Little steps add a lot to the end result

Little steps add a lot to the end result

When you are cooking something, anything at all, your uppermost thought should be “how can I extract the most flavor from this?” You want to think about the steps of putting a dish together and then think about how each of those steps can be altered to enhance the final flavor.

When you make a hamburger, for example, it takes no time to toast the bun in a pan with some butter, but that little step adds a lot to the end result.

When you are adding spices to a dish, it is a game changer to toast them first and grind them yourself. Just put them in a small, dry skillet and shake the pan over medium heat until they release their fragrance. Stay close and pay attention so you don’t burn them and make them bitter.

To serve cooked onions alongside a protein, make sure you spend the time to get them caramelized to a rich brown. You can do this ahead and set them aside. This is how you get a great mushroom and onion side for a steak, with a little red wine and beef stock that has been reduced to be a bit thick and saucy. Avoid washing the mushrooms in water as they are little sponges and, once soaked, will never get browned but will merely steam and remain gray.

Forget those silly cross hatch grill marks on grilled meats. You want a maximum sear over the greatest surface area to add the most flavor. Remember heat changes food, so flavors that are not at all present in something that is uncooked are revealed and brought to life in the cooking process. Sear meats all over first to keep the juice inside and to give them the most flavor, then finish over lower heat to cook through.

This recipe from the California Culinary Academy isn’t at all difficult but does take some planning. It also is packed with flavor and quite filling. If you can, start with whole cumin, toast it and then grind it yourself. You don’t need any fancy equipment and can grind just about anything on your counter with the bottom of a small, heavy pot.


Infused oil:

1/2 cup olive oil

6 cloves garlic


2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 medium red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup good olive oil

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 dried red chili pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin, ground

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup golden raisins

Pinch of sugar

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved


2 small zucchini

2 small red onions, peeled

2 yellow summer squash

2 Japanese eggplants

2 green bell peppers

2 large tomatoes, in wedges

Cooked rice, for serving

To make the infused oil, crush or mince the garlic, then heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. When hot, add the garlic and remove the pan from heat. When completely cooled, strain and store in a glass jar.

Add all of the marinade ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and process until you have a smooth paste. Place the chicken in a shallow ceramic baking pan, smear the chicken with the marinade, cover with plastic and refrigerate for two hours, turning the chicken after one hour to evenly distribute the marinade.

Trim the zucchini ends and cut into 2-inch pieces. Cut the onions into halves. Cut the eggplant and squash into quarters after trimming the ends. Cut the tops and bottoms off the bell peppers before halving them, flatten each half, remove the seeds and white membrane, and cut into 2-inch pieces. Slide all the vegetables onto flat metal skewers, in any order.

Heat a charcoal or gas grill and grill the skewered vegetables over moderate heat for 5-10 minutes or until charred and done, basting all the while with the infused garlic oil. Grill the chicken 5 minutes per side, until cooked but not dry.

Slide the vegetables off the skewers onto a platter with the chicken. Add salt if needed and serve with cooked white rice and the tomato wedges.

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