Coating chicken thighs with spices and sesame seeds adds a unique flavor to an otherwise ordinary weeknight chicken dinner. This recipe for baked sesame chicken should not be confused with the sesame chicken you find in Chinese restaurants. There is no breading, the chicken is baked not fried and the flavor is very different. Middle Eastern Style Baked Sesame Chicken is made with boneless chicken thighs, with a generous coating of toasted sesame seeds flavored with spices and ingredients traditionally found in Middle Eastern foods, like cumin, coriander and pomegranate molasses.
Middle Eastern food is often seasoned with a mixture of fresh herbs and spices creating one complex and unique flavor out of many ingredients. At first glance of a typical ingredients list one would wonder how will all the