Austin winters are odd. I’m not sure why are they called winters in Austin, because in reality, they are just transitory seasons between the hot fall and the even hotter spring. Winters in here get me all confused. Not long ago, a random Santa emerged from nowhere through the backyard of the school where I attend a group workout. I had to think for a several seconds about the month and, hell, even the season we are in. Is it December? No. I remember making resolutions (hence the workout), so it must be past New Year.
This last weekend further confused matters. Temperatures were in the 70s (Fahrenheit that is), and the sun was shining. I decided to make the most of it, so after playing morning fetch with Popsi, I put on my sunglasses and headed to brunch. The weather was so nice that I decided to roam around the city for a bit. It was so energizing people everywhere were wearing t-shirts, and some even wore shorts. When I got home, instead of my usual siesta, I decided to set up the hammock in the backyard, pick up a book, and read while the warm Texas sun filled me with much-needed vitamin D.
I woke from my sun-induced slumber thinking about the skype date I had with my grandma Buna the other day. She reminded me of how cold it is right now back in Romania. I had somehow forgotten that in Romania, January was the coldest and most depressing time of year. Everyone hibernates to avoid the frozen greyness, and the cities are numb and lifeless until snow falls. The snow brings a buzz of life. It brings chaos.
One does not truly appreciate sunshine until faced with a rough winter. Imagine waking at 8 a.m., looking out your window, and realizing that the only source of light is the old street lamp that reflects its yellow glare on the frozen pavement. The sun hasn’t come up yet, and chances are, it will not come up before you get to work. By the time you finish work at 5 p.m., it’s dark again. By the end of the week you realize that there is good chance that you haven’t seen sunshine that week. So you’re waiting for the weekend, only so you can catch those very few hours when the sun is up.
Saunas, thermal baths, tanning salons and bars are most profitable during those months. Hearty food is also a good remedy. There is something special about eating a bowl of fragrant Chicken Paprikas, a few Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, or a hearty portion of Beef Goulash when it’s cold outside. But I live in Austin now where it’s always warm and sunny. I have to settle for something like this Creamy Basil Chickpea Chicken dish. It’s not too heavy, but it has hummus, chickpeas and fresh basil in it. It’s light yet filling. Make it, and your kitchen will smell like heaven. Enjoy!
Creamy Basil Chickpea Chicken
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Inactive time: 15 minutes
- 2 cans chickpeas (14oz each)
- 2 Tbsp tahini
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 20 fresh basil leaves
- 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 a medium-sized lemon)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 3 lbs bone-in chicken (thighs, drums, or breast)
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 3 sprigs of basil
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Open two cans of chickpeas, and drain the juice from one can only.
- In a food processor, combine the drained can of chickpeas, tahini, two crushed garlic cloves, basil leaves, one tablespoon lemon juice, salt, and white pepper. Pulse until you reach a smooth paste-like consistency. Congrats -- you just made hummus! Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400F (200C) degrees.
- In an oven safe heavy skillet bring canola oil to a shimmer over medium-high heat. When it easily slides across the skillet, carefully place the chicken pieces in the pan with the skin side down. Brown them for approximately 4-6 minutes.
- Flip the chicken on the other side and repeat the browning process so each side is nicely seared.
- Add butter, the remaining clove of crushed garlic, and the basil sprigs. Using a big spoon, baste the chicken pieces for about 3 minutes on each side.
- Using a thermometer, check the internal temperature of the chicken. At this point it should be at around 130-140F (55-60C). If not, cook until it reaches that temperature.
- Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Discard the garlic and basil, but keep the skillet on the stove.
- Deglaze the skillet with white wine and cook until the wine thickens and the alcohol evaporates, about 3 minutes. Add the hummus and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the remaining can of chickpeas with juice. Return the browned chicken pieces to the skillet.
- Put the skillet in the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Serve hot with baguette or pita bread. Optionally, sprinkle with freshly squeezed fresh lemon juice.
- Deglazing is a cooking technique that sounds a lot fancier and more difficult than it actually is. Deglazing simply means that after pan-frying or sautèing, you pour liquid of some sort (in our case wine) to the hot frying pan or skillet. Then you scrape and stir the browned bits (in our case browned chicken skin and garlic) from the pan to incorporate all cooking residues into a rich and flavorful liquid.
- If you don’t have a thermometer, poke the chicken with the tip of a sharp knife, preferably close to bone, or, in case of the breast, where it is the thickest. If it’s bleeding red juice, keep cooking it for a few minutes.
- Sprinkle the skillet with fresh basil leaves. Make sure you do it right before serving the dish, otherwise the basil will turn brown.