While every other food blogger is plugging away at bringing you delicious holiday recipes, I’m here today to offer inspiration on what to make when you’ve had enough of cookies, candy, and miniature houses formed of cookies and candy. For those of us who look forward to time in the kitchen, this time of year can seem a bit daunting - we are inundated with so many ideas of what to make, bake, and decorate, that we forget about other important factors, such as feeding ourselves a nutritious meal that can sustain the long hours we tend to pack into a single day. I can recall several instances when I found myself in the kitchen at 10:00 PM, only to realize I had yet to prepare dinner. And when I skip meals, I become what my friend Eugene calls “hangry” - not a sight for the easily intimidated. I think you all know what Eug means by hangry, and try as we might, eating spoonfuls of cookie dough isn't going to solve the attitude problem that stems from a lack of food. So I’m here to offer a recipe for a fast, filling, and nourishing dish; all of the components can be prepped separately and simply combined before serving.
Lately I’ve been smitten with typically Middle Eastern flavors, which seem to enliven and brighten the heavier food of winter: preserved lemon adds unmatchable complexity to a hearty grain pilaf or chicken bake; fried eggs with chilies and yogurt is a delicious alternative to the old omelet standby; long-roasted lamb benefits from the balancing flavor of “freshness” that sumac so perfectly lends; thespicy-sweet aroma ofcuminand coriander work beautifully with just about every winter vegetable one can imagine; and dried fruits and nuts can make an ordinary salad phenomenal - addictive even.
Chicken and radicchio salad with pickled raisins and walnuts is one of those rare combinations of ingredients that add up to so much more than the sum of their parts. This salad has seen several incarnations, each attempt really just an excuse to consume big bowls of “crunchy” for dinner each night. after night. after night. The first involved the often hard-to-find Deglet Noor dates, which I pitted, julienned and used in place of the raisins in the recipe below (if you have access to good fresh dates - I highly recommend this!). I tried it with feta and without (on the notion that everything may taste better with feta). I tossed some almonds out and some walnuts in. And each time I’ve composed this delicious dish, I increased the amount of fresh herbs - sprinklings turned into handfuls of torn mint, parsley and cilantro, until eventually they were a substantial part of the composition, rather than mere background colors.
If you find yourself pressed for time - perhaps with your counters covered in gingerbread dough - and are in need of a fast, healthy bite, this baby’s for you.
CHICKEN AND RADICCHIO SALAD WITH PICKLED RAISINS & WALNUTS
APPROXIMATELY 4 SERVINGS
2 chicken breasts, preferably with bone and skin
2 cups walnuts
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/2 lemon, preferably Meyer
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil + extra for chicken
2 large heads of radicchio, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pickled raisins
handfuls of torn parsley, cilantro, and mint
sea salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Rub chicken breasts with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper; roast for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and just cooked through. Remove chicken from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Pull apart meat into large bite-sized pieces and set aside.
Meanwhile, spread walnuts on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and roast for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown. Roughly chop walnuts, toss with walnut oil and a pinch of sea salt and set aside.
Add the zest and juice of half a lemon to a large bowl. Add a pinch of salt and the chopped shallot. Allow the shallot to mellow in the juice for 5 minutes. Then, while whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream. To the vinaigrette, add the chicken, walnuts, radicchio, raisins, herbs, a large pinch of salt (or 2 or 3), a some freshly ground black pepper; toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve immediately.
PICKLED GOLDEN RAISINS
MAKES 1 1/2 CUPS
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
1 bay leaf
1 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over hight heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer until the liquid reduces by half, about 10-12 minutes. Let the mixture cool completely. Refrigerate raisins in the pickling liquid for up to three days; strain before using.