Monday, February 29, 2016

Chicken Paprikash

I’m still not sure how to pronounce it, but I sure know how to eat it! This dish comprises everything I love in a good chicken recipe: delicious, easy, interesting, and not soaked in a half gallon of oil. (I know that last attribute is really setting the bar high.)

I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for close to half a year and finally got around to trying it last week. I then proceeded to make it again…and again…all in the same week. In my defense, I shared a lot of the goods, but the fact that I made this recipe 3 times in 7 days underscores how good it is.

I can summarize the recipe thusly: sauté onion, add paprika, add chicken and water, simmer for 1 hour, shred chicken, add sour cream and flour, season with salt and pepper. It’s really that easy, yet the flavor is rich and complex. The paprika, onion, chicken, and sour cream combine into a savory, creamy, warmly spiced (but not spicy) sauce; and the chicken is super tender from the long braise. It goes perfectly over a bowl of rice with a good book and a fuzzy blanket.

A couple notes on ingredients:
Chicken – the original recipe calls for bone-in thighs or chicken breasts, quartered. I have only tried this recipe with dark meat, as all my local grocers seem to be anti-bone-in chicken breasts. I imagine you could also try boneless, though. I have tried both thighs and drumsticks, and both tasted great. However, it was a pain in the derriere to get the skin off the drumsticks, and the sauce ended up way fattier than when I used thighs.
Paprika – you don’t need to use the fancy stuff, but it should be fresh. The original recipe asserts the more paprika the better. I agree and would add that you don’t want to be using old, pale, sad paprika. Feel free to buy the cheap-o brand, though. As long as it’s fresh, the end result will be really good.

Fun Fact: The dark parts of poultry are dark due to more myoglobin, which is an iron-containing protein in muscle. Ergo, the dark meat contains more iron than the light meat. This is a boon for iron-deficient, budget-conscious shoppers such as myself. If you want to maximize your iron absorption, eat it separately from calcium-rich foods because calcium and iron compete with each other.

Chicken Paprikash

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
4 heaping tablespoons paprika
4 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin and excess fat trimmed away (or 2 chicken breasts or 5 drumsticks)
1¼ teaspoons salt
½ cup sour cream
1 spoonful (approximately 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a medium-large pot over medium heat, and sauté the onions until soft. Add the paprika, and continue to sauté, stirring very frequently, for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken to the pot, and sprinkle salt over. Stir everything together until the chicken is coated in the paprika.

Here is where I diverge from the recipe slightly: the original states to let the chicken brown slightly, but I forgot to do this the first time, and it still turned out great. Due to laziness, the most I have done is get the chicken slightly de-pinked. So, do what you want. Follow your instincts. Browning probably concentrates and enriches the flavors a bit.

Add 2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, and simmer partially covered – I like to prop the lid with a wooden spoon – for 45-60 minutes until the chicken is cooked through (165 degrees Fahrenheit). Remove the chicken to shred it, and discard the bones. Whisk the sour cream and flour together, and stir into the paprikash broth. If the sauce is thinner than you want it, then boil it down to the desired consistency while the chicken is removed. Add the chicken back to the pot, and heat through. Serve over rice or with dumplings. Or both!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Mexican Black Beans

Every time I eat beans, I ask myself why I don’t eat them more often. For such a humble and inexpensive food, they’re surprisingly delicious, healthy, and substantial. They come in enough varieties and are used in enough world cuisines that I could eat them for a long time and not get bored. So if you, like me, are resolving to eat more beans this year, here is a great preparation to add to your repertoire.

These Mexican black beans are fantastic over Mexican rice, plain rice, on their own, or as a side. They’re nice and toasty from all the cumin and fresh from the cilantro and lime. You can keep this dish really easy and fast by using canned beans or you can make it cheap and folate-rich by using dried beans. These aren’t too shabby topped with shredded cheese either.

A note about using dried beans: don’t do what I did and try to be all “efficient” by using up the last bit of an old bag of beans along with some newer beans. Just don’t. Half of them will be all mushy while the others stubbornly refuse to soften. Stupid beans.

Some of the beans turned PURPLE after soaking!

 Fun Fact: Black beans are high in folate, containing about 32% the Recommended Daily Allowance in ½ cup boiled. (High-heat cooking destroys folate, so canned beans have less folate than boiled dried beans.) Folate is important for DNA synthesis, cell division, and the formation of hemoglobin.

Mexican Black Beans
Adapted precious little from

1 cup dried black beans (or 2 15-oz. cans)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño chili, seeded and diced fine
heaping ½ teaspoon ground cumin (toasted and ground at home is preferable)
14.5 oz. can low-sodium chicken broth (or water + chicken soup base)
Juice of ½ lime, plus more to taste
3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

If using dried beans, sort, rinse, and soak overnight with 2 inches (or about 3 cups) of water covering the beans. After soaking, drain the beans, and cover with fresh water by about 2 inches. Boil for 1½ - 2 hours, until very tender.* Alternatively: cook beans in a slow cooker on high for 3-4 hours. Alternatively to the alternative: cook beans WITHOUT pre-soaking in a slow cooker for 3-5+ hours (I find the soak helps the texture, though).

*The cooking time will vary depending on the age of the beans, your elevation, the hardness of the water, etc.

With your cooked/canned beans ready, you can prepare the dish. Heat olive oil in a large-ish nonstick frying pan over med-high heat. Add minced garlic, jalapeño, and ground cumin, and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add cooked beans and chicken broth, and cook together for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. With a masher, crush as many beans as desired to get a chunky or smooth consistency. Continue to boil until the mixture has thickened as much as desired. Add lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper to taste.