Spanish-style chicken with mamaliga

19 Apr

chicken before passover

Planning meals right before Passover is a challenge. We do our best to use up all our chametz — stuff that is forbidden during Passover — which leaves us with little to chow down on just before the holiday starts.

We usually get our kitchen squared away for Passover on the weekend, though now that we’re retired it’s more out of habit than necessity. But here we were, with a kosher-for-Passover kitchen on Monday and very little that is not kosher-for-Passover in the pantry. Hmm, no pasta or noodles allowed, not even matzo before the holiday starts, and we hadn’t done our big fruit-and-veg shopping and so I didn’t have any potatoes. What could I serve with chicken breast?

Then I had a bright idea. Why not eat kitniyot? This is a word that refers generally to rice, beans and seeds — things that are not forbidden on Passover by law but have become taboo among Ashkenazi Jews (from central and eastern Europe) by custom.

The powers that be in Conservative Judaism, of which I am a member, recently ruled that it’s OK to eat kitniyot at Passover. But my daughter and her family follow stricter kashrut standards and won’t accept that ruling, so we’ll go by our long-standing tradition and abstain during the holiday.

BUT…kitniyot are not the forbidden chametz, and so cooking with them will not invalidate the kosher-ness of my Passover pots and dishes. And since it’s not Passover yet, why not eat kitniyot until Friday night, when the festival begins?

Our custom has always been to open fresh packages of foodstuffs for Passover, and I didn’t have any unopened packages of rice, so that was out. But I did have a nice big bag of stoneground cornmeal from the Livesay Grist Mill at Fiddlers Grove in Lebanon, Tennesee, a sourvenir from the Wilson County Fair where my musician son played last August. I hadn’t opened it yet because I was waiting to use up the box of Quaker cornmeal I had just bought before he presented me with this gift — and how often do we use cornmeal?

All this is prelude to tell you why I came up with this dish that we had for dinner last night. And I made enough to have once again before Passover. Since we’re in Jewish mode, I’m calling it mamaliga, which is a Rumanian-origin cornmeal mush similar to polenta, but without any cheese added.

Ingredients:

3 cups water
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups cornmeal
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped (I used two mini-peppers)
1 stalk celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large chicken breast halves, cut in half horizontally to make thin, flat pieces (about 1 lb. total)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

For the mamaliga:

Bring the water with the salt to a full boil. Slowly add the cornmeal while stirring briskly with a wooden spoon to avoid lumps.

Lower the heat and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 10 to 20 minutes until the cornmeal is thick and pulls away from the side of the pan. Keep on very low heat until ready to serve.

For the chicken:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over  medium heat and saute the onions  for about 3 minutes.

Add the pepper, celery and garlic and continue to saute for another 3 minutes or so until the vegetables are soft.

Shove the vegetables aside and add the chicken slices to the pan. Cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until no longer pink.  Add the tomatoes and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mamaliga among four plates (or make two plates and save the rest for another meal). Top each serving with one of the chicken slices and a generous amount of vegetables.

Serves 4

 

 

 

 

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