Wali Ya Mboga

In Swahili, wali ya mboga translates to “rice and vegetables.” This upscale version incorporated chicken as well. This dish was similar to a biryani with layered rice with greens, caramelized onions, and yogurt-marinaded chicken in tomato curry sauce. To serve, each serving was also topped with pickled onions, called kachumbar, and salted creamy yogurt. Beyond full-flavored.

I must mention that I really browned my tomato paste during the cooking process. Recently, I have read about the importance of letting tomato paste darken for optimal flavor- apparently, I took this advice to heart! The sauce in my finished dish was much deeper in color than in the original recipe.

The recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Zaynab Issa. I modified the proportions and method. I boiled the rice as instructed in the original recipe but struggled with the method- and wasn’t completely thrilled with the resulting texture. Next time, I would cook the rice using a traditional method or use a much larger pot to boil the rice.

Yield: 6 servings

For the Dish:

  • 1 2/3 cups good-quality white basmati rice (such as Shahzada)
  • 1/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek) (I used whole milk cream-top plain yogurt)
  • one 1″ piece ginger, scrubbed, finely grated (about 1 T)
  • 8 large garlic cloves, finely grated or pushed through a garlic press, divided
  • 2 3/4 tsp Diamond Crystal or 1 3/4 tsp Morton kosher salt, divided, plus more
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric, divided
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 8 medium)
  • 4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 4.5 to 4.6 oz tube double-concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chile powder or a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, kale, or spinach, tough ribs and stems removed, sliced into 1″ ribbons (I used baby spinach- not cut or stemmed, about 8 cups, packed)

To Serve:

  • 1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
  • freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 green Thai chile or 1/2 large jalapeño, seeds removed if desired, sliced
  • 2 T diced cherry, grape or Campari tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal or 1/4 tsp Morton kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek) (I used whole milk cream-top plain yogurt)

To Make the Dish:

  1. Place rice in a medium bowl and pour in cold water to cover. Agitate rice with your hands until water is cloudy. Drain and repeat until water is almost clear (about 3 times). Pour in water to cover rice by 2″; soak at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.
  2. Stir yogurt, ginger, half of garlic, 3/4 tsp Diamond Crystal or 1/2 tsp Morton kosher salt, and 1/4 tsp turmeric in a medium bowl to combine. Season with pepper. Add chicken thighs, turning to coat. Let sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-high. (I used a large enameled cast iron pot.)
  4. Add onion and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal or 1/4 tsp Morton kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is frizzled and deeply browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer onion to a plate and set aside.
  5. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in same skillet (still over medium to medium-high).
  6. Working in batches if necessary, remove chicken from marinade and cook until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes on the first side and 4 minutes on the second side. Transfer chicken to a plate, leaving oil behind.
  7. Add tomato paste, coriander, cumin, chile powder, remaining half of garlic, remaining 1 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal or 1 tsp Morton kosher salt, and remaining 1/4 tsp turmeric to skillet. Cook over medium to medium-high, stirring often, until tomato paste turns a shade darker in color, about 5 minutes.
  8. Reduce heat to low, stir in 1 cup water, and bring to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors come together and sauce has thickened, 10–12 minutes.
  9. Return chicken to pan and stir to coat in sauce. Remove from heat; cover and keep warm. (I placed the pan in a warming drawer.)
  10. Drain rice and cook in a very large pot of boiling generously salted water 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. (Alternatively, the rice can be cooked traditionally using a 1:2 ratio with boiling water. Cook, covered, over low heat for 15 minutes.)
  11. Stir the Swiss chard, kale or spinach into the rice.
  12. Continue to cook until rice is tender and greens are wilted and bright green, about 1 to 3 minutes more.
  13. Drain in a colander and let sit 10 minutes to allow moisture to steam off.

To Assemble and To Serve:

  1. While the rice rests, combine onion, lemon juice, chiles, tomatoes, and 1/4 tsp Diamond Crystal or 1/8 tsp Morton kosher salt in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to combine, breaking up the onion slices. Let kachumbar sit 5 minutes.
  2. Stir yogurt and remaining salt in another small bowl.
  3. To serve, fluff rice with a fork, making sure the greens are evenly distributed; transfer to a platter.
  4. Scatter reserved caramelized onions over and arrange chicken on top. (Or for a more casual look, return rice to pot and gently stir in chicken and onion.)
  5. Serve with kachumbar and salted yogurt alongside.

Classic Macaroni & Cheese with Sourdough Bread Crumb Topping

This cheesy pasta lived up to its title as “classic.” The combination of cheeses gave it the perfect velvety texture. We ate it as part of my husband’s birthday feast this year. Everyone loved it!

