Sometimes, food is like art, and cooking like painting it. Beautiful, colorful, meditative. You assemble your material, take out your cutting board and knife, chop your vegetables one by one in a repeated, patient, practiced gesture, select the spices, herbs and condiments that will allow for the flavors to burst and intertwine. And with perfect synchronicity, you then turn up the heat, drizzle the olive oil, stir in the onions, then the vegetables one by one, let it smoke, sprinkle some salt, crack in some pepper, bring it back to a slow simmer, take a few risks, contemplate with satisfaction as your ingredients sizzle in the hot oil, release their wonderful flavors and come together in the most beautiful of meals. Every time I cook something, I look at it and think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve made. Until the next meal comes around of course.
Isn’t there anything more fulfilling then sitting down to a homemade meal that has been prepared with care and that’s beautiful to look at? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sometimes in a hurry and will just throw anything I can on the stove or grab a Tupperware of leftovers from the fridge and pop it in the microwave. But when I take the time to cook, it had better look like a Monet. And in fact when I’m eating reheated leftovers, I’m eating a reheated Monet.
I have never been a functional eater, a person who eats because they have to eat at some point but don’t really care about what’s in the plate. If in fact there is a plate at all. I eat out of indulgence and for the love of good, whole and beautiful food. I would actually like to meet one of those other people in real life. It seems like they’re everywhere, but I feel like I’m only surrounded by the second kind. You know, the kind of people who scrape the chocolate cake pan with their forks after just having eaten a 7-course meal. I’m one of those people by the way. Is it a French thing? A foodie thing? Probably a little of both…
Back to food and beauty. This recipe has something really special about it, it’s food for all your senses. The cooking part is just as rewarding as when you close in on your first forkful. I can’t decide which is more fabulous, the taste or the visual. I mean, that moment when the beets start to release their purple color and stain the rest of the vegetables is magic. You don’t go do something like putting clothes in the laundry while that happens, no, you contemplate it and even feel a little thankful. Then when you add in the ribbons of collard greens and they start to shrivel and tie in knots around the other ingredients. Ah, bliss. But the flavors are just as powerful. The other day I was reading a quote by Astrid Alauda that goes: “Did you ever stop to taste a carrot? Not just eat it, but taste it? You can’t taste the beauty and energy of the earth in a Twinkie“. This woman knows what she’s talking about. I couldn’t have said it better for this recipe. There’s something so vibrant about root vegetables like beets, carrots, turnips and zucchinis, you feel like you’re tasting the earth.
Alright enough talking, now for some painting.
Recipe: Smokey Chicken and Rainbow Vegetable Saute with Crunchy Almonds
300g of chicken breast
1 large beetroot, diced
2-3 small turnips, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 zucchini, diced
4-5 green collard leaves
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp of ras-el-hanout Morrocan spice blend
1 clove of garlic, minced
Handful of raw almonds
Olive oil for cooking
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: for extra tenderness, brine the chicken breast in a salt-water brine solution for 3-6 hours beforehand. More information on brining here.
1. Chop the onion in half moons and dice the beetroot, carrot, zucchini and turnips in small 1/2″x1/2″ cubes.
2. Cut the chicken breast in strips. Drizzle olive oil in a pan on high heat, add the chicken pieces and cook for 6-8 minutes, turning the heat down to medium halfway through and stirring frequently. Add the smoked paprika, stir to coat, then remove the chicken from the heat and transfer to a plate.
3. Return the pan to the heat, add in some more olive oil and cook the onion for 4-5 minutes. Add in the diced root vegetables, the minced garlic and the ras-el-hanout and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes. This is when you meditate on what’s happening in front of you.
4. Chop the collard greens into strips. I remove the end of the stem, roll the leaves into a bundle and slice them with a knife cross-wise. When the vegetables are almost done, add the collard greens and stir constantly until they have reduced.
5. Add the chicken back in, stir to combine and top with a handful of coarsely chopped almonds. Serve immediately.
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