Sindhi chicken curry

Source: Easy Indian Cooking

I hate having great cookbooks sit idle on my shelves. (I’ve definitely discovered photos are key to a popular cookbook… I have books with amazing recipes, but without photos, it’s hard to get inspired and excited about the recipes.)

I was craving some Indian, so I committed to making something from my trusty Easy Indian Cooking book. It features authentic Indian recipes, slightly simplified to use ingredients that can be found in any grocery store.

It’s hard to go wrong with Indian recipes. The layers of spices almost guarantee a home run. This is a bright, light, fresh curry, but packed with flavour.

This recipe is surprisingly simple: you may have all the ingredients on-hand already and there’s not much prep (you can get started on the first steps and prep as you go). The cooking time is less than an hour. Throw a pot of rice on half-way though, and you have a delicious meal that could even be prepared on a weeknight.

Sindhi chicken curry with tomatoes and cilantro, served on white rice
Sindhi chicken curry with tomatoes and cilantro, served on white rice

Jota: pork, sauerkraut and bean soup

Source: Lidia’s Italy

My dad’s side of the family is from the Trieste region of Italy. Because of its location and history, several traditional Triestine dishes have a Slavic influence. (It also has a unique dialect.)

Any good Triestino will have memories of jota, a hearty soup that combines beans, sauerkraut and a few forms of pork. Potato is used to thicken the soup. So we’re not talking about a particularly elegant soup, but on a cold winter day, it’s just what you need.

Lidia Bastianich’s recipe that I’m following flavours the broth with fresh pork butt, smoked pork sausage and fresh pork sausage. She calls for the meats to be removed and served separately, I’m keeping them in to create a satisfying single-bowl meal.

The soup takes about 2.5-3 hours to cook, but it’s a pretty hands-off process.

Jota: pork, bean and sauerkraut soup
Jota: pork, bean and sauerkraut soup

Goulash Triestino with mashed potatoes

Source: Lidia’s Italy

With life calming down a bit, I’m hitting the kitchen again. I decided to delve into a cookbook that I haven’t yet explored much: Lidia’s Italy, where celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich shares traditional recipes from all regions of Italy.

This first recipe is from Trieste in the far north-east corner of Italy bordering on Slovenia. This area has a long history as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and many dishes are more inspired by middle-European influences than Italian influences. The example in this dish is the use of paprika, which is rare or unseen in Italian cooking.

This is a lovely rich beef goulash that is quintessential comfort food.

Like any great stew, it does need about 2 hours of cooking time, then a bit more time to sit and meld, but it’s a very simple recipe. Prep doesn’t require anything more than coarsely chopping onions into large wedges, cutting the beef chuck into large 1 1/2-inch chunks and measuring out a few spices. Then things essentially go into a pot to stew. After cooking the onions and beef for an hour, you create a basic sauce by whisking together water, flour and tomato paste, bringing it to a boil, then adding it to the onion and beef, and letting it simmer for another 45 minutes.

Lidia’s recipe suggests serving with mashed potatoes (the Middle European style), polenta or fettuccine (Italian style) or steamed rice. I’m a sucker for mashed potatoes (made with a potato ricer), so that’s what I opted for.

Goulash Triestino with mashed potatoes
Goulash Triestino with mashed potatoes

Classic Caesar salad with chicken “croutons”

Source: Fine Cooking #104 (also at FineCooking.com)

A Caesar salad is a classic, but it’s the real thing that’s deserving of that prestige. With a few ingredients (many that you’ll already have at home), it’s quick and easy to make a homemade Caesar salad dressing.

If you’re not familiar with the ingredients in a true Caesar salad dressing, don’t shy away from it or consider omitting any ingredients. Yes, there are anchovies in the dressing, but when combined with all the other ingredients, neither you nor your guests will know they’re there, but they’re critical to the final product.

I use the ingredients exactly as-is in the recipe linked above (although sometimes I’ll use anchovy paste instead of whole anchovies), but I simplify the preparation a bit. Instead of a blender, I use an immersion blender. I place all the ingredients in glass jar (I don’t even bother smashing the garlic) and whiz until smooth (which isn’t long). (I often make a double batch to have some leftover dressing for the week.)

The croutons in the recipe are delicious and easy to make. But when I want the salad to be a meal instead of a side dish, I omit the bread croutons and make my chicken “croutons” as a source of protein. I take coarsely diced chicken thighs, seasoned with salt, that I toss in corn starch to coat. I then fry these in a pan with a generous amount of oil until a dark golden brown and very crispy. They have the satisfying crunch of croutons, but the protein you want in a full meal.

Classic Caesar salad with chicken croutons
Classic Caesar salad with chicken croutons

Cold tomato and red pepper soup

Source: Fine Cooking #123 (also at FineCooking.com)

The cold soup recipes in the latest issue of Fine Cooking could not have been more timely. With more tomatoes on-hand than we can eat, this tomato and red pepper soup was perfect. (I used 1 red and 2 yellow peppers instead of 3 red peppers, resulting in an orange soup. If you had 3 red peppers, you’d get a much redder colour.)

The tomatoes and peppers are first broiled in the oven to both soften them and facilitate removing their skin. The vegetables are then puréed with a flavourful mixture of olive oil, garlic, water and bread (instead of baguette, I used panko crumbs). Once smooth, the soup is then strained and chilled before eating. For cold soups, the smooth texture of a strained soup really makes the difference.

This makes the perfect summer lunch or dinner starter.

Cold tomato and red pepper soup with bread and olives
Cold tomato and red pepper soup with bread and olives