I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best. – Oscar Wilde
|Simple tastes make the most rewarding dinners.|
The quote above is pure Wilde, yes, but deep down inside we all feel that way. And excellent food is very easy to accomplish. Easier than you think.
I would say my mission, if I have one, is to show the world that you don't have to break the bank to eat well, and interestingly. I think it's a form of rebellion. I grew up in a home where the food was nutritious but simple, I imagine like most country-raised children. I've been over compensating for my culinary upbringing ever since.
|I imagine some of my readers do have lemon trees.|
If only I could... Photo: Yellow.Cat, Flickr ccl
If you took a look at most famous and delicious restaurant dishes you would probably be surprised to find the ingredient list is quite simple. It's not in the number of ingredients where good taste if found but in the complexity of individual flavours.
Two common ingredients that you might not think of as complex are basil and lemon. Taste them. I mean really taste them. Bite into a piece of lemon rind and enjoy its sharpness. Put a leaf of basil in your mouth and savour its spicy aromatics. Then taste a little of both at the same time. They’re completely different when combined.
It’s in what we use (and allow to “sing”) in a dish that makes it memorable. Too many flavours is like trying to listen to a conversation in a noisy room. You don’t get much out of it. The same holds true for what’s on your plate.
So those two ingredients were my inspiration. I also happened to have chicken breasts in my freezer from the last time they were on sale (at half price). Who can buy them at full price? Always buy several packages of whatever is on sale. That’s exactly what your freezer was designed for. And it saves you money in the long run.
|Basil, on the other hand, can be grown by anybody.|
Photo: zoyachubby, Flickr ccl
The chicken has no complex preparation: pan seared and steamed in the juice of a lemon. Then a quick sauce reduction of garlic and lemon rind with some Dijon mustard and cream – with basil added at the end.
Often people have difficulty in deciding what to pair with a main dish. I think it’s kind of like how I choose complimentary colours in my day job as a designer. If you use the same main ingredients (in my design example, my base colours) but vary the quantities, you will always get a compliment.
So for a salad I chose… basil and lemon. Those were the “underlying” flavours. For the main ingredients I used field cucumber, green onions and Israeli couscous. The combination “matched” the main dish, but wasn’t the same.
By the way, this fresh tasting salad would be great to make alone for a backyard gathering. Its cool flavours would pair very well with anything off the grill. I can easily picture it with steaks, chicken, burgers, lamb…
In case you don’t know, Israeli couscous is large couscous, about 1/8 in diameter per grain. It gives a texture you can’t achieve with the regular small couscous. Slightly springy, and it absorbs dressing like nobody’s business.
All very simple, all very quick – and if you buy chicken breasts on sale it’s easy on the pocketbook. Oh, and all very elegant, too. Mr. Wilde would never forgive me if I didn’t mention that.
Basil Lemon Chicken
Prep: 5 min | Cook: 15 min | Serves 4
4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
juice & rind of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1 cup 18% cream (coffee cream)
Heat the oil in a frying pan that has a well fitting lid.
Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and let brown, uncovered on both sides – about 3-4 minutes per side. Then add the lemon juice and cover the pan. Let the chicken cook until done through, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Finely chop the lemon rind and ad it, with the garlic, to the pan. Sauté for about 1 minute. Then add the Dijon and cream. Bring to a boil and let cook until just slightly thickened. It won’t take long.
Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the chopped basil.
To serve, slice the chicken breast – one per person if normal sized (breast, person or both!) – and top with the lemon basil sauce.
|Enough salad leftover for lunch tomorrow.|
Cucumber Couscous Salad
Prep: 15 min | Serves 4
juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup plain thick yogurt
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups cooked Israeli couscous
Cook the couscous in plenty of salted water. Israeli couscous takes 10 minutes to reach al dente. Drain.
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss well. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving to allow the couscous to absorb some of the lemony yogurt dressing.
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