With her sweet face and cool, calm demeanor, it’s no wonder Melia Marden is a natural hostess, but what really brings the point home are her skills in the kitchen. Ms. Marden is the chef behind one of New York’s most down-to-earth, yet happening hotspots, The Smile, and has tongues across the city wagging over her earthy, seasonal, Mediterranean-inspired menu. With her talent in the kitchen and love for home-entertaining, we were thrilled earlier this year when Melia released her first cookbook, Modern Mediterranean: Easy, Colorful, Full-Flavored Home Cooking. Modern Mediterranean is a spot-on resource for home cooks who want to throw beautiful dinners that feel both accessible and impressive and is filled to the brim with casual, entertaining-ready recipes like the one below for chicken with preserved lemons inspired by her mother’s own home-cooking at their house in Greece. Try your hand at Melia’s home-style recipe and check out a few of the things on her mind for 2014…
Fave ingredient to work with:
I love basing a new dish on a fresh herb that I haven’t worked with often. Recently I’ve been experimenting with fresh lavender.
Fave dish to make:
I love to make my mom’s Moroccan chicken with preserved lemon and olives. The smell is so comfortingly familiar and takes me back to my childhood.
Fave dish to eat:
Perfectly cooked peppery pan-seared steak (T-bone or strip) with a nice glass of red wine.
Best item on the menu:
My favorite changes all the time. Right now, I’m back to the classic balsamic roasted chicken.
Food resolutions for New Year's:
I might try and cut down on my chocolate intake. Not cut out just cut down.
Best seasonal foods for January:
It’s so cold and gloomy I like really sweet, hearty winter root vegetables… roasted parsnips, sunchokes, and beets.
Fave NY farmer's market/shop:
Union Square greenmarket is always good for fresh seasonal produce, but I also like smaller markets like the one at Tompkins Square Park on the weekends. Dual Spice Mart on First Avenue is a great spot for specialty spices.
Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diane Henry is my all time favorite.
Fave NYC restaurant for celebrations:
Balthazar always has that festive celebratory atmosphere. I love La Grenouille for really special occasions.
Dish for New York nostalgia:
I always get the bagel lox platter at any diner… I’ve compared them all over town and I think it’s a great NYC classic lunch.
Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon & Olives
4 skin-on, bone-in, split chicken breasts, or 1 large whole chicken, wings trimmed, cut into 8 pieces
2 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped plus more for garnish
1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp saffron, crumbled
3 cups cracked green Moroccan or Greek olives, not pitted (see note below)
2 halves preserved lemon
Note : If you can’t find cracked Moroccan or Greek olives, any good-quality salty Mediterranean green olive will work.
Rinse the chicken and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Season all sides with 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until very hot, 1 to 2 minutes.
Place the chicken breasts or pieces in the pot in a single layer, skin side down, working in batches if your pot isn’t big enough. Cook until the skin is golden and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook until the other side is also golden and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion and garlic, and stir well, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the onion has just softened, about 3 minutes.
Return the chicken to the pot. Add the cilantro, parsley, and 4 cups water.
Add the ginger, cumin and saffron, and stir. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered for 20 minutes (the liquid needs to reduce slightly to intensify the flavor). If the chicken isn’t completely covered by the liquid, turn the breasts or pieces occasionally so that both sides cook evenly.
Add the olives and preserved lemon and stir to combine. Cover and simmer until the chicken is very tender, at least 15 minutes more (but you can leave it on a low simmer for as long as you like). Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
Reproduced with permission from Modern Mediterranean by Melia Marden; Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Spring 2013