Back at the start of the pandemic, the pressure to cook all but disappeared. Feeding my family — just my family — required next to nothing of me. I missed the thrill of churning out large quantities of food. I missed the potlucks and parties and the people dropping by. It was boring. It was depressing.
Now, though, I’m beginning to relax into the easier routine. As I adapt to the rhythm of feeding six people three meals a day, I’m finally finding a balance. I refrain from doubling recipes so I have reason to cook more often. I add side dishes. I get creative with leftovers. I delight in shopping my freezers and pantry shelves. And whenever I manage to weave in the bits of produce that my daughter brings home from the farm or that I pull from my garden, I get a little tingle-zap of joy.
I try a lot of new recipes, too. Take Sunday, for example.
Inspired by Nadiya (that woman’s a gem), for breakfast I made spotted dick (aka Irish Soda Bread but come on, saying, “Would you like another piece of spotted dick?” is much more entertaining) and my younger son made homemade butter to go with.
Then for lunch, I made shawarma, flatbreads, and a broccoli salad with yogurt dressing, all from Nadiya. The flatbread was a bust — not nearly tender and pliable enough — and no one really cared for the broccoli salad. Also, in the process, I accidentally and violently threw a whole coffee grinder of coriander seeds on the floor.
And then I dumped the broccoli….
Somehow, though, and clearly in spite of me, the shawarma was absolutely outrageous. Fall-apart tender and juicy, and with an enormous kick of flavor, it exceeded my expectations by a long, long, looooong shot.
Shawarma, thin slices of meat stacked in a cone shape and then roasted, is typically served sliced off the cone and wrapped in flatbread (aka, gyros). This shawarma, though, requires no cone because — and here’s the trick — packing pieces of heavily seasoned meat into a loaf pan and then baking it yields a surprisingly similar effect! The meat doesn’t shave into bits as nicely as the traditional shawarma (once turned out of the pan, my loaf lost all its shape), but quick run a knife over the whole mess and no one will ever guess it wasn’t roasted on a cone.
Note: if you’re going to save the second pan of meat for another meal, make sure the entire family knows not to touch it on pain of death. And then freeze it immediately, just to make sure. I stupidly stuck the leftovers in the fridge and then my older son, who claims he didn’t get the memo, took two pieces — TWO PIECES — in his lunch today. I am bitter.
Adapted from Nadiya’s recipe.
Meat’s in short supply, as you’ve probably noticed. Chicken, especially, is hard to come by. Now, whenever I go into a store, if they have my favorite — boneless, skinless thighs — I snatch up the allotted amount, regardless of whether or not it’s actually on my grocery list. (Also, we’ve put in an order for meat birds — gonna raise ourselves some chee-kin!)
The recipe called for two tablespoons (!!) cayenne (on the TV show, Nadiya chirps, It’s not too much, I promise! Cayenne’s sweet!) but no, I’m not buying it. Also, I dialed back the salt a fair bit and it was still plenty.
3-4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more
¼ cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
green onions, chopped, for garnish
fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish
Trim off any big chunks of fat and cut the thighs in half. Coat with the oil. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and spices. Sprinkle over the meat and toss to coat.
Smear a little oil in the bottom and up the sides of two loaf pans. Divide the chicken between the two pans, laying in one piece at a time and pressing them down as you go. Drizzle a little more oil on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Allow the chicken to rest at room temperature for about ten minutes before inverting onto a cutting board. Slice the chicken into thin(ish) pieces, and top with green onions and herbs. Serve with flatbread or rice.