Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chicken and Spinach in a Creamy Peanut Sauce

The other night, as I was walking through the foggy drizzle of Mbabane on Monday's pedestrian "rush hour," my mind was on what to cook for dinner when I got home. I had some chicken in the fridge, but a simple stir fry with veggies wasn't sounding all that appetizing to me for some reason. I ran through my mental inventory of the ingredients I had in my kitchen, and remembered a small container of finely ground peanut powder I'd bought in town the other day for 4 emalangeni (about $.50). And then I remembered the can of coconut milk I'd found at the local grocery. And the bag of little green chilies. The wheels began to turn. This is what I came up with - a deliciously creamy and subtle dish that ended up being quite simple to put together. The first thing I did was put my brown rice on to boil and by the time the rice was done, so was my main dish. The heat from the chilies is balanced with the subtle taste of peanuts, and the spinach and chicken complement each other beautifully. Even my co-worker, who said she is not a fan of peanuts and made a face when I told her what I was eating, looked up in surprise when she took a bite and said, "But Siphiwe....this is really, really nice!"

Chicken and Spinach in a Creamy Peanut Sauce
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 green onions, chopped
3 green chilies, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic
1 ½ pounds chicken, cut into strips
3 cups spinach, chopped finely
½ tsp. salt (more to taste)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
4 – 6 heaping tablespoons finely ground peanuts (substitute more peanut butter if you don't have ground peanuts)
1 – 2 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
1 6-oz. can coconut milk

Place the olive oil, green onions, chilies, and garlic in a pan and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until the onions are softened. Add the strips of chicken and mix well, and reduce heat to medium, cooking until all pieces have been browned. Add the cayenne pepper, ground black pepper, and salt to taste and stir. Next, add the finely ground peanuts and peanut butter (if you don't have the ground peanut powder, just use all peanut butter) and stir well. Put the finely chopped spinach in the pot and stir to mix. Cook over low-medium heat until all of the spinach has been wilted. Then, add the coconut milk and stir to mix well. If you like a lot of sauce, you can either add a larger can of coconut milk (the 15-oz. size) or you can add a second can of water to the mixture to let it simmer in. Let simmer until the chicken is all the way cooked, adding a little hot water as necessary to maintain the sauce. When the sauce is the desired thickness, remove from heat and serve immediately over rice or with flatbread (gluten-free, of course).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sweet Grilled Polenta Cakes

Mmm, I have been dreaming of some polenta cakes for some reason. I don't know why; it's not like I ever ate polenta much before. But I think the thought of making them like mini-cornbreads was making me eager to invent something using polenta here. It's that time of year when normally, back home, the weather would be getting kind of chilly and I'd start making pots of chili or other cold-weather comfort food like cornbread. But here in Swaziland, things are just starting to get hot. Really hot. Summer is right around the corner here, and luckily, these little polenta cakes are just as good cold as they are hot. This is what mine looked like when I started to brown them in the pan:

Sweet Grilled Polenta Cakes
½ cup polenta
2 cups boiling water
½ tsp salt
3/8 - 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
3/8 cup gluten-free self-raising flour (I used self-raising rice flour) OR 1/8 – ¼ cup gluten-free rice flour plus
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp salt
Cooking spray

Decide if you want to bake the polenta cakes for a firmer texture and preheat the oven accordingly (350 F or 180 C).
Add the boiling water to a heated pot and add the salt. Bring the water to a full boil, then add the ½ cup polenta, stirring constantly. Stir over low-medium heat until the mixture has become very thick. Remove from heat and add the sugar to taste, and then the gluten-free flour. If you want polenta cakes that will be firmer in the middle, let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes to stiffen. But if you prefer the middle to be soft and gooey (still polenta-like) in the middle, use the batter right away. Spray a nonstick pan with cooking spray and heat the pan over medium heat. When it is hot, add big dollops of the polenta mixture and cook for at least 5 minutes on each side, and then longer depending on how browned you want them to be and how gooey you want the middle to be. If you prefer them to be very soft on the inside, remove from heat and serve immediately with sauce, grilled or sautéed vegetables, as an accompaniment to a meat dish, or anything else. If you make them sweet enough, they would be delicious drizzled with honey or spread with jam. If you would like them to be firmer in the middle, remove from the griddle and place onto a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake the cakes for 15 – 25 minutes at 350 F.
And voila - this is what you end up with!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Crunchy Buckwheat Granola

I can’t find everything here in Swaziland that I used to eat in the U.S. I miss Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, but not as terribly since I discovered a tiny little health food store in the main plaza of Mbabane. When I first walked in, I had to do a double take. There were shelves with gluten-free pasta, a bag of gluten-free muesli, potato and rice flour, corn cakes, dried fruits, seeds, and nuts, and even a few different gluten-free protein bars. The one thing I have really been craving here is a good granola, but I have not managed to find any gluten-free oats anywhere (which was not surprising to me). But the last time I was there, I noticed a small package tucked onto one of the shelves. I thought I had seen everything the store had, but here was a little bag of buckwheat flakes that had been hiding behind the rye flakes and rolled oats. I took them home and tried first to create an oatmeal-like porridge, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the lumpy mush that I came up with. My second attempt to use them was in place of regular oats in baked granola, and here, I hit the jackpot. When the granola is baked, the buckwheat flakes are a perfect substitute for rolled oats. They clump together beautifully, and together with flaked coconut, dried cranberries, and an assortment of seeds, make a hearty, chunky granola that is just as good as any I’ve made with oats. For those who are sensitive to oats, this would make a great alternative. And although I've approximated the amount of each ingredient I added, this recipe is very loose and you can add more or less of each ingredient according to your own taste.

