Updated: Mar 24
I’m very happy to have writer Pat Willard as a guest author at Transform Your Life . Pat has prepared traditional recipes from Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Sicily that are perfect for the holiday season. She has added a bonus recipe from her book A Soothing Broth.
Traditional foods are a roadmap to a healthy diet and lifestyle. Pat’s recipes use all-natural ingredients and reflect the hearty food combinations so common around the world. They are rich in both the macro and micronutrients so necessary for health.
Surprise your family during the holiday season with one or more of Pat’s invigorating and fun recipes.
Recipes by Pat Willard
When leaves lose their crisp colors, crinkle and begin to rain down in earnest, I lug out the Dutch oven, sort out spices and herbs, lay in some bones for broths, and dig in for the cold dark months ahead.
One of the first dishes I’m liable to make (like today, when a storm is raking through the trees) is a stew from northern Africa. It’s a fairly common recipe but the one I use most comes from Barbara Kafka’s book, Soup, A Way of Life.
Chicken and Peanut Butter Stew
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small chopped onion
2 pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
2 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2/3 cups crunchy peanut butter
3 cups chicken stock (a good, low sodium store bought brand is just fine)
3 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped
1 medium dry red pepper (red pepper flakes are fine)
2 medium peeled sweet potatoes, halved lengthwise then cut into 4 pieces
3/4 pound fresh spinach, washed and roughly cut
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large stock pot. Stir in onions and cook until almost translucent. Season the chicken and cook for about 7 minutes, turning to brown both sides.
While the chicken cooks, stir together the peanut butter and 1 cup stock in a medium large bowl until smooth (it’s okay if it is not all completely blended. That will happen as the stew cooks). Stir in the remaining stock.
Combine garlic and red pepper and pound into a paste. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, press down hard on the garlic with a heavy spoon.)
Stir the stock mixture into the pot with the chicken, bring to a bowl then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.
Stir in the sweet potatoes with the chicken, making sure they’re well covered by the broth. Bring to boil, then turn down to simmer until the potatoes are almost cooked, about 15 or 20 minutes.
Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste, lemon juice and, if you want, hot pepper sauce.
Servers 4 to 6 as a main-course
Starting in early November, the bins at my vegetable stand overflow with tuber and root vegetables. The Middle Eastern spices in this recipe give the vegetables–often a bit bland–a hefty vibrancy.
Roasted Vegetables and Lentils
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup dry lentils
2 cups water
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into serving pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into serving pieces
2 to 3 small parsnip, peeled and cut into serving pieces
3 small red onions, cut into wedges (if they’re still around, substitute sweet Vidalia onions)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the spices.
Combine all the vegetables in a bowl, mix with the olive oil, then add the spice mixture and stir, making sure all the vegetables are equally coated with the spices. Spread across the baking sheet and bake until the sweet potato and parsnips are just tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium pot, stir together the lentils and water. Bring to a rapid boil then lower to simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, adding more hot water if needed.
Watch carefully to make sure the lentils turn just tender not mushy. The lentils and vegetables should be finished at the same time.
To serve: Spoon lentils into serving bowls and top with the roasted vegetables. Offer plain yogurt on the side.
Baked Sicilian Cod
I was raised Catholic, my family following pretty strictly to all the rules. Most of my neighborhood was Catholic, as well, with each immigrant group that arrived to work in the mills along the Schuylkill River–Irish, Polish, German, Italian–building their own church with tall steeples standing soldier straight across the skyline. That meant Friday’s dinner was always fish, one of the few dishes my mom stumbled over, relying on frozen fish sticks and stored prepared crab cakes to save our souls.
The one reprieve we sometimes received was from one of the Italian women who cooked community dinners at the settlement house my dad oversaw. The following recipe is a recreation of one I remember showing up at our house in a covered dish.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ tin or bottle of good quality anchovies, well washed of packing oil, and chopped
2 pounds cod fillets
1 medium sprig of rosemary
2 fresh basil leaves
1 cup plain bread crumbs (If you have any leftover stale bread around, collect it into a bag, get out your rolling pin and smash to make your own bread crumbs)
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup pitted and chopped black olives
Preheat over to 400 degrees. Brush an oven-proof dish with oil.
In a small bowl, mash the anchovies into a paste.
Place the cod in the prepared dish and spread the anchovy paste over the top. Pull about half the rosemary leaves from the steam and sprinkle over the top along with the chopped basil. Place the remaining rosemary stem under the fish. Spread the breadcrumbs on top of the fish and strewn the olives around the fish. Salt and pepper to taste.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the flesh flakes.
A book I wrote a while back, A Soothing Broth, explored Invalid Cooking, recipes used to feed the sick and convalescents from the 17th to the early 20th centuries. They were recorded in almost every general cookbook and passed down in family accounts, treating everything from grave injuries to the Plague and the common cold. The dishes were left behind and mostly forgotten once medical care moved out of the home and into hospitals.
This is one of my favorites and excellent, the saffron in it long used as a cure for headaches, sore throats, upset stomachs and the occasional broken heart. The recipe is a little involved and time consuming but worth it. If you double the ingredients you’ll have enough to freeze and have on hand through to spring.
Make the white stock:
5 pounds veal bones (including a knuckle), cracked
2 pounds chicken parts (backs, wings or necks)
1 pound stewing veal, cut into 2-inch cubes
3 quarts water
1 large carrot, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 rib celery with tops, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium leek, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, peeled and halved
6 springs parsley
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
Put the bones, chicken and veal into a large, 8-quart stock pot. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse bones and meat under cold water to remove all the scum. Rinse and wipe the inside of the stock pot.
Return meat and bones to the stock pot and add the 3 quarts of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming often. Add the remaining ingredients. Reduce the heat, partially cover to the pot and simmer gently for about 3 hours. Skim occasionally.
Strain the stock through a double layer of cheesecloth.
The stock keeps, refrigerated and covered, for 3 or 4 days; or it can be frozen for up to 6 months. Skim the fat from the surface before using.
To make the saffron consomme:
2 T grated onion
6 cups white stock, chilled and thoroughly degreased.
2 large egg whites
2 egg shells, crushed
1/2 t saffron threads or 1/4 t ground saffron (It’s worth it to hunt down saffron in a spice market.
Even the saffron you find in high end supermarkets tastes dull and, surprisingly often, is not real saffron.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place the grated onion in a fine sieve over a small bowl and press down on it with the back of a spoon to extract the juices. Measure and set aside 1 teaspoon of the onion juice. Discard the rest.
In a large saucepan bring the white stock to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. When the stock is boiling, stir in the egg whites and egg shells, reduce the heat and simmer gently, without stirring, for about 20 minutes.
Strain the stock into a slightly smaller stock pot through a large sieve, lined with several thicknesses of rinsed cheesecloth.
Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and stir in the reserved onion juice.
If you are using saffron threads, crush them between your fingers and place in a small dish. Add about 1/4 cup of the hot stock, stir gently to dissolve the saffron, then pour the mixture into the simmering stock. If you are using ground saffron, whisk directly into the simmering stock.
Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes more to let the flavor develop. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 6 servings.
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