Early spring is the most frustrating time of the year for a cook. The relentless delivery of increasingly rubbery turnips and sprouting onions from our local organic farm can be pretty demoralizing when the world around you is seething with new green life and the birds are chirping in the hedgerows. In desperation, I even included a small package of asparagus tips in my latest order from the Big English Supermarket Chain. This proved to be a wasted gesture though, as the spears - flown from South America at great environmental cost - turned out to be somewhat woody and lacking in flavor. If nothing else, though, it steeled my will to wait for the first locally grown spring vegetables.
But although I do try to eat seasonal foods and ones that are grown locally, there are a few specialty items that I can't imagine living without and so do buy in small quantities even if they do come from another climate. Lemons, ginger, the occasional bunch of bananas. I try to shop sensibly but at the same time I don't want my children to grow up without these flavors.
So when I noticed a couple of small heads of bok choi nestled between the carrots and rubbery turnips, I thought of another bright, light flavor sitting in my fruit bowl: beautiful firm yellow lemons from Spain. The resulting dish isn't really oriental or Spanish or any specific ethnic variety. But it is bright and light and full of tang and most definitely a fitting spring supper. And for those following my Weight Watchers quest, it's a mere 3.5 points (plus another 2.5 if you are serving it over wild rice, as I did).
Spring Chicken (serves two at 3.5 points each, not including rice)
I recently rid our kitchen of the old Teflon pans that the Critic bought before we were together and replaced them with a couple of cast iron pans. They came pre-seasoned and worked beautifully at searing the chicken breasts with a minimum of oil. I am regretting that I didn't make this move years ago, as they are so worth the slight extra effort in hand washing them!
2 chicken breasts
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 small heads of bok choi (spinach or Belgian endives would work equally well)
8-10 fresh basil leaves, reserving 2 for garnish
1 small red chili pepper
100 g frozen peas
1 cup chicken stock
juice of half a lemon
Brush two skinned chicken breasts with the olive oil. Smash two garlic cloves with a mallet. Heat up a nonstick frying pan with high sides on a medium high flame. Place the garlic cloves - without skins - in the centre of the pan and place a chicken breast on top of each. Sear the meat for a few minutes and then turn over. In the meantime, wash and chop the carrots, bok choi, basil leaves and pepper (finely for the latter two). Turn down the heat on the chicken breasts (they don't need to be cooked through), scatter the carrots, basil and peppers in the pan and add about a cup of chicken broth and the lemon juice. Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the chicken has cooked through and the carrots are tender. Add the bok choi or spinach and frozen peas. Cover and cook another 2-3 minutes, until the greens have wilted and the peas are tender. Taste for salt; if you have used home made chicken stock, it will need a generous pinch. Garnish with the remaining basil and server over a mixture of wild and long grain rice.