Fab Time at Whole Foods

Last night I taught a cooking class at Whole Foods on the Bowery -- the home of a wonderfully compact, but ample, Culinary Center -- equipped with most anything a cook could want (more about that later) and two amazing assistants, Wai Chu and Min Liao.  Wai is an accomplished chef who wrote the definitive book on Asian dumplings, and Min, too, knows her way around a kitchen better than most.  I don't teach often -- after 12 books -- and many such lessons, I choose one venue when a new book comes out.  This time the class was based on Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease -- the goal was to demonstrate how restaurant-quality food could be made simply at home -- and in 140 words or fewer!   But as such experiences go, I made a 6-course dinner for a sold-out crowd -- 25 in all, including the lovely person from "Mobile Libris" who came to sell books. I arrived at Whole Foods at 3:45 p.m. and got home at 9:45 p.m.

The menu?  First we played a guessing game.  I made two recipes that I challenged the students to describe.  One was my za'atar pesto into which lavash chips and grape tomatoes were dipped.  One woman guessed (almost).  The second was an intriguing soup based on tomato-vegetable juice with an ample amount of anisette and a soupçon of Thai fish sauce.  It was topped with lightly salted whipped cream and snippets of fresh tarragon.  Everyone loved it and were delighted to learn it can be made in five minutes.  Dinner followed from there:  Chilled Beet Soup with Crème fraiche and Lemon Zest, Tiradito (Peruvian-style sashimi) with a whole lemon-garlic dressing, Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree (with a brown butter-dry vermouth reduction), Salmon with Lime Leaves on Poppy Rice (with coconut-sake sauce and curry oil), Chicken "ras el hanout" with tomato- ginger chutney, and my "little black dress" flourless chocolate cake -- made in five minutes (and only 18 minutes to bake.)   Yep, and it was all radically simple to do.

However, missing items that evening were a standard size food processor and...regular olive oil.  It seems as though Whole Foods carries only extra-virgin olive oil. Curious, I thought, but it is simply not correct to use extra virgin olive oil for everything.  In some recipes, I had to dilute the extra virgin stuff with canola oil (which I never do!) to avoid ruining the taste.  Extra virgin olive oil is not recommended for cooking over high heat and it is far too rich in flavor for several of the more subtle dishes.   And.......I schlepped my food processor from home.

Hope you enjoy the chicken. Everyone did!

Chicken "Ras el Hanout" with Tomato-Ginger Chutney

Juicy and aromatic, this cooks up in no time.  Ras el hanout is a complex, burnt umber-colored spice mixture from Morocco; you may substitute garam masala.

4 very large skinless boneless chicken thighs 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1-1/2 tablespons ras el janout 3 large ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound 1-1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar 2 large garlic cloves, chopped 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 1/2 small scotch bonnet pepper 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Preheat the broiler or a ridge stovetop grill pan.  Pound the chicken slightly to flatten so that each thigh lies flat.  Place in a large bowl and add the oil, ras el hanout, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Toss to coat.  Broil or grill the chicken for 4 minutes on each side, until just cooked through.  Cut the tomatoes in chunks and put in food processor with the brown sugar, garlic, ginger, scotch bonnet, and cumin.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add salt to taste and serve atop the hot chicken.  Serves 4