Crunchy Buckwheat Granola

1 ½ cups buckwheat flakes (*these are difficult to find in the US; you can substitute quinoa flakes or gf rolled oats)
½ cup flaked coconut
½ cup dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
½ cup seeds and nuts of your choice (I used sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, and sesame seeds) dash of salt
½ cup creamy peanut butter or sunflower butter
½ cup honey
1 – 2 tsp vanilla to taste
¼ - ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to mix. Place a saucepan over low-medium heat and add the peanut butter, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon. Cook until the mixture is completely melted, and then pour immediately over the dry mixture. Stir to ensure that it is spread evenly throughout the mix, then pour into a baking dish that has been sprayed with baking spray or rubbed with oil. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on how crunchy you like your granola. Stir once or twice during the baking time. When the granola has finished baking, remove the pan from the oven and place the granola onto a plate to cool. When cooled, break apart the clumps and enjoy! Store in an airtight container (I store mine in the fridge).

Fried Apples


Breakfast at dinner is one of my favorite things. I remember when I was a kid, how much I loved it when my mom would start scrambling eggs, cooking fat sausages in our cast iron skillet, flipping pancakes, and making a big pot of fried apples instead of drumming up the usual giant pot of spaghetti. I would peek over the top of the stove and watch the food sizzle on the myriad of skillets arranged on top. The apple slices would be simmered over a low flame with brown sugar and cinnamon until they were deliciously tender and perfectly spiced. They tasted like apple pie without the crust, and it was always a treat when I got to have them as part of my actual dinner.

INTRO Fried Apples

A pat of gluten-free, dairy-free margarine (such as Earth Balance or Smart Balance Light)
5 – 6 apples, cored and peeled, cut into thin slices
2 – 4 tbsp. brown sugar, to taste
½ - 1 tsp. Cinnamon, to taste

Place the butter in a pot and melt over low-medium heat. Add the apples and stir well, then cover to cook for 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and cover again, cooking over low heat for 20 – 40 more minutes until the apples are very soft. Adjust sugar and cinnamon to your own taste. If the apples are not cooking quickly enough and all of the liquid boils off, add a little boiling water as needed until the apples are soft. Serve immediately as a dessert or as a side for breakfast (at dinner).

Potato Frittata

This is an excellent way to use leftover roasted potatoes, and to get away from what I usually do, which is just to reheat them and scramble a few eggs to make it a meal. This is much more elegant-looking, and much more delicious.  I will warn you that this might take a long time to cook, so don't make this if you're already hungry!

Roasted Potato Frittata INTRO

Leftover potatoes of any kind (I used leftover potatoes I had roasted with garlic powder, chili powder, salt, and black pepper)
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup soy milk
1 tomato, cut into thin slices
Mixed herbs (dried thyme, oregano, basil, and sage) Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Arrange the leftover potatoes into the bottom of a small casserole dish. Beat the eggs with the soy milk and mixed herbs, and then pour over the potatoes. Press down on the potatoes with a small spatula to make sure that the eggs have been disbursed evenly throughout. Place the tomato slices on top and sprinkle some mixed herbs, salt, and pepper over the top. Bake the fritatta in the preheated oven for 35 – 55 minutes, until it is set and the crust has slightly browned. Cool slightly before serving.

Chicken with Roasted Coriander in a Coconut Curry Sauce


This is one of my favorite Indian dishes ever. I first found the recipe in an Indian cookbook I got for my birthday over five years ago, and since then, I have made it dozens and dozens of times, hardly even needing the recipe anymore. It’s a curry that everyone seems to love, as it is not to spicy yet bursts with flavor. The coconut milk in the sauce gives a slightly creamy texture without overpowering the dish. The list of spices may appear daunting, but I promise – this dish is very easy to throw together if you have everything on hand. If you don’t have coriander seeds or peppercorns, just use the ground version of the spices and it will still taste great.
Chicken with Roasted Coriander in a Coconut Curry Sauce
3 tbsp coriander seeds
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
6 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
5 cm or 2 inches cinnamon stick
1 kg, or 2.2 lbs chicken
2 onions, peeled and cut in fine rings so that there are slivers and not chunks of onion
4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
1 large tomato, finely chopped
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 400-gram can of coconut milk
2 fresh, hot green chilies, cut into halves
Roast the coriander, fenugreek, and peppercorns until lightly browned, then cool and grind finely. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan until it is moderately hot, then add the black mustard seeds, stir once, then add the cinnamon stick. Add the chicken in small, bite-sized pieces to the pan and stir until all pieces are coated with oil, and then continue to cook until the chicken is browned. Add the slivered onions and garlic and continue to cook over medium heat until the onions are almost translucent. Add the tomatoes and ginger and cook until the tomatoes are soft, stirring occasionally. In a small bowl, combine the turmeric, cayenne pepper, and salt with the mixture of roasted spices and add it all to the pot, stirring to coat evenly. Remove the thick cream at the top of the can of coconut milk to a small bowl and set aside. Add the remaining coconut milk plus one can of water, and stir to mix. Add the lemon juice and chilies and stir. Simmer with the lid mostly covering the pot (with a little space for steam to escape) for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the halves of the green chilies. Turn off the heat, and then add the thick coconut cream removed from the can, stirring to mix evenly.

Serve with rice or Indian bread.