So sorry for being gone so long. I have been utterly self-indulgent the past week and a half, visiting with my family in California, and literally lounging in my pajamas until noon eating bon-bons.
But it is a New Year, and while I am still on "vacation" in California, I am itching to return to work and order (I am more a New Year’s Day than New Year’s Eve person; my ideal scenario for the latter is a cozy fire accompanied by a mug of hot chocolate and a British mystery).
With apologies to all of you reading from frigid climes, it was a gorgeous Califonia day today, sunny and temperate; maybe we’ll have a minor earthquake to balance the inequity. I headed outside for a long walk with Nick, followed by lots of play with the same sweet toddler at the local park. The walking, swinging and sliding provided ample opportunity to contemplate dinner. I settled on a simple dinner: spiced-rubbed chicken and a lentil salad with fresh herbs.
My parents were more than happy to have me cook, and I was even happier to find that I didn’t need to buy a single ingredient. The Meyer lemon tree in the backyard still had plenty of lemons, my mother’s Italian parsely had re-seeded itself and grown in abundance, and the ever-present mint was in ample, fragrant supply.
I don't know why lentils and chicken pair so well, but they do, and the fresh herbs and lemon were just the palate refresher we all seemed to want and need. I think you'll be happy we both, or either on its own.
Here's to a happy, healthy, and prosperous (the lentils are traditional New Year's fare intended for that last element--eat up!) New Year!
Easy Piri-Piri Chicken with Lentil Salad
Pounding the chicken a little bit is one of my little tricks to prevent over-cooking chicken breasts. I place the breasts in a heavy-duty plastic zipper bag (one at a time) to contain any mess.
1 cup uncooked lentils (any variety you like; I used good old brown)
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 medium chicken breasts (pound slightly to even thickness)
1 tablespoon piri piri spice seasoning (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup dried currants (you could also chop the same amount of raisins)
1/4 cup plain lowfat yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cup packed flat leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Place the lentils, water, and salt in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, about 25 minutes, until lentils are tender (but not falling apart). Drain any excess water, then transfer to a medium bowl to cool.
Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the spice rub. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the chicken and cook for 6 minutes each side or until cooked through.
Whisk the yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, and lemon zest in a small bowl until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the currants, parsley and mint to the lentils. Stir in the yogurt dressing. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Cut the chicken into thick slices and serve on the lentil salad. Makes 4 servings.
Sort-Of Piri-Piri Seasoning
Piri Piri is a multi-purpose Portuguese seasoning comprising hot chiles, basil, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, bay leaves, salt & pepper, and, occasionally, citrus zest. I did a quick mock-up for the chicken breasts; it went something like this:
1 tablespoon paprika (I used sweet—not hot—smoked paprika)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspooon dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspon cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients together in a small dish; store leftover spice rub in an airtight bag or container.