When I first started cooking, my process of recipe selection was fairly accidental; menu planning meant simply shoehorning various new and tasty-sounding dishes into one meal. It took a few memorable failures—e.g., the aforementioned dinner of Momofuku Brussels sprouts and butternut squash and tahini salad (two delicious, but laughably discordant recipes)—for me to rethink my approach.
Since then, my menu planning process has evolved considerably—which is to say, it’s become considerably more anal—transforming what was once a relatively spur-of-the-moment decision into a subject of rigorous analysis.
This new system has drawbacks. For one, it means that, however willing I am to improvise during the act of cooking, the cooking itself demands significant forethought. (Our spontaneous, simple weeknight dinners are usually neither spontaneous nor simple.) Also, I’ve become a bit of a menu tyrant.
The good news is that every once and a while it yields a winning combination of dishes and flavors—a meal where everything on the plate conspires toward some greater whole.
Such was the case last weekend, when M. and I had some friends over for an Indian-inspired dinner. Spicy cilantro-marinated chicken, curried butternut squash and chickpeas, cool cucumber raita, roasted cauliflower-tahini spread: every component of the meal was delicious—they can and will be repeated independently—but the ensemble itself is worth celebrating.
Adapted from One Spice, Two Spice, by Floyd Cardoz
This is not a marinade for the cilantro-ambivalent. (The recipe calls for ½ pound of the stuff.) But for everyone else, it's delicious—spicy and bright, and sinus-clearing, to boot. Next time, I'll reserve the excess for roasted root vegetables.
5-6 pounds chicken parts (or two 3-pound, butterflied chickens)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 pound cilantro (including stems), coarsely chopped
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup thinly sliced peeled ginger
1 mild green chile, seeded and cut into pieces
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
½ cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Place lime juice, cilantro, garlic, ginger and chile in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
With a mortar and pestle or in an electric grinder, finely grind cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon.
Pour cilantro puree into a large bowl and stir in ground spices and salt. Rub chicken with enough marinade to thoroughly cover. Refrigerate leftover marinade for serving at the table or for another dish. [Sweet potatoes, perhaps?]
Put chicken in large resealable plastic bag and refrigerate. Marinate chicken for at least six hours and up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a tiny amount of water (about 1/8 inch) in a large roasting pan and fit the chicken into the pan. Lightly pat remaining marinade on top of the chicken with a paper towel.
Roast chickens until done, about 1 hour, 15 minutes [less for chicken parts]. Allow to rest for a few minutes and slice. Serve with pan juices.