Currently listening: 'Swallowed In The Sea' by Coldplay
So this week I cooked something deliberately healthy, and wanted to share the recipe with you. Wait, don't go! See, it's not that I eat that unhealthily - I just don't make an effort to avoid food that I like eating from time to time, like a wine cream sauce, a piece of warm French bread slathered in butter, or anything involved salted caramel sauce. But I do like a challenge, and when friends have dietary restrictions (be it allergen-related or just for a short time) I want to enter into that, just because I think if you couldn't enjoy food as often with people you like because of something you can't eat, it'd be a shame. And so easy to fix! So that's what happened for a couple friends who are on a very restrictive P90X diet. I came across this recipe and would have kept looking had I not started liking olives a couple weeks ago. Green olives, that is. Baby steps.
My journey with pickiness has been interesting. About three years ago I moved to a much more central part of Kansas City that has all kinds of awesome ethnic restaurants. I starting hanging out with more people who had some pretty different food preferences than me, and so if they were going out for sushi, curry, shawarma, dim sum, or tapas, the last thing I wanted was to say no. I've picked up ingredients here and there like souvenirs, and most of them were through a certain gateway dish until I became more comfortable with the idea of them. Onions had always been a loathsome thing to me growing up. I think the 80s and 90s was still coming out of an age of quick casseroles and microwave cooking, so people thought chopping up an onion and cooking it in a dish in the oven til it was still crunchy was perfectly acceptable. So when I had a caramelized onion for the first time, I was hooked. Now I'm happy with just about any iteration of them (except for that crunchy in-a-casserole form. Yuck.) Asparagus? Had to be sauteed with lots of garlic. Uncooked tomatoes? Bruschetta with lots of balsamic vinegar. Mushrooms? Julia Child cooks them on high heat in absurd amounts of butter. Avocado? The best guacamole at this Tex-Mex place down the hill. And somehow the light just turned on with green olives a couple weeks ago when my friends handed me some cold leftovers of a quinoa salad they'd made, with olive oil, ume (Japanese plum) vinegar, and green and Kalamata olives. And it was delicious. Good green olives have an almost buttery texture to them and a delicate flavor. Wow. See recipe here.
Honestly, I would have happily and unknowingly eaten this recipe I'm about to present you even back in my olive-hating days. So make it and know that you're being healthy. Just note that the cauliflower should have as much surface area touching the pan as possible, so take the larger florets and cut them in half to aid that. I made it with some really tasty lentils, but wild rice, couscous or quinoa would be great sides. This dish is bright and extremely flavorful and would have been just awesome with a glass of Vouvray. Unfortunately wine isn't in my friends' list of acceptable things to consume so we just dreamed of gin parties and warmer weather.
Chicken with Caramelized Cauliflower and Olive "Pesto"
1 head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2" chunks
2 Tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1" chunks
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup sliced pitted green olives
1/4 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1) Preheat oven to 425F. Toss the cauliflower with 1 Tbsp olive oil and a liberal amount of salt and pepper. Spread on a large metal rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and bake in preheated oven for 15 - 20 minutes, or until there is a really nice medium-brown crust forming on the bottom of the cauliflower. If it's golden brown, put it back in for 5 more minutes. The brown crust is where the flavor is!!
2) Meanwhile, combine chicken, lemon peel, 1 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl.
3) Once the cauliflower is done cooking from step 1, take the pan out of the oven and push all the cauliflower to one side of the pan. Drop the chicken in a single layer on the other side of the pan. Place back in oven for 10 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink inside.
4) While that is cooking, make the "pesto": in a mini food processor, grind up almonds until almost a fine paste. Add olives and parsley and blend until smooth, adding the remaining 2 tsp olive oil. Once the chicken is done cooking, remove that pan from the oven and toss everything in the "pesto".
found in good housekeeping
After you put the cauliflower in the oven in step 1, start a pot of lentils according to package instructions. Green lentils should take about 20 minutes to cook, and taste better if you use half water and half chicken or vegetable stock as well as a bay leaf. After they're finished cooking, garnish with the juice of the lemon you have lying around, liberal amounts of salt and pepper and some fresh grated Parmesan cheese (or any other hard cheese you have on hand).