Being smack into the middle of January we could say we’re right into the season of comfort foods. Winter tends to be like that. We seem to need the full-flavoured stews, hearty soups, freshly baked breads, or even dishes from our ethnic pasts to satisfy the winter doldrums, short days, and cold temperatures.
Today I have a Mediterranean stew that is full of wonderful flavours. It calls for escarole, which is a variety of endive whose leaves are broader, paler and less bitter than other members of the endive family. In taste it’s almost indistinguishable from radicchio, but if you can’t find this slightly bitter vegetable, you can substitute kale or chard for the escarole. I also am offering a recipe for stuffed vegetarian cabbage rolls that are versatile, gluten-free, and a good vegetarian-optional dinner idea.
Mediterranean Chicken Stew
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 (6 to 8 ounces each) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch pieces. Can use bone-free chicken thighs, but they need to cook longer
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 can (28-ounce) whole peeled tomatoes in purée
1 – 1/2 pound(s) (about 2 medium heads) escarole, ends trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 cup whole-wheat couscous, cooked according to package instructions
In a Dutch oven or a large, heavy pot (at least 5 quarts), heat oil over medium-high. Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook in two batches, tossing occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes per batch; transfer to a plate.
Add garlic, onion and oregano to pot; season with salt and pepper. Cook until onion begins to brown, 2 to 4 minutes (don’t worry if pan darkens). Add tomatoes (crushing with back of a spoon as you add them) and cook until slightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add chicken with any accumulated juices and bring to a simmer; cover and cook until chicken is opaque throughout, 2 to 4 minutes. Add as much escarole to pot as will fit. Cook, tossing and adding more as space becomes available. Cook until escarole is tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve stew over couscous.
(polish stuffed cabbage rolls)
1 head of cabbage
½ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1-½ lbs of your favourite mushrooms, rinsed and chopped
4 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tbsp. dried parsley
1-½ cups cooked rice
2 cups tomato juice
Sour cream to garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
Remove the stem of the cabbage, and drop the cabbage in the pot of boiling water to loosen the leaves. As the leaves are able to be removed, take them from the pot and allow to cool. Gather approximately 18 cabbage leaves, then remove the rest of the cabbage from the pot. Remove the majority of the stems of each cabbage leaf, being careful not to cut completely through the leaves. Chop the rest of the cabbage, and place in the bottom of a large casserole dish.
To begin the filling, place ½ cup of olive oil in a large pot. Heat the oil on the stove over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until they are translucent. Add the mushrooms, butter, salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms for about 8 minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes; stir in the parsley. Stir the mushroom mixture into the rice.
Place the first cabbage leaf with the concave side up. Put a heaping 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the filling at the bottom of the leaf, then roll the leaf up to cover the filling. Fold each side of the cabbage in, encasing the filling. Flip the roll over to complete the first roll. Finish making rolls until the filling is used up.
Place the cabbage rolls on top of the chopped cabbage in the casserole dish, and pour the tomato juice on top. Cover the dish and bake in the oven for 1 hour, or until the cabbage is softened. Garnish the cabbage rolls with tomato juice from the bottom of the dish, sour cream, or mix sour cream with the tomato juice to drizzle on top. Cabbage rolls can be served warm or cold.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.