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Cooking in New York City – Hive Cooking: How to Please a Health Nut (And You Too)

Posted Monday, January 19th, 2009 at 8:00 am by Russell in Social Bees. More in 10021

As tasty and colorful a breast as you'll find on Melrose. (With sides. Minus "enhancement.")

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To focus on one ingredient and one New York purveyor of said ingredient in each posting was what I intended for this blog. Well, three postings in and I’m already going to renege on that promise. Instead, I’m writing about how to make a meal to please the health-obsessed but not totally palate-challenged, in this case my dad and stepmom.

My excuse for this bit of divergence is that for the past week I was back where I grew up in Los Angeles, California. Yes, while you were here in New York suffering through the coldest weather in two years, I was out in a record high 87 degrees under a sunny sky, perusing farmer’s markets (in contradiction of my earlier advice, but hey- I was on vacay!) filled with some of the best citrus I’ve ever had (mandarin oranges, blood oranges, Satsuma tangerines, Oro Blanco grapefruit, pink navel oranges, to name a few). Now, if you’re me, faced with superlative perfect fruit, you don’t do anything with these. You enjoy them as unadorned as possible.

So instead I made a meal as a thank-you to my dad and stepmom. Being the health-nut Angelenos they are, my task was to find a tasty way to cook that bland staple– boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

The deal with these is: You don’t want to overcook the breasts, making them dry and flavorless, but to get good flavor you’ll want a bit of brown on the outside. Traditionally, the response to this conundrum is to drench in breadcrumbs and pan-fry. But there’s another way: broiling. After merely a couple of minutes per side, the high heat browns but does not dry.

You can make the chicken on its own, or follow the full recipe that uses eggplant in an asian-inspired way. Pair as I did with roasted root vegetables (an upcoming post) and quinoa for a colorful and surprisingly good match. I like to think of it as a Cal-Asian fusion meal done right.

Here’s the recipe, with a couple small changes, from Mark Bittman. In the last step I topped a couple breasts with a touch of cumin and honey, as added insurance against blandness. Either way, it’s likely to wow a picky eater without much effort.

Honey-Cumin Chicken Breast With Eggplant, Shallots and Ginger

(Chicken a la L.A.)

Yield 4 servings

Time 30 minutes



  • 8 ounces shallots (about 6 large)
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger or 2 teaspoons dried ginger
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts (4 half breasts)
  • 1/4 cup or more minced fresh cilantro
  • Ground cumin to taste
  • Honey to taste


    • 1. Peel shallots. If they are small, leave them whole. Otherwise, cut them in half the long way. (Most large shallots have two lobes and will naturally divide in half as you peel them.) Heat the broiler or a gas or charcoal grill.
    • 2. Place oil in a large nonstick skillet, and turn heat to medium high. Add shallots, and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown. Add eggplant, salt and pepper, and lower heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant softens, about 15 minutes.
    • 3. When eggplant begins to brown, add half the ginger, and cook 3 minutes or so more, until eggplant is very tender and the mixture fragrant.
    • 4. Meanwhile, rub chicken breasts with salt, pepper and remaining ginger. Grill about 4 inches from the heat source for 3 minutes a side or until done. Top with cumin and honey and return to broil briefly.
    • 5. Stir half the cilantro into eggplant mixture. Serve chicken breasts on a bed of eggplant. Garnish with remaining cilantro.


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