Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
During the transition from spring to summer, when the days say, “Cook outside,” but the nights say, “You need a sweater,” I add a warming spice mix to grilled fare for a fitting compromise. For this week’s recipe, I had an Indian-inspired dinner on my mind (“inspired” being the key word—I’ll tell you up front that the dish is entirely non-authentic) that combines the duo of cumin and coriander with grilled chicken.
For a wine, I thought an unoaked Chardonnay might make a good bet—citrusy and bright, but still with the rounded character and backbone to stand up to spice and grilled fare. I found an Australian version from Yalumba in my local market for $17, and the experiment began.
I started off by making a dry rub for the chicken from ground coriander and cumin. The grilled result was fine, if a little dry. And the chicken did well alongside the wine—a B-level match. But I was sure I could make it better.
Circling back to the tasting note, I picked out the “citrus” and decided to add lime juice to the spices for a simple marinade. The results were promising. The chicken was more tender, and the lime juice highlighted the fresh, succulent qualities of the wine. Still, was there room for improvement?
My approach to the third version was not as simple as matching each descriptor in the tasting note to the recipe. Here, for example, the word “apple” didn’t really make me want to add apples to the mix, but something like ginger complements apple and citrus well. Moving on to the marinade, I added some fresh ginger that I had on hand from making the side salad (see below).
I also wanted to add an oil to the marinade for better grilling; plain canola felt a little blah, so I picked coconut oil instead. It carries a sweet tropical perfume that I thought might mesh with the Chardonnay, and it does pretty well on the grill too, crisping everything nicely. This ginger-coconut version was great off the grill—and with the wine. The new additions brought out some attractive, previously dormant spice notes in the Chardonnay, and the texture was right on too—a good match for the wine’s medium weight.
In the last trial, I wanted to see if a different mix of spices would work as well. I had found a tandoori-style spice blend of paprika, turmeric, pepper, cumin, cayenne and some others at the market, and mixed it with lime juice for a marinade. The chicken was great: spicy, smoky and very complex. But it all proved just a bit too much for the wine. Maybe if I had only tried this version I would have been totally happy, but it paled alongside trials two and three. That being said, if bold spicy fare is your jam, this wine is a solid bet.
For a side salad, I envisioned a chana saag, a warm Indian stew of spinach and chickpeas, plus a host of spices. For a fast and easy imitation, I took warm chickpeas and mixed them with spinach greens, minced ginger, lime juice and olive oil. It was great with the wine, bringing out a floral and zingy quality that hadn’t been there before.
Pair with an unoaked Chardonnay such as Yalumba Chardonnay South Australia The Y Series Unwooded 2012 (87 points, $12)
Total time: 40 minutes
Approximate food cost: $43
1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Mix the coriander, cumin, 1 tablespoon of minced ginger, 1/2 cup lime juice and the coconut oil in a large nonreactive pan. Add the chicken breasts and coat in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. To make the side salad, place the chickpeas in a medium-sized pot of boiling salted water, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 4-6 minutes, or until heated through. In a large bowl, mix 1 tablespoon of lime juice, 1 teaspoon minced ginger and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Strain the chickpeas and place into the bowl with the dressing and the spinach leaves. Season with salt, toss everything together and cover for 5 minutes to wilt the spinach. Reserve.
3. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade, season with salt and place on the grill, discarding the marinade. Grill until the chicken reaches 155 degrees, around 4-5 minutes a side. Rest the chicken for 5 minutes, then serve immediately with the side salad. Serves 4.