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.

Sheet-Pan Garam Masala Chicken with Cauliflower & Chickpeas

I love yogurt-based marinades because the resulting meat is always juicy and tender. This dish not only had a yogurt marinade, it was made on a single sheet pan and had a bright and spicy “finishing condiment” as well. A winner. 🙂

The rimmed sheet pan did accumulate a lot of pan juices, but the chicken and cauliflower were still perfectly crispy on top. The cauliflower and chickpeas absorbed a lot of wonderful flavors from the pan drippings as well.

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Kat Boytsova. I added chickpeas and served the roasted chicken, cauliflower, and beans over rice, drizzled with pan juices. We also had warm naan on the side. The lemony cilantro-onion-jalapeño finishing condiment was essential and absolutely delicious.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

For the Chicken:

  • 3″ piece ginger, peeled
  • 2 cups whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup (or more) 2% Greek yogurt, for serving (can substitute whole-milk yogurt)
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 T garam masala, divided
  • 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 lbs)
  • 2 T plus 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 head of jumbo cauliflower (about 3 lbs)
  • 3 T vegetable oil or olive oil

For the Finishing Condiment:

  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and ribbed- if desired
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • rice and/or warm flatbread, for serving, optional

To Marinate the Chicken & Prepare the Dish:

  1. Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 425°. (I set my oven to convection roast.) Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Finely grate 3″ piece ginger into a medium bowl. Transfer all but 1 teaspoon of the grated ginger to a large resealable plastic bag, reserving ginger in bowl for the finishing condiment. (I used a gallon-size bag.)
  3. Add 2 cups whole-milk yogurt to bag with ginger.
  4. Cut 1 lemon in half crosswise and squeeze juice from each half into the yogurt mixture.
  5. Add cayenne and 2 T plus 1 tsp garam masala. Seal bag and shake to combine.
  6. Season 8 chicken pieces with 5 tsp salt. (I placed the chicken on a plate, seasoned with half the salt, turned each piece over, and seasoned with the rest of the salt.)
  7. Place chicken pieces in the marinade bag, seal, and shake again to cover all the pieces.
  8. Squeeze out as much air as you can from the bag, which makes sure that all the chicken is covered with the marinade. Let marinate at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or keep in the fridge for up to 4 hours. (I marinated the chicken 3 hours in advance, letting it come closer to room temperature for 20 minutes or so before roasting.)
  9. Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans. Lay out on a paper towel to dry thoroughly.
  10. Cut 1 head of cauliflower into quarters through stem end. Place quarters cut side down and remove most of the core. The cauliflower florets should fall apart and separate naturally, but you can slice any larger florets in half or into quarters until all florets are about 2″ in size. You want the more or less evenly sized so they’re cook evenly.
  11. Transfer cauliflower and beans to the prepared baking sheet.
  12. Drizzle 3 T oil and 1 1/2 tsp salt over and toss to coat. Spread evenly all the way to edges of pan, making sure that the pieces aren’t too crowded, otherwise they’ll steam instead of roasting. (If you ended up with more cauliflower than can fit in a single layer, take some out and save it for something else.)
  13. Remove chicken from marinade, slightly shaking off excess. Arrange on baking sheet skin side up, nestling into cauliflower. (It’s okay if some marinade clings to the chicken, just make sure it’s not pooling in pan.)
  14. Roast chicken and cauliflower, turning pan halfway through and moving chicken around with tongs to ensure even browning, until chicken skin is blistered, meat is tender all the way to the bone, and cauliflower is nicely charred, 35–40 minutes. (The internal temperature should reach 165 degrees.) Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

To Make the Finishing Condiment and to Serve:

  1. Chop the onion, place it in a colander, and rinse it with cold water. (This removes some of the onion’s sharpness.)
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, finely chop the cilantro.
  3. Add the onion to the food processor, finely chop.
  4. Add onion and cilantro to the bowl with the reserved ginger (from step 2 above).
  5. Finely grate zest of remaining lemon into the bowl. Cut lemon in half and squeeze 1 half into the bowl; reserve remaining half for another use.
  6. Remove seeds and ribs from the jalapeño, if desired, finely chop. Alternatively, it can be thinly sliced into rings. Add to the bowl.
  7. Season with remaining 2 tsp garam masala and 3/4 tsp salt.
  8. Mix with a spoon to combine, taste, and add more salt and lemon juice if necessary.
  9. Arrange chicken, beans, and cauliflower over rice, if desired, on individual plates or on a platter. Drizzle with pan juices, as desired.
  10. Top with lemon condiment and serve with a dollop of yogurt or yogurt to pass at the table, as desired. (I served 2% Greek yogurt with the meal.)

