Cilantro-Tomato Sauce Over Chicken

This recipe came about when trying to concoct something for dinner that would use up several random items hanging out in my fridge. And, as luck would have it that night, my family loved it! The cilantro-tomato sauce works very well with chicken, but it can be served over rice, vegetables, tofu, potatoes, eggs, or fish, as well.  In fact, this is a wonderful recipe for when you are cooking for vegetarians and meat eaters in the same meal because you can keep the sauce and meat separate until the very end. This also makes a great weeknight meal — with a little prep work, your entire dinner can easily come together in 20-30 minutes.

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup buttermilk (for marinating the chicken — optional)
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 cups or 1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tbl. tomato paste
zest from one lemon
1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt (can be substituted with sour cream or buttermilk)
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

Either in the morning or the night before you plan to make this (8-24 hours prior), prepare your chicken by trimming the fat and cutting the breasts into small serving sizes, about 4 pieces per breast. The small size makes the cooking go fast, and it also gives a lot of surface area to be coated with sauce later on. Place the chicken in a well-sealed container with the buttermilk and a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Let sit in the refrigerator until ready to cook.  You can omit this step, if you want, but the buttermilk makes the meat super moist and tender.

Prepare a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to grease the bottom. Drain and pat dry your chicken breast pieces; season them on both sides with a little salt and pepper. Lightly brown the chicken in a single layer in the pan, about 3-4 minutes per side, depending on the heat and size of your cuts. When lightly browned and fully cooked, remove the chicken from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or sauce pan over medium heat and add a quarter cup of olive oil — the oil should be hot, but not smoking. Add the garlic, ginger, and cumin. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes while the mixture becomes fragrant. Stir in one cup of the chopped cilantro leaves, the tomato paste, the diced tomatoes, and the lemon zest and bring to a slow simmer. If necessary, add 1/4-1/2 cup of water to prevent the sauce from becoming too thick. Taste, and add more salt, pepper, or cilantro, if desired. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and, using a standing blender or immersion blender, purée the sauce until smooth (just be very careful if you have to transfer the sauce out of the pan to do this!) Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the yogurt. At this point, the sauce is ready to be served over vegetables, rice, eggs, etc.  However, when serving chicken, add the browned chicken to your pan and cook over low heat for just a few more minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

I like to serve this dish with simple brown rice and steamed vegetables. Fresh green beans pair very nicely, as does a light, citrusy white wine. Feel free to garnish your meal with any remaining chopped cilantro. Quick, healthy, versatile, and delicious – enjoy!

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  1. Wine Bits: A Bit on Pairing and Hosting, Part 1 « Two Dancing Buckeyes

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