Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

I left August 29, and I’ve finally returned. I’ve seen Kenya- the Masai Mara, Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach- hiked in New Hampshire and dined in Boston, battled sandflies in Michigan, worked in Atlanta, celebrated weddings in North Carolina, biked Orange County, waved at seals in La Jolla, and shopped in Los Angeles. Two months, and more travel than I could possibly squeeze into a (relatively) functioning work schedule, and I wait on the edge of my seat to finally settle down and relax in Chicago. It’s the right moment, see, because while the dog days of summer and picturesque, perfect days of early fall are tantalizingly beautiful along the Chicago lakefront, they are also days of activity and adventure. You can’t slow down; I won’t slow down; not until the leaves fall. So here it is, the first day I could smell the crispness to the air, the undefinable quality that forebodes the dropping temperatures and the consequently required heavy jackets. After four years in and outside this city, it feels almost comforting to notice this change. While Chicago thrives in the summer, at its heart, it is a winter city. Many may argue against that, but genuinely, those who live here endure and make magic of these (truly) 8 months of cold weather. So much so, that it only feels right, somewhat like a homecoming, to be back among the chilly air and more brusque breezes. No one will admit to liking it; far from it. I’d rather perpetual September and October for the rest of time. But it is calming, to be on this side of things. I’m ready to slow down, embrace it, and warm up by the artificial dry heat of my antiquated radiators. This is made significantly better by a pumpkin-clove candle from Anthropologie, which is the best smelling thing to ever enter my apartment. All I need now is the return of my dachshunds.

I had intended on sharing a recipe for sweet potato ramen in a curried broth, which was excellent, innovative, and aesthetic. But, somehow, I threw out the recipe. Usually I remember a recipe well enough, but I can’t be certain in this one, and it’s worth doing right. I’ll have to repeat the process (possibly not burn my hands on the soft boiled egg next time), and share in the coming months. What I’m sharing today is, quite obviously, a remnant from my weeks doing Whole 30. The biggest problem with Whole 30 is going to Kenya immediately afterward and forgetting all of it. Problem? Maybe that’s the best thing to do. Regardless, I did eat well during that challenge, from a health and flavor standpoint, and some recipes bear posting, even outside of my current dietary restraints (of which I have none). So, without further ado, a very delicious, albeit distinctly summery, dinner.

shrimp and plantains

Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

Serves 4

  • 1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tossed in the juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flake
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 2 plantains, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. ghee
  • 2 avocado, diced
  • 2 mango, diced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt & pepper

In a mixing bowl, toss together the avocado, mango, shallot, and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp and season with the spices above. Turn after 2-3 minutes, once the bottom side is appearing lightly pink and opaque. Cook another 2-3 minutes and remove from the pan.

In the same sauté pan, add 2 tbsp ghee over medium high heat. Add the plantains and toast for 2-4 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and cooked the alternative side. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan.

Plate the shrimp and plantains with a side of the mango avocado salsa. Enjoy!

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Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

I’m back from a weekend camping at the Dunes in Indiana, which was a lovely way to start to ease out of summer. We hiked up through mountains of sand, sliding backwards, dogs trailing behind. We somehow couldn’t really keep a fire going, but it was lively long enough to roast hot dogs and make breakfast in the morning. I might not have slept at all on a pile of blankets in the tent, but having returned, I think I’m refreshed all the same. Or, at least my dachshunds are really, really worn out. I’d love to know how many miniature leg steps they logged on that 4 mile dunes walk. There’s probably an interesting niche market for dog pedometers.

While camping, I cooked eggs in a sauté pan over the fire. I sat the pan on a set of logs, probably a bit unstably, but successfully made breakfast all the same. I’m thinking I need a cast-iron skillet camp set for next time, as the bottom of my eggs got a bit burned before it was cooked through. Someday I will be an expert camper. Until then, I use my skillet at home.

This dinner is delicious, easy, and truly different than most things I make. Figs are in season, and I love them, so I bought a large flat a week or so ago. I’d been snacking on them, dipping them in almond butter, but roasting them was another method I hadn’t tried. Chicken thighs, I think, are the best partner for the figs, as they are deeply flavorful and tender. And caramelized onions just always belong. I served this atop a green salad with some mashed potatoes, but any way would be fine. Maybe I am a bit tired… I can’t seem to think of much else to say. Just, make dinner, ok?

Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

Serves 4-6

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

4 tbsp. olive oil, divided

2 yellow onions, sliced into half-moons

8-10 fresh black figs, quartered

Salt & pepper, to taste

Prepare the marinade for the chicken by mixing 2 tbsp. olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Coat the chicken in the marinade, flipping to coat. Marinate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When prepared to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to a cast-iron skillet set over medium-low heat. Caramelize the onions, slowly, stirring occasionally. They will slowly brown and soften in about 20-30 minutes. Once they’ve caramelized, remove the onions from the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken thighs. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until browned, then flip. Once flipped, add the caramelized onions to the pan, lying over the chicken. Add the figs.

Put the cast-iron skillet into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the thighs are cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve.

Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

This is the best meal I have eaten in weeks. Months? Years? It’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that this recipe is absolutely delicious. I was craving Greek food intensely, but being halfway through whole 30, hummus and feta cheese and creamy sauces are still totally off limits, making me believe this craving would have to wait. But I conspired a bit with the ingredients in my fridge and decided this could be done. And I didn’t miss the hummus, or the feta, or the creamy sauces at all! Well, perhaps because I made a pseudo-tzatziki with coconut milk, and mimicked the grains with cauliflower rice, but seriously, it all works as well as any Greek restaurant meal.