Poblano Chicken Chili

My husband would like to eat chili every week in the winter, so I enjoy trying different versions. I was immediately drawn to this recipe because it incorporates poblano chilies, my favorite. I loved the salsa verde shortcut as well. It would be perfect for a Super Bowl feast.

This recipe was adapted from True Comfort: More Than 100 Cozy Recipes Free of Gluten and Refined Sugar by Kristin Cavallari, via Good Morning America.com. I modified the method and proportions. I also topped the chili with crème fraîche instead of cashew crema because poblanos and crème fraîche are one of our ultimate flavor combinations. It offset the heat perfectly. Directions for the cashew crema are included below for a dairy-free version.

Yield: Serves 8

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (8 to 10 chicken thighs)
  • 2 poblano chiles, seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • coarse salt or pink Himalayan salt
  • 2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles
  • 12 oz jarred salsa verde (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 (19-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 avocado, diced or sliced, for garnish
  • crème fraîche, sour cream, or cashew crema (recipe below), for garnish
  • thinly sliced scallions, for garnish, optional
  • cilantro, for garnish, optional
  1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium to medium-high heat.
  2. Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the chicken pieces are browned, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Add the poblanos, onion, and jalapeño, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika, oregano, garlic powder, pepper, onion powder and a big pinch of salt. Stir, and cook for 5 minutes, until fragrant.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and add the canned green chiles, salsa verde, and cannellini beans; cook for 5 minutes, stirring it occasionally to bring the flavors together.
  6. Bring the heat back up to medium and add the chicken stock. Bring the chili to a simmer, reduce the heat, and let it cook, occasionally stirring it from the bottom to prevent burning, for about 1 hour, or more, until desired thickness is achieved.
  7. Just before serving, add lime juice; stir to incorporate. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper, as needed.
  8. Garnish each bowl of chili with avocado and a dollop of crème fraîche, sour cream or cashew crema (recipe below). Top with a sprinkle of sliced scallions and/or minced cilantro, as desired.

For the Cashew Crema:

  1. Place 1 cup of raw cashews in a high-powered blender and add half a cup of water.
  2. Blend on high speed until the crema is completely smooth, 2 minutes.

Note: The crema will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Coconut-Creamed Corn & Farro

In contrast to the fresh corn dish in my last post, this dish was quick and easy to prepare. It was an “out of the box” vegetarian meal that we all enjoyed. We ate it with roasted broccoli on the side. Nice.

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Chris Morocco. I modified the proportions. The crispy onions were a fun topping- my son has been adding them to his sandwiches ever since. 🙂

Yield: 4 servings

  • 6 ears of corn, kernels removed and cobs discarded
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 serrano or jalapeño chile, thinly sliced
  • 1 3″ piece fresh ginger, peeled, sliced into matchsticks
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 cup farro or other grains, such as freekeh or quinoa, cooked
  • 3/4 to 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 T store-bought crispy onions
  • lime wedges, for serving
  1. Cook 1 cup farro according to the package directions. (I cooked 1 cup of Trader Joe’s farro in 2 cups stock for 10 to 12 minutes.) Let rest for an additional 5 minutes; set aside.
  2. Cut kernels from corn; set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium until shimmering. (I used a 12-inch stainless pan.)
  4. Cook chile, ginger, garlic, and 2 sliced scallions, tossing, until softened and fragrant, 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add turmeric and cook, stirring frequently, just until darkened and fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  6. Add reserved corn and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, tossing occasionally, until corn is beginning to lightly brown, about 3 minutes.
  7. Add cooked farro and cook, tossing often, until heated through and beginning to crisp around the edges, about 2 minutes.
  8. Add 3/4 to 1 cup coconut milk; season with salt, to desired consistency. Bring to a simmer and cook, adding 1–2 T water if needed to loosen, until flavors have melded, about 3 minutes.
  9. Transfer corn mixture to a plate. Top with crispy onions and sliced scallions. Serve with lime wedges alongside for squeezing over.

