Dinner in a pinch. You arrive at the end of a day without an ounce of energy – so it’s cheese and crackers, carrots, a piece of fruit, popcorn. You know what I’m talkin’ about. However . . . a real meal, a delicious one, can be on the table in 30 or 40 minutes with only 15 minutes of hands on preparation.
So this is dinner in a damn hurry. I figured out a long time ago that in the time it takes to stop or go out for fast food we can have something on the table, minus the lavish packaging and the price we pay for fast. Not that we don’t occasionally give in to that, we do, but I can’t tell you how often I’m disappointed. I have this thing for good food and fast food from wherever often doesn’t make the grade. There are notable exceptions to that . . . we can go there another time. (Many places, for example, are sending people home with food in biodegradable boxes instead of styrofoam. Bingo. Most grocery stores haven’t gotten there yet. Bummer.)
This is one of my top five fave fast meals. Others coming soon. In the meantime, there’s a list of additional Mixed Greens quick fixes at the end of this post.
Chutney Chicken Recipe
Chutney is the key to this quick meal. Lightening will not strike if you use your favorite jar from the store, a nice option once in a while, but making a batch from scratch on a Sunday afternoon, using local seasonal fruit, doesn’t take long, under an hour, most of which is cooking time. You can make extra and freeze enough to make this meal three times. A favorite chutney recipe below will accommodate any seasonal fruit.
This ‘recipe’ serves four. Cut ingredients in half or double as needed. Ten or fifteen minutes hands on prep, on the table in about 30 minutes for thighs, 40 minutes for chicken breasts. Use firm tofu or pork instead of chicken if you like and adjust roasting time.
Equipment: A pan or bowl for steaming the couscous and an oven-proof casserole for the chicken, preferably one with a lid.
Ingredients: 8 chicken thighs, legs or wings, 3 chicken breasts, or any combination – whatever is enough for four hungry people and maybe leftovers/ 2 C chutney of any kind/ 1 1/2 C uncooked instant couscous (available at any grocery and in bulk at PCC)/ 3 C boiling water or chicken broth. Note: if chutney doesn’t have much liquidity, stir in several tablespoons of water or fruit juice before topping the chicken.
Directions for chutney chicken: Preheat oven to 350º/ Place rinsed pieces of chicken in a shallow casserole, lightly salt and pepper/ Spread 2 or 3 T chutney on top of each piece of chicken, less for legs and wings/ Cover pan with a lid – foil in a pinch. Best not to use any foil, but if you must wipe it off and reuse. / Bake for 25 minutes covered, remove lid, continue cooking for another 10 minutes for smaller pieces, 15 for larger pieces of chicken/ Cooking juices will have collected in the bottom of the pan, a combination of chicken and chutney/ Use this to baste each piece of chicken one more time before serving. If chutney and juices have caramelized and stuck to the bottom of the casserole, add a little hot water and scrape loose.
Couscous: While chicken’s cooking bring water or stock to a boil, pour over couscous, stir and cover the bowl with parchment paper or a lid and let sit undisturbed for 5 minutes/ Then lightly fluff with a fork and the couscous is ready – the fluffing with a fork is important, otherwise it can get gummy.
Chutney and pan juices will add flavor to the couscous, and there are other ways to add flavor too: place one peeled and smashed clove of garlic in the bowl with couscous; add 1 tablespoon of lemon or orange juice and/or 1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest/ After steaming, stir in freshly chopped parsley/ The rule is 2:1 liquid to couscous – using that guide, make as much or as little as you like. Couscous becomes a savory salad with dressing and embellished with fresh herbs and finely chopped vegetables
With veggies on the side, serve one or two pieces of chicken over a serving of couscous, pan juices and/or extra chutney on the side.
Apple Ginger Chutney Recipe
Chutney is like salad dressing in a way. There’s a basic form, but there’s room for innovation along the way. Substitute pears or roasted tomatoes when in season – or any favorite seasonal fruit. With tomato chutney, which is fabulous!, I eliminate the ginger and add garlic. Increase or decrease jalapeño to taste.
Equipment: 1 large pot for cooking
Ingredients: 4 large apples, peeled, cored and cubed/ 2 C chopped onion (1 large onion)/ 1/4 C finely minced fresh ginger/ 1 C raisins/ 1 C brown sugar/ 1 – 2 t finely chopped fresh jalapeño or 1/2 t red pepper flakes/ 3/4 t dry mustard/ 3/4 t salt/ 1 1/2 C apple cider vinegar/ Water as needed.
Directions: Place all ingredients in the pot, bring to a boil and let simmer with lid on for 30 minutes/ Stir occasionally/ Remove lid and continue cooking for another 15 or 20 minutes until liquid has reduced and apples have softened and browned a bit. If liquid reduces too soon add 1/2 cup or so of water, more if needed. That’s it. This recipe makes 4 – 5 cups of chutney. Store some in the fridge, 2 weeks max, and freeze the rest in 1 or 2 cup batches – future fast meals in the wings.
This chutney recipe is one I found in Gourmet magazine in 1990 and have used ever since. It can be found online: Apple Ginger Chutney.
Other Mixed Greens fast food from home meals: Fish with spinach & a grilled lemon; Spanish -inspired frittata; Busting the soufflé mystique; Crunchy Chicken & Cabbage salad with sweet & sour dressing; There’s an egg in my soup!.
Preparation hints, ALL the difference in pulling together good meals in a hurry mid-week:
1. Buy groceries on Sunday with two or three specific meals in mind.
2. Prepare salad dressing and chutney, for example, on Sunday.
3. If it’s an option ask for 5 minutes of assistance – or more! – from another capable adult or child. Enlist them to chop an onion, create the salad, set the table, or get the couscous organized . . . community effort is cool and even a few minutes is a huge help.
4. Pour yourself a glass of frosty, lemony water or a glass of wine for sipping. Music and dancing help too.
5. While food is cooking do a little clean up.
6. Light candles. Dinner might be quick, but it can still be a moment for telling a story or singing a song together.
7. Definitely many-hands it after dinner. Everyone can do some part of the cleanup. Again, music is good.
Bottom line, whether you’re single or a couple or a family with kids, delicious and fast can be a good time. The real fast meal deal? Dinner made at home.