Mediterranean Improv

It’s been a beautiful sunny day here in the Cincinnati area, and I got to spend the day in the demo kitchen at Williams-Sonoma, followed by a relaxing almost-spring walk around the neighborhood with Lolly.  She is finally near fully recovered from her mishap a couple months ago with my chef’s knife, which means she’s back to her normal workout regimen and a new healthy eating push.  For Chef Dave, that translated into “Make me something Mediterranean and not too fattening.”  Although I have several cookbooks in that vein, tonight’s dinner was improvised based on some ideas I picked up from flipping through those volumes.

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On the plate we have harissa grilled chicken, Greek-style mashed potatoes, and sautéed balsamic green beans. These are all super-simple dishes and will come together fairly quickly. I’ll take each of them one at a time, and these are scaled for two diners:

For the chicken:

  • 2 large chicken breast halves
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp. harissa sauce

If you’ve never encountered harissa before, it’s a traditional and fairly common Mediterranean and Middle Eastern relish made of red chili peppers. It’s got some definite heat to it, so use more or less to suit your preference. Harissa is also available in a dried spice form. If you use that instead of the sauce, one teaspoon should be plenty.

Pound the chicken breasts to about ½ inch thickness, then slice them lengthwise into two pieces. Combine the mayo and harissa in a large bowl until well mixed, then add the chicken and stir until the pieces are completely coated with the mixture. Grill the breasts until they reach an internal temp of 165°, which shouldn’t take long at all, and they’re ready to serve.

For the mashed potatoes:

  • 1 lb. russet potatoes
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Place them into a saucepan and add cold water until it covers one inch above the top of the potatoes. Bring them to a boil and cook until tender, which should take about 15-20 minutes – I test them by poking with the tip of a paring knife until it meets no resistance. Drain the potatoes and add the butter to melt.

When the butter is melted, add the rest of the ingredients except the parsley, after which you will need to mash the potatoes by any handy means until more or less creamy – I use a handheld mixer. Lastly, stir in the parsley and you’re ready to serve.

For the green beans:

    • 8 oz. fresh green beans
    • 1 medium shallot
    • 2 tbsp. olive oil
    • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
    • 1 tbsp. balsamic glaze

Partially cook the beans by blanching or steaming until tender but not too soft. Meanwhile, slice the shallot lengthwise into thin crescents. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high flame, sauté the shallot for about a minute, then add the beans and season them with salt and pepper. Continue sautéing until the beans are tender and develop a little brown color. Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the top, toss to mix and then remove from the heat and you’re ready to serve.

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And with that, all three dishes are finito.  For the more adventurous among you, spoon a little more harissa onto the chicken for some extra bazinga.  Plate them up and munch them down with big happy grins all around.  Tasty and kinda-sorta healthy at the same time.  Who knew?!?  Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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