I also, after eating this dinner, went out to run a few hours later, in the 80 degree evening after sunset, and ran faster and stronger than I have in weeks, months? I’m not sure if it’s the three months of training finally catching up and working, or the past two weeks of really prioritizing nutrition and sleep, or maybe… the chicken!? Ha, probably not the chicken. But just maybe it is, indeed, magic.

This recipe seems elaborate, with multiple components and ingredients; however, it truly is a 30-minute meal (not a-la-Rachel Ray) and comes together easily. I’ll emphasize that I do multi-task like a pro in the kitchen, but I’d wager that anyone can whip this up easily on a weeknight. There’s a few hours of hands-off time to marinate the chicken, but that’s as labor unintensive as can be.

If you’re following whole 30, or just really into Greek food, please make this. And, if you’d rather, you could always replace the cauliflower with rice or cous cous, but you definitely don’t need to and should give this version a try.

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Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

Serves 2-4

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Greek Chicken Marinade

  • 1 1/2 small lemons (or 1 large), juiced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

1 large head of cauliflower, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp oregano

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, sliced finely into half-moons

2-4 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Coconut Tzatziki

  • 1/4 cup coconut cream, cooled (cooling after whisked and stored in a small container allows the cream to thicken to a consistency nearer a thin yogurt)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 large cucumber, diced
  • 2 green onion sprigs, diced
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Start by mixing together all marinade ingredients in a large dish. Add the chicken, turning a few times to coat. Refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to eat, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet or oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown for 4-5 minutes on one side, then flip. Cook on the reverse side for 1 minute, then move the pan to the oven and bake the chicken for 10-15 minutes (it will depend on the size of the breasts; I find 0.5 lb breasts to take 12 minutes, but you can check with a meat thermometer or cut into the chicken to verify its cooked through).

While cooking the chicken, split the head of cauliflower into quarters, then cut the leaves and stems from the head, cutting at an angle underside the cauliflower head. Break the quarters into florets then pulse in a food processor until the cauliflower is the consistency of small grains (I had to do this in 4 smaller batches). Mince the garlic and add to the cauliflower mixture. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic-cauliflower mixture as well as oregano, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes then lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for an additional 5-8 minutes, until the cauliflower is softened somewhat.

While the cauliflower is cooking, mix together the coconut cream, lemon juice, cucumber, green onion, and spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Remove the cauliflower rice from the pan and plate. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to that pan and add the diced onion with a bit of salt and pepper. Sauté briefly, about 2-3 minutes, over medium-high heat, just until the onion is translucent.

Add the onion next to the plated cauliflower rice. Slice the tomatoes and align beside the onions. Slice the rested chicken and plate atop the rice and veggies. Spoon the coconut tzatziki over the chicken. Serve!

Take big bites with all ingredients on one forkful. Then slow down and savor each flavor. Enjoy!

Ginger Apple Kale Salad

It’s funny to me that one of my more recent recipes on this blog is for kale salad, and that I’m posting about it again today, because I’ve had it exactly one other time since December, and it kind of ruined it for me until… today, really. It might have had a bit to do with being somewhat hungover, and having an idiotic yet strong craving for a cold kale salad with lentils and lemon vinaigrette, which is quite possibly the most absurd “craving” and subsequent hungover meal I’ve had. About halfway through I succumbed to overwhelming nausea, pushed away my plate, and vowed that kale should be cooked, always. I both remember enjoying kale salads and being nauseated by them, so I waffled on whether this idea for a ginger-spiced kale salad, sort of autumnal in quality, would be a point for delicious or never-ever-again.

Thankfully, it turns out it was delicious! As I mentioned in my last post, I’m one week into whole 30, so this salad meets those restrictions. I probably owe a bit of justification for following this trendy plan for a month, and to do so I’ll say I’m much more interested in the psychological motivation of whole 30 than the dietary changes. I’ve never had issues with food in the past, but I do understand the willingness to try to change food behavior, and for that, I complete this experiment. If I do end up “feeling” differently on this diet, then, I suppose, I’ll have to decide what that means. For now, though, I’m doing what I can to still eat as much delicious food as possible. Even if it’s mostly veggies.

The biggest drawback to whole 30, to me, (besides no bread) is how meat-centric meals can become. As most of my meals are vegetarian, I sometimes just grow tired of eating meat. It’s just a little too much, occasionally. This salad follows a day of turkey bacon and taco salad, and I was more than ready for something lighter and crisp. And, if I’m getting points for appeasing people, this salad is actually raw, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, and whole 30 approved. Everyone can eat it! Except maybe some people on Coumadin… Ha.

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Ginger Apple Kale Salad

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side

1 large bunch kale, sliced into ribbons

2 apples (I used Gala), diced

1/4 cup roasted pecans

Ginger Apple Vinaigrette

  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. apple juice or cider
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 in. knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • S&P, liberally

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients. Add the kale and massage the dressing into the leaves, using your hands, for several minutes, until the kale has softened and is coated in dressing. Separate into bowls then top with diced apples and pecans. Enjoy!

The dressed kale keeps well in the fridge overnight, so feel free to make that part ahead and add the toppings when serving!