The recipe was adapted from The New Best Recipe All-New Edition from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe also notes that the recipe can be halved and baked in an 8-inch square baking dish. Great.

Yield: one 9×13-inch casserole: Serves 6 to 8 as a main course or 10 to 12 as a side dish

For the Bread Crumb Topping:

  • 6 slices (about 6 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces (I used Trader Joe’s Sourdough sandwich bread)
  • 3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

For the Casserole:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • salt
  • 5 T unsalted butter
  • 6 T all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 5 cups milk (whole, low-fat, or skim okay)(I used 3 cups whole and 2 cups low-fat)
  • 8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

To Prepare the Bread Crumbs:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the bread and butter until the crumbs are no larger than 1/8-inch, about 10 to 15 pulses. Set aside.

To Prepare the Pasta & Cheese:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the broiler.
  2. Place a 9×13-inch broiler safe baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. (I also covered the enameled handles of my baking dish with foil to protect them from the heat of the broiler.)
  3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until the pasta is tender (NOT al dente).
  4. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water (for reheating leftovers). Drain in a colander and set aside.
  5. In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
  6. Add the flour, mustard, and cayenne; whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. (I used a flat whisk.)
  7. Whisking constantly, gradually add the the milk; bring the mixture to a boil. The mixture must reach a full boil to fully thicken.
  8. After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes.
  9. Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated cheeses and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Whisk until the cheeses are completely melted.
  10. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  11. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the bread crumbs.
  12. Broil until the crumbs are deep golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary for even browning. (I set my oven to Broil+Max @500 degrees.) Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Red Lentil Soup with Warm Spices

I absolutely love red lentil soup. I have made several versions and I have always been pleased with the results. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. This version was incredibly creamy. I loved the pop of color from the flavorful toppings too.

This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen. I modified the proportions. We ate it with a green salad and warm naan- a perfect light dinner. Vegetable stock can be substituted for the chicken stock for a vegetarian version.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

For the Soup:

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped fine (I used a food processor)
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch cayenne
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock (I used 4 cups chicken stock & 4 cups homemade turkey stock)
  • 4 cups water
  • 21 ounces (3 cups) red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 T (1/4 cup, about 1 lemon) freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus extra for seasoning

For the Topping:

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 3 tsp dried mint, crumbled (I omitted it)
  • tsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

To Make the Soup:

  1. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and 2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Stir in broth, water, and lentils and bring to simmer. Simmer vigorously, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and about half are broken down, about 15 minutes.
  6. Whisk soup vigorously until it is coarsely pureed, about 30 seconds. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and extra lemon juice to taste. Cover and keep warm. (Soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Thin soup with water, if desired, when reheating.)

To Make the Topping:

  1. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in small skillet or in the microwave. (I only did 1/2 of the topping because I froze 1/2 of the soup!)
  2. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika, as desired.
  3. Ladle soup into individual bowls, drizzle each portion with spiced butter (about 1 teaspoon), sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

Watermelon Margaritas

I am a major fan of this pretty pink cocktail. It was very light, refreshing, and minimally sweet. Puréed watermelon is the only source of sweetness. Perfect.

This recipe was adapted from 3-Ingredient Cocktails by Robert Simonson, via The New York Times.  I did not strain the puréed watermelon and omitted the jalapeño slices. We tried it with both the cayenne and salt on the rim, and salt alone. Both were delicious. 😉

The original recipe recommends to taste and add more watermelon juice if your margarita is too boozy, and extra lime juice or even a pinch of salt if it’s too sweet.

Yield: 2 drinks

For the (optional) Salted Rim:

  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt or fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Tajín or 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne (optional)

For the Cocktail:

  • ice, as needed
  • 6 ounces fresh watermelon juice (from about 1 1/2 cups chopped seedless watermelon)(I used cubes from a mini watermelon)
  • 2 ounces tequila, preferably blanco
  • 2 ounces Cointreau
  • 2 ounces fresh lime juice (from 1 to 2 large limes), rinds reserved (I used 1 1/2 limes)
  • 2 to 3 thinly sliced jalapeño rounds, optional
  • small slices of watermelon, for garnish, optional
  1. Prepare the salted rim, if using: In a small shallow bowl or plate, combine the sea salt and Tajín or cayenne. Set aside.
  2. Blend the watermelon in a Vitamix or blender; strain if desired. (I left it puréed.)
  3. In a shaker filled with ice, combine the watermelon juice, tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and jalapeño (if using). Shake to combine. (Note: The watermelon flavor shines brighter without the Cointreau, but the liqueur takes the drink into more traditional margarita territory. If you’d like to compare, first try the mixture without, the liqueur, then add 1 ounce of it per serving.)
  4. Using one of the squeezed lime halves, run it along the rim of two margarita or rocks glasses, then dip the rims into the salt mixture.
  5. Fill the glasses with ice, then strain the margaritas into the glasses. Garnish with additional jalapeño slices and/or watermelon slices. Enjoy immediately.

