Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken + Bulgar Wheat Salad with Currants and Mint

One of the things I love most about food is that it's communal. Sure, we need it for sustenance. And it's a fun creative outlet. But more than that, I love how it connects people.

When our friends have babies, we eagerly bring them food and share their joy. When someone dies, we bring food to their loved ones, sharing their pain. When we want our coworkers to like us, we take baked goods to the office. When there's cause for celebration--a graduation, a wedding, a birthday--we throw a party with snacks at the very least and quite possibly a full banquet. When we want to get to know someone better, we find a time to eat together.

Food connects us.

This week I've been thinking about Laura. She entered my life as my brothers' friend and my close friend's cousin, and she remained in my life as my friend. Laura died this week. She'd been battling cancer for some time now, and on Sunday I woke up to the news of her death. Though we rarely saw each other after I moved away for college, whenever I did get to spend time with Laura, she always had this peaceful, comforting, welcoming, nurturing presence about her. She always made me feel like I belonged in whatever group we were in (often a struggle for me). She loved people well. She brought so much beauty to this world.

I wish I could take her family a meal.

On the day Laura died, I made this meal which felt exotic and beautiful. Perhaps because cooking is comforting, and I needed that on a day dampened with death. Perhaps because the act of preparing and eating food made me feel somehow connected to the people all over the world who grieve Laura's passing. Perhaps because it was a small way to bring a little beauty back into the world.


Pomegranate Molasses Chicken and Bulgar Wheat Salad with Currants and Mint
Adapted from Honey & Co.: The Cookbook by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer
Yield: 2-4 servings depending on the size of your appetite and your chicken thighs

Chicken ingredients
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 to 1/2 green chili, sliced (I used 1/3 of a jalapeno, seeded)
Scant 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses (see notes)
1/2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Canola oil, for pan frying
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bulgar salad ingredients
3/4 cup bulgar wheat
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup dried currants (see notes)
2-4 Tbsp. fresh pomegranate arils
Generous 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 to 3/8 cup chopped fresh parsley (a couple handfuls)
Additional pistachios (roasted and chopped), pomegranate arils, and mint to sprinkle on top

Directions
Marinate the chicken: In a gallon sized zip-top bag, combine garlic, chili, pomegranate molasses, canola oil, and black pepper. Add chicken thighs, then squoosh everything around so the marinade coats the chicken well and the garlic and chili slices are pretty evenly dispersed. Seal the bag and chill in your fridge for 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

Cook the chicken: Preheat oven to 400. In an oven-proof skillet (cast iron works great), heat a glug of canola oil over medium heat (on the stove). When the skillet is hot, add the marinated chicken thighs, smooth side down. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) then don't touch them for 2-3 minutes. Let them get nice and golden! Turn the chicken, let that side brown for a couple of minutes, then transfer the skillet into the preheated oven. Cook for 12 minutes or until chicken thighs are fully cooked.

Prepare the bulgar salad: Cook bulgar according to package directions, adding the 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. olive oil. (I tried the more traditional method of pouring boiling water over my bulgar and covering it for 5 minutes, but mine was still crunchy after 10 minutes, so I resorted to zapping it in the microwave. Always before I've used the stovetop method which worked much better for me.) Fluff with a fork, then add the pomegranate molasses and continue tossing with a fork. Add all the rest of the salad ingredients--pistachios, currants, pomegranate arils, mint, and parsley--and toss to combine. Taste; add salt and pepper if needed.

I followed Itamar and Sarit's recommendation for serving: scoop some bulgar wheat salad onto your plate, top with a chicken thigh or two, and sprinkle with some extra pistachios, pomegranate arils, and fresh mint.

Notes

  • In theory, you can buy pomegranate molasses. But I couldn't find any, so I improvised and made my own! Basically you just simmer pomegranate juice, sugar, and fresh lemon juice until it thickens and reduces. I used Alton Brown's ingredient ratios and looked to Tori Avey's extra detail in the instructions.
  • If you're a fellow Abilenian and know where to get pomegranate molasses locally, please share your wisdom! I looked at Market Street and HEB, Drug Emporium and Cordell's were closed, and Natural Grocer's didn't answer when I tried calling to see if they carried it. Also orange blossom water for future recipes from this cookbook.
  • Currants can also be tricky to find here, but I found some in the bulk bins at Market Street. One of my friends has found them at Natural Grocers as well.
  • I cheat and buy the pomegranate arils that come in a little cup in the produce section.
  • As long as you plan ahead on marinating the chicken (and making the pomegranate molasses if needed), this could easily be a weeknight meal. It felt really fancy, but it doesn't involve any fancy techniques, and it came together pretty quickly once the pom molasses was made. Also, leftovers reheated well.


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