Dang. It’s officially cold. Gone are the mornings of warm, bright sun, with me skipping out the door on my way to yoga in my tank top and Chacos; those mornings have been replaced by a frosty, hazy dawn, with me, puffy eyed and bleary, scraping ice of my windshield in capris, furry slippers and a parka. Oh, winter. You and I have a love-hate relationship.
However, I have to give winter props for its ability to inspire a delicious array of cozy, comforting one pot meals. As you may remember from last winter, when the going got tough, the tough went and made an amazing One Pot Wonder. You really can’t go wrong with one pot meals; they’re easy, they basically cook themselves, they feed a crowd – or they last for several meals, only getting better and better as time goes on. So what’s my latest one pot creation? Read on, McDuff.
Late last year, before tossing out my monthly stack of magazines when the new ones arrived (which, by the way, is a habit I highly recommend – otherwise your house slowly starts to look like a Hoarders episode), I was sure to rip out some recipes I knew I’d fall back on in the months to come. One of which was a recipe from Whole Living for Cinnamon Chicken Stew. The recipe was written by Cheryl Redmond, who is a wonderful freelance food writer based in Vermont. In the recipe, Cheryl boldly combines flavors like cinnamon, lemon and ginger in a broth-based tomato sauce; and in the sauce, she boils a cut-up whole chicken, imparting a wonderful, spicy and lemony flavor to the meat.
What’s that, you say? “Chicken and cinnamon?! Cinnamon and lemon?! Ginger and cinnamon?!” Fear not, faithful foodies: the combination may sound peculiar – perhaps even plain BAD – but they are put together in a way that melds the flavors in the most exotic, alluring and seamless fashion. Trust me here, folks. Trust me.
Per usual, I cut a few corners, made a few switcharoos, added and subtracted a few things, and now claim the recipe as my own (which will, most likely, get me into trouble some day.) The original recipe calls for a whole chicken, cut-up, and skin removed. This, of course, is a wonderful way to cook the dish; I simply don’t have the time or the inclination to go all Julia Child on a chicken carcass. Instead, I simply used boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2” pieces. This shortened the cooking time, which is perfect for my short attention span… What?
The original recipe also calls for fresh plum tomatoes and chicken broth. This being December, the “fresh plum tomatoes” at the grocery store look more like pale pink, rock hard imposters of the real thing. So instead, I opted for canned whole tomatoes – being sure to use all of their wonderful juices. And because no trip to the grocery store is complete without me forgetting something, I came home after my jaunt to the store, only to realize I’d forgotten the chicken broth. Fooey. So what else did I have around the house that would add liquid and impart flavor? BEER, of course! Destiny and fate were working in my favor. The beer added depth to the flavor, and I got to sneak a few sips before pouring it in.
One last tweak: in the original recipe, Cheryl used chick peas in the stew. To be perfectly honest, I don’t like chick peas unless they’re mashed up with some tahini and garlic, and I can smear them on a Wasa cracker. Otherwise, I find them hard, chalky and mealy. So instead, I used cannellini beans, which are always creamy and soft. Like something else better? Maybe pintos or black beans? Go for it!
The stew comes together in about an hour, and the flavors are unlike anything you’ve had before, I can promise you. The cinnamon adds a heady, warm spice, the lemon adds the perfect zing, and the acidity is all balanced out with the addition of a good beer. Be sure to save a brew to drink alongside. Enjoy!
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Cinnamon Chicken Stew
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 small lemon, seeded and very thinly sliced
1 can (14 oz.) whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped with the juice reserved
3 cinnamon sticks
1 can (12 oz.) beer, preferably a light ale or pilsner
1 1/2 lb. chicken breast (or your favorite skinless chicken cut), cut into 2″ chunks
1/4 c. chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
salt, pepper and olive oil
Heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, cumin and smoked paprika, and stir for another minute. Add the beans, lemon, tomatoes (and their juices), and cinnamon to the pot and cook for about 3 minutes.
On a cutting board, season the cut chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and add it to the pot. Add the beer, nestling the chicken into the liquid. Bring the pot to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover partially, simmering for about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.
Turn the heat to medium-high to reduce the sauce slightly. Using a potato masher or the back of a large spoon, mash some of the beans to thicken the sauce even more. Add the chicken back to the pot and stir in the cilantro. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Ladle into large bowls, garnish with more cilantro, and serve.
*If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe at Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her Flyer Foodie author page. For more cooking, recipes, and other food-related inspiration, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.