Spicy Pork Kebabs with Fennel, Cumin & Red Onion

This is a full-flavored, weeknight summer dish. I served it with sautéed Napa cabbage, grilled radicchio, grilled fennel, and brown Basmati rice on the side. We squeezed fresh lime juice over the grilled meat, but next time I may also serve it with a garlicky lime-yogurt sauce.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used cubed pork tenderloin instead of pork shoulder and modified the proportions.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 ¾ pounds boneless pork shoulder OR 2 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lime, plus some wedges for serving
  • ¼ cup cilantro or basil, leaves and tender stems, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1 jalapeño or other green chile, seeded if desired (I used an unseeded Serrano chile)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 ½ tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 small red onion, sliced, for serving
  1.  Season pork lightly with kosher salt and put it in a bowl or resealable bag.
  2. Juice the lime into a blender or food processor and add cilantro, fish sauce, garlic, chile and honey. Blend until the chile and garlic are puréed, then add fennel, cumin, coriander seeds and pulse four or five times to bruise the spices and mix them in.
  3. Pour mixture over the pork, tossing to coat the pieces. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes while you heat the grill, or up to 24 hours.
  4. When ready to cook, heat the grill or broiler with a rack positioned 4 inches from the heat source.
  5. Thread the pork onto skewers, leaving a little space between cubes. Grill over the highest heat possible, or broil on high, for 2 to 5 minutes, then flip the skewers and continue cooking until the meat is browned all over and charred in spots. It should be just cooked through: A little pink is OK, but there shouldn’t be any red spots.
  6. Serve the pork with cilantro sprigs and onion slices on top, and lime wedges on the side for squeezing.

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.

Skillet Chicken Chili Cornbread Pie

This is another crowd-pleasing, one-pot, comfort food dish. I was immediately drawn to this recipe because making cast iron skillet cornbread on top of skillet chili is genius. Calling it a pie makes it even more fabulous!

This recipe was adapted from HowSweetEats.com. I modified the proportions and added thinly sliced kale to the chili. The smoked paprika was essential to the finished dish. Great.

Yield: Serves 6

For the Chili:

  • 1 large sweet or yellow onion, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups thinly sliced kale (ribs and stems removed)
  • 1 (4 ounce) can diced green chiles
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I used grilled chicken thighs)
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp coarse salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
For the Cornbread Topping:
  • 1 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 T light brown sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 (4 ounce) can diced green chiles
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
For Serving:
  • plain greek yogurt or sour cream
  • cilantro, chopped
  • scallions, sliced
  • corn
  • jalapeño slices
  • lime wedges
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, preferably on convection.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the olive oil. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
  3. Add the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the thinly sliced kale leaves and continue to cook until tender, about 5 additional minutes.
  5. Stir in the diced green chiles and shredded chicken.
  6. Add in the cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir well until the spices are combined with the mixture.
  7. Stir in the cannellini beans, corn and chicken stock. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Reduce the heat to low while you make the cornbread topping.
  8. In a large bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt.
  9. In a smaller bowl, stir together the eggs and milk.
  10. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring until just almost combined.
  11. Stir in the green chiles. Stir in the melted butter until combined.
  12. Drop spoonfuls of the cornbread over the chili, using the back of the spoon to spread it slightly, if necessary.
  13. Bake the skillet for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cornbread layer it set. Be sure to check that the cornbread is set in the center- sometimes it needs a few extra minutes to cook through.
  14. Serve with sour cream/greek yogurt, cilantro, scallions, corn, jalapeño, and limes for spritzing, as desired.

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