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.

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.

Sheet Pan Chicken with Jammy Tomatoes & Pancetta

Full-flavored sheet pan dinners are a dream. I loved that this one was seasoned with smoked paprika- it has such a fabulous depth of flavor. The “jammy” roasted tomatoes were sweet and delicious. I served the chicken and sauce over a bed of brown Basmati rice to soak up every last drop.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I incorporated broccoli florets and increased the amount of garlic. In addition to rice, I served this dish with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes. Wonderful.

Yield: Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 5)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 10 whole unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving
  • 1 T sweet or smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes (preferably different colors), halved
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, optional
  • 2 ounces diced pancetta or bacon
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh dill, parsley or other herbs, for serving (I used cilantro)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • brown Basmati rice, for serving, optional
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. Season chicken all over with salt, and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Smash all the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and peel them.
  4. Finely grate two of the garlic cloves into a small bowl. Stir in the 2 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, paprika, oregano, brown sugar, and cumin. Pour over chicken, tossing to coat.
  5. Add tomatoes, broccoli florets (if using) and remaining smashed, peeled garlic cloves to baking sheet, spreading them out around the chicken. Season tomatoes and broccoli lightly with salt and drizzle with a little more olive oil.
  6. Scatter pancetta on top.
  7. Roast until chicken is golden and cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. After 15 minutes, stir the tomatoes and pancetta, but don’t disturb the chicken.
  8. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
  9. Stir the tomatoes, broccoli, and pancetta around in the pan, scraping up all the delicious browned bits from the bottom and sides, and stir in the herbs and black pepper to taste.
  10. Taste and add salt, if needed, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if you like.
  11. Place a bed of rice on a platter, if desired. Transfer the reserved chicken to the platter.
  12. Spoon tomatoes, broccoli, garlic and pancetta over the chicken to serve.

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.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tagine with Butternut Squash

I made this full-flavored Moroccan dish when we were dreaming of a family trip to Morocco. (Currently still a dream trip!) It was amazing to be able to create a tagine-like dish using a slow cooker. My husband actually often asks me if I “need” a tagine. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Sarah DiGregorio. I increased the amount of garlic and served the chicken over Israeli couscous with sautéed kale on the side. The chicken was falling-off-of-the-bone tender. Wonderful!

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Time: 4 1/2 to 6 1/2 hours

  • 1 medium (2 to 2 1/2 pound) butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into 3-inch-by-1-inch wedges
  • 8 pitted dates, such as Medjool, halved
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 ½ teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon hot smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 T canola oil
  • 3 ½ to 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed (I used 8 thighs)
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup minced ginger (from about a 4-inch piece peeled ginger)
  • 6 to 8 large garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon), plus more to taste
  • leaves of 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • cooked couscous or pita for serving, optional (I used Israeli couscous)
  • plain yogurt, for topping, optional (I used 2% Greek yogurt)
  • toasted slivered almonds, for topping, optional
  1. Finely chop the onion in a food processor; set aside. Mince the ginger and garlic in a food processor; set aside.
  2. Put the squash wedges and pitted dates into a 6- to 8-quart slow cooker. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon stick, sweet paprika, turmeric, cumin, hot smoked paprika, ground ginger, cloves and cayenne and set aside.
  4. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  5. Pat the chicken dry and season it generously with salt.
  6. Working in two batches, put the chicken in the skillet skin side down and cook without moving it until the skin is deeply golden, crisp, and releases fairly easily from the bottom of the pan, about 5 to 8 minutes per batch. (You need to brown only the skin side.) Transfer the chicken to the slow cooker, nestling the thighs skin side up and in one crowded layer on top of the squash.
  7. Decrease the stovetop heat to medium. If there is a lot of rendered fat in the pan, pour off all but a thin layer to cover the entire bottom of the skillet. Add the onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  9. Add the reserved spices and stir well for about 30 seconds, until the mixture is a uniform brick red.
  10. Add the lemon juice, stir well to incorporate the browned bits, then scrape the mixture over the top of the chicken, making sure to include any spice-stained oil that remains.
  11. Cook on low until the squash and chicken are very tender and the flavors are mellow, at least 4 hours and up to 6 hours. If it’s more convenient, you can let the slow cooker switch to warm after 6 hours. The dish will hold on warm for another 2 hours before the chicken starts to dry out.
  12. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Add additional lemon juice and salt, to taste, and fold in the chopped parsley and scallions.
  13. Serve with couscous or pita, topped with yogurt and toasted almonds, as desired.

Indian Butter Chickpeas

This is an incredible vegetarian adaptation of the much loved classic Indian dish. It was also a fabulous weeknight dinner. I served it with steamed spinach which paired perfectly. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I increased the amount of garlic, used San Marzano tomatoes, and served it over brown Basmati rice with warm naan. Great.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 to 8 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 1 T grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sweet paprika or smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1 (28 oz) can whole peeled San Marzano plum tomatoes
  • 1 (13.5 to 15 oz) can coconut milk
  • 2 (15 oz) cans chickpeas, drained
  • ground cayenne
  • cooked brown or white rice, for serving
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, for serving
  • naan, for serving, optional
  • steamed spinach, for serving, optional
  1. Melt butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Stir in onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until golden and browned around the edges, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. (Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to medium-high; keeping the heat on medium ensures even browning without burning the butter.)
  3. Stir in garlic and ginger, and cook another 1 minute.
  4. Stir in cumin, paprika, garam masala and cinnamon stick, and cook another 30 seconds.
  5. Add tomatoes with their juices. Using a large spoon or flat spatula, break up and smash the tomatoes in the pot (or you can use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the tomatoes while they are still in the can).
  6. Stir in coconut milk and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, and continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and continuing to mash up the tomatoes if necessary to help them break down.
  7. Stir in chickpeas and a pinch of cayenne. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes.
  8. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  9. Serve spooned over rice, topped with cilantro, with warm naan and steamed spinach, as desired.

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