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Yogurt-Cumin Chicken with Apricot-Mango Compote

The inspiration for this dish comes from a chicken place that opened in Michigan a year before I became a vegetarian. The chicken was marinated in cumin and flame-roasted. It was served with pita bread and honey butter and a salad that--if I remember correctly--contained buttermilk. The earthiness from the cumin, the char from the flame, the sweetness of the honey, and the creamy tang of buttermilk are all represented here.

In the Don't Freak Out! section, you'll also find a few ways to turn this meat dish into a vegetarian or vegan one!

While I give measurements for 4 pieces of chicken, the recipe can be viewed as more of a guideline; simply use the spices according to your personal taste when you sprinkle them on both sides of the chicken. I also use a grill pan but you can cook the chicken on an outdoor grill or sauté them in a large pan.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs

1 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper

½ cup yogurt, plain

2 - 3 TBS grapeseed or canola oil, for cooking

Place the chicken in a shallow baking pan. Sprinkle each side of the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and spices (about ¼ teaspoon each of salt, garlic powder, and cumin, and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper total for each piece of chicken). Slather each side of the chicken pieces with yogurt (about 2 tablespoons for each piece of chicken). Cover the pan with foil or a lid. Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to overnight to marinate. You can also place the chicken into a large zip-top food storage bag to marinate (just make sure you place the bag on a plate or pan and put it on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator to prevent leaking).

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Remove it from the marinade and gently pat off any excess yogurt with a paper towel. Set the chicken aside.

Heat a grill pan on medium-high heat for several minutes. Lower the heat to medium. I prefer to cook the chicken on a lower heat longer--the yogurt doesn't burn while the chicken chars nicely yet remains juicy.

Lightly and evenly drizzle the oil on the pan. Grill the chicken on each side for about 5 to 7 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan, place on a cutting board, and cover with foil for a few minutes to allow the juices to redistribute back into the meat.

Slice the grilled chicken and top with the Apricot-Mango Compote.

While the chicken is marinating, make the Apricot-Mango Compote

1 lb. apricots, washed, pitted and quartered (leave the peel on)

1 large or 2 small mangoes, peeled and chopped into medium-size dice

1 TBS grapeseed or canola oil

2 TBS brown sugar

1 TBS honey

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp tamarind paste

¼ tsp black pepper

Pinch of salt

Heat a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add the oil, apricots, and mango. Cook the fruit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Reduce the heat to low. Add the brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, ginger, tamarind paste, pepper, and salt. Stirring occasionally, cook the compote for 20 minutes or until it resembles thick jam. Remove from the heat. Serve warm over the chicken.

The compote can be made a day ahead, refrigerated, and reheated on low.

Don’t Freak Out!

1) If fresh apricots aren’t in season, substitute with fresh peaches (skins removed), fresh nectarines, frozen peaches (defrosted—it’s not necessary to drain them) or ½ pound dried apricots reconstituted in warm water and chopped. I haven’t tried canned apricots or peaches but why not experiment? I recommend using the fruit in natural juices rather than heavy syrup.

2) Tamarind is a sweet-and-sour tropical fruit found in Africa and India. Tamarind is the ingredient that makes Worcestershire sauce distinctively tangy. You may be able to find tamarind pods in the produce section of your grocery store (my market is hit-or-miss; I think I've seen fresh tamarind twice). The prepared tamarind paste, however, is easier to find. Just look in either the Asian or Indian sections of your market's world foods aisle (it's located near the chutney where I shop). If you can’t find tamarind paste, just substitute a pinch of salt and the zest of one lemon. While I haven't tried this (but I think I will because I'm now intrigued), in theory, you could probably substitute a splash of Worcestershire sauce for the tamarind paste. Just make sure you use the vegetarian Worcestershire sauce...unless you want your compote to taste like the anchovies used in regular Worcestershire!

3) If you happen to find soft, yellow Ataulfo mangoes at your local grocery store, choose them over the larger greenish-red kind. They’re much more flavorful and when ripe, the texture is already like jam. Or if the fresh mangoes don’t look good that day, substitute half of a 16-oz. bag of frozen mangoes, defrosted but not drained.

4) If there is any Apricot-Mango Compote left over, add it to hot cereal (oatmeal, barley, or quinoa). Stir it into yogurt or cream cheese. Add it warm to pound cake or ice cream (vanilla, cinnamon, salted caramel, or brown sugar & brown butter flavors to name a few). Spread it on an onion roll and make a roasted chicken, turkey, or pork sandwich.

5) Make it vegetarian. I don't eat a lot of meat analogs but I like this made with a "chicken-like" cutlet (I use Quorn which is made from mycoprotein and is soy-free--but use what you like). I sprinkle the salt, pepper, and spices on the cutlets, slather them with yogurt, and marinate in the fridge. I don't grill the cutlets however--I've found that it is better to simply sauté them in a pan heated on medium in a bit of oil until brown on each side.

6) Make it vegan. Use a "chicken-like" cutlet that is dairy and egg-free. Substitute coconut or soy plain yogurt for the dairy yogurt. Substitute 1/2 TBS of agave nectar for the honey in the Apricot-Mango Compote.

You can also make this with extra-firm tofu packed in water (12 oz size). Rinse the tofu and slice into equal slices (about 1/2" thick). Place a few sheets of paper towel or a lint-free kitchen towel on a cutting board. Place the tofu slices on the towel and cover with more toweling. Place another cutting board, a sheet pan, or a large plate over the tofu. Place a weight (like a few soup cans evenly spaced) on top of the tofu. Let the tofu rest for 15 minutes.

Remove everything from the tofu. Sprinkle each side of the tofu slices with salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic powder. Set aside for 15 minutes. Heat a large skillet on medium heat, add 2 - 3 TBS canola or grapeseed oil and brown the tofu on each side until it is crispy. Top with the Apricot-Mango Compote.

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