirring, until foam subsides and butter is deep golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. (Be careful not to burn).
  7. Turn off heat and stir in lemon juice, capers, peas, parsley and cooked asparagus. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Divide rice, if using, and vegetables among plates. Top with salmon and spoon over any remaining pan sauce.
  9. Garnish with parsley and serve with lemon wedges, as desired.

Orange-Guajillo Pulled Chicken Tacos

Tacos are always a welcome dinner in my house. New varieties are even more welcome. 🙂

These chicken tacos were a mildly sweet from the fresh orange juice. Because the seeds are removed from the chilies, the finished dish was not spicy at all. They were really delicious with all of the assorted toppings.

This recipe was adapted from 177milkstreet.com. We ate the tacos with refried beans, brown Basmati rice, and street corn on the side. Fresh and fabulous.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 ounce guajillo chilies (5 medium), stemmed, seeded and torn or cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (I used 4 large oranges)
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 T white vinegar
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or Mexican oregano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed (I used 9 thighs, about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • warm tortillas, for serving (I used Trader Joe’s corn-wheat tortillas)
  • diced white onion, for serving
  • sliced radishes, for serving
  • cilantro leaves, for serving
  • crumbled queso fresco, feta, or shredded Mexican cheese blend, for serving
  • sour cream, for serving
  • rice and refried beans, for serving, optional
  1. Squeeze the orange juice into a liquid measuring cup.
  2. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, toast the chile pieces, pressing with a wide metal spatula and flipping halfway through, until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes total. (I used a 12-inch stainless steel all-in-one pan.)
  3. Transfer to a small bowl and pour in the juice; press on the chilies to submerge. Let stand until the chilies have softened, about 10 minutes. Set the skillet aside. (I placed the chilies in the liquid measuring cup with the freshly squeezed orange juice.)
  4. In a blender, combine the chilies and juice, garlic, vinegar, coriander, honey, oregano and 1 teaspoon salt. Puree until smooth, about 30 seconds. (I used a Vitamix.)
  5. Pour the puree into the reserved skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high.
  6. Trim the chicken thighs of any excess fat to prevent the finished dish from becoming greasy.
  7. Nestle the chicken into the sauce, cover and cook over medium-low, stirring and flipping the chicken halfway through, until tender and opaque when cut into with a paring knife, about 20 minutes. 
  8. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a large plate and set aside until cool enough to handle, 10 to 15 minutes. Using 2 forks, shred into bite-size pieces.
  9. While the chicken cools, bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring, until thickened and reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes.
  10. Stir the shredded chicken into the sauce, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
  11. Warm the tortillas. (I microwave them in a tortilla warmer with a damp towel for about 1 minute.)
  12. Serve the shredded chicken with warm tortillas and assorted toppings, as desired.

Shrimp & Grits with Garlicky Roasted Poblano-Jalapeño Sauce

Annually, we treat ourselves to Southern shrimp and grits over Easter weekend. This year, I served the special dish using purple “unicorn” grits from Millers All Day in Charleston, South Carolina. Festive!

This version was topped with a spicy and garlicky roasted poblano-jalapeño sauce which had a terrific balance with the rich, cheesy grits. The shrimp was also cooked in garlic oil. It was a great variation to try for the garlic and sauce lovers in my house. 🙂 The recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Marc Meyer. I modified the method and proportions.

Yield: Serves 4

  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk 
  • coarse salt 
  • 1 cup stone-ground white grits (I used stone-ground unicorn grits)
  • 2 ounces extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (1/2 cup) 
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 1 jalapeño chile 
  • 1 poblano chile
  • 5 large garlic cloves, thickly sliced 
  • 5 T extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 T freshly squeezed orange juice (from 1/2 an orange)
  • freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 pound shelled and deveined large shrimp, patted dry (I used 21-25 count per pound)
  1. Place oven rack in the highest position and set to broil. Place the jalapeño and poblano chiles on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil until blackened all over, about 3 minutes per side.
  2. Remove from the oven and wrap in the foil. Allow to steam and cool for 10 minutes, then rub off the skins. Stem and seed the chiles.
  3. In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil with a pinch of salt. (I used an enameled cast iron pot.)
  4. Whisk in the grits and cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until the grits are tender and very thick, about 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in the milk, cheese, and butter. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. (I used about 1/2 tsp salt.) Cook for an additional 5 minutes, then keep warm.
  6. In a small skillet, cook the garlic in the olive oil over moderate heat, stirring, until the garlic is softened and very lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  7. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to a blender. Add the chiles and the orange juice and puree until smooth. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil and puree until creamy. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. (I used a Vitamix.)
  8. Pat the shrimp dry and toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons of garlic oil. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  9. Heat a very large skillet until very hot, about 2 minutes.
  10. Add the shrimp in a single layer and cook until browned and just cooked through, about 45 seconds to 1 minute per side.
  11. To serve, spoon the grits into bowls and top with sauce and shrimp. Serve additional sauce at the table.

Turkey Meatballs with Romesco Sauce

Many years ago, my husband and I first tried Romesco sauce while on vacation in Barcelona. It was served with grilled ramps. We were instant fans! Using jarred fire-roasted red peppers as a shortcut is an absolute genius way to create it. I served the meatballs and sauce in this dish with slices of sourdough baguette to sop up every last drop. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Sara Frost. I modified the proportions. The original recipe notes that the delicious sauce can add richness to other lean proteins such as fish, pan-roasted chicken breast and can also be used as a dip for vegetables. Next time, I may serve this dish with grilled scallions. Yum.

My son ate the leftover meatballs and baguette as a luxurious sandwich with melted cheese, topped with Romesco sauce, of course. This dish could also be served as a fabulous appetizer.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 3/4 lbs ground turkey
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 4 to 6 T finely chopped parsley, plus more coarsely chopped for serving
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 T plus 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds (I used toasted sliced almonds)
  • 1 12 to 16-oz jar fire-roasted peppers in water, drained (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 to 4 small garlic cloves, crushed (I used a garlic press)
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • finely grated zest of half of a lemon
  • crusty bread, for serving, optional (I served it with a sourdough baguette)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  2. Using your hands, mix ground turkey, eggs, panko, cumin, onion powder, paprika, parsley, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt in a large bowl.
  3. Working one at a time, use a 1 1/2-inch scoop out to ration out the mixture. (I had 28 meatballs.) Place on a plate.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium. (I used a large stainless steel “all-in-one” pan.)
  5. Working in 2 batches, cook meatballs until golden brown all over, about 2 minutes per side.
  6. Transfer skillet with all of the meatballs to oven and bake until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes.
  7. While the meatballs are baking, pulse almonds in a food processor until coarsely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  8. Pulse drained fire-roasted peppers, garlic, vinegar, and cayenne in food processor until almost smooth.
  9. Transfer to bowl with almonds and stir in remaining 1/2 cup oil; season Romesco sauce with salt, to taste.
  10. Spoon romesco sauce onto a platter or into shallow bowls; arrange meatballs on top.
  11. Finely grate lemon zest over and scatter coarsely chopped parsley on top. Serve with crusty bread, as desired.

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