Curly Fries

I am not a huge French fry person, but I do love curly fries. 🙂 When my husband surprised me with a spiralizer, I planned to use it to make zucchini noodle dishes… Somehow, curly fries moved to the top of the list. Zucchini noodles will be next!

This recipe was adapted from Ree Drummond, via Food Network.com. I think that they were especially delicious because of the seasoned batter. This recipe would be amazing with sweet potatoes too.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

For the Potatoes:

  • 3 large potatoes (I used Yukon gold)
  • Vegetable oil, for deep frying (about 3 liters- I used a combination of sunflower and canola oil)
  • Kosher salt

For the Batter:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I used Slap Ya Mama creole seasoning)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chicken Tikka Masala

For years, this was the most popular recipe on Food and Wine.com. It was included in the 40th Anniversary edition of Food and Wine magazine titled “Our 40 Best-Ever Recipes.” I have tried several recipes from this wonderful collection.

This is an easy version of this classic and popular Indian dish. I especially loved it because the sauce was so amazing. The original recipe makes a note that the marinade and sauce are also delicious with shrimp, lamb, and vegetables.

The recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Grace Parisi. I doubled the garlic and used slivered almonds. We ate it over brown Basmati rice with warm naan and sautéed spinach. Yum!

Yield: Serves 4

For the Marinade:

  1. In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cayenne and turmeric. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Using a sharp knife, make a few shallow slashes in each piece of chicken. Add the chicken to the marinade, turn to coat and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Preheat the broiler and position a rack about 8 inches from the heat.
  4. Remove the chicken from the marinade; scrape off as much of the marinade as possible.
  5. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and spread the pieces on a baking sheet. Broil the chicken, turning once or twice, until just cooked through and browned in spots, about 12 minutes.
  6. Transfer to a cutting board and cut it into 2-inch pieces.
  7. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil.
  8. Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool completely. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until finely ground.
  9. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering.
  10. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes.
  11. Add the garam masala, chile powder and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  12. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the sugar and season with salt and pepper.
  13. Cover partially and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
  14. Add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes longer.
  15. Stir in the chicken and pan drippings; simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, and serve.
Note: The Chicken Tikka Masala can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat gently before serving.

Spicy Chicken Katsu Sandwiches

My family would eat these delicious, crispy, katsu-style chicken sandwiches year round. They were CRAZY good.

The original recipe is meant to be a combination of a katsu sando and Nashville hot chicken. I modified the heat level for my crowd but included the original proportions in the recipe below. I actually think that my version had the perfect amount of heat. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Chris Morocco. I modified the proportions and method. I also used chipotle Cholula hot sauce, dill pickles, and potato rolls. I served it with green salad, pickles, and a combination of roasted sweet and tiny potatoes on the side. Amazing!

Yield: Serves 6

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup chopped dill pickles or bread-and-butter pickles
  • 2 T plus an additional 2 T to 4 T hot sauce, such as chipotle Cholula or Crystal
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning sauce
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 T to 3 T cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups panko
  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, lightly pounded to ½” thick
  • ¼ cup (or more) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 potato rolls or 12 slices Japanese milk bread or white sandwich bread, for serving
  • shredded iceberg lettuce, for serving
  1. Combine mayonnaise, pickles, and 2 tablespoons of hot sauce in a small bowl. (I used chipotle Cholula.) Season with salt; set aside.
  2. Combine flour, cayenne, garlic powder, and 1 tsp salt in a glass pie plate or medium bowl.
  3. Whisk egg and remaining 2 T to 4 T hot sauce in another glass pie plate or medium bowl.
  4. Place 1 1/2 cups panko on a large plate. (Reserve additional 1/2 cup to use later, if needed.)
  5. Working one at a time, dip chicken into flour dredge, turning to coat. Shake off any excess.
  6. Dip into egg mixture until coated, shaking off excess.
  7. Dredge in panko, turning to coat.
  8. Transfer to a large plate or a small rimmed baking sheet.
  9. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high until shimmering. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
  10. Working in 2 batches, cook chicken, reducing heat to medium if it’s browning too quickly, until golden and very crisp on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack.
  11. Spread reserved spicy mayo on one side (or both!) of each roll or slice of bread. Top with chicken and shredded lettuce, then close up sandwiches.

Note: The chicken (surprisingly) can be made ahead. We reheated the leftover fried chicken, one piece at a time, for 1 minute in the microwave with great results.

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