Light but warming chicken dinner

chicken thighs
(EzumeImages/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

By Keri White

As the temperature drops, we naturally crave heartier, warming foods. I’m all for soups and braises and stews and roasts, but sometimes we need to deviate to lighter fare.

This dinner hits the mark — as a braise, it is plenty warm with a “soppable” gravy for rice or bread, but it features chicken, lemon and mint, which are ingredients and flavors that swing to the fresher, lighter side of the culinary spectrum.

Bonus if the mint is homegrown: As a hardy herb it can withstand fairly cold temperatures, so there may still be some lurking in your garden.

The recipe was described to me by my friend Kate Markowitz. Her Sicilian nonna wasn’t much of a cook but served this dish as her “go-to” for family gatherings. Markowitz swears that it must be done with bone-in thighs, but I had boneless breasts on hand, so that’s what I used. I don’t wish to argue with family tradition (or my culinarily skilled friend), but we thoroughly enjoyed the results.

The cabbage elevates this winter vegetable to a new level. It is kind of sweet, due to the lengthy spell in the sauté pan for caramelization, it has a little char for flavor and texture and the addition of vinegar at the end adds a zing of acid that delivers the perfect balance. I’ve made it with both red and green cabbage, and both worked beautifully.

Sicilian chicken alla Markowitz

Serves 4

For the boneless breasts, I cooked this for about 40 minutes; depending on what you use, you may need more time in the oven. And if you prefer a “super-tender falling apart” result, cook it on 300 F covered, and leave it in the oven for 90 minutes, checking occasionally to ensure that there is enough liquid to continue braising.

  • 1½ pounds boneless chicken or 2 pounds bone-in pieces
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste (be generous!)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • ¾ cup chicken broth 
  • ⅓ cup white wine
  • 1 handful fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped (about ⅔ cup)

Heat your oven to 350 F.

In a large, ovenproof skillet, heat the oil. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, and sear them in the pan on all sides. Remove the chicken from the heat, and add onion, garlic, zest, salt and pepper. Sauté until fragrant.

Add the lemon juice, chicken broth and wine, and bring it to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, return the chicken to the pan, spoon the liquid over the chicken and place the pan in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes or until done. Remove the chicken from the oven, cover it with chopped mint and serve.

Caramelized and charred cabbage

Serves 4

This sounds contradictory — caramelizing is a low-and-slow method of cooking that brings out the sugars in a food. Charring is the polar opposite, a high-heat application. But when you fuse the two techniques, something magic happens. The recipe below is vegan/pareve, but if you are serving a dairy meal, add a couple of tablespoons of butter to the oil for an even more sublime dish.

A note on the vinegar: I used apple cider for this and it was wonderful, but any type of vinegar would work; it’s just there to counter the sweetness and balance out the flavor.

  • ½ large head of cabbage, sliced into ribbons
  • 1-2 tablespoons oil (enough to coat skillet)
  • Generous pinch salt, generous grinding fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar

In a large skillet, heat the oil (and butter, if using) and add salt and pepper. Add the cabbage and, using tongs, turn it over, and allow it to sear and char in a few spots. Lower the heat, and continue cooking slowly for about 30 minutes, turning over every so often to ensure even cooking.

When the cabbage is completely wilted, reduced and very soft, remove it from the heat and add the vinegar. Stir well and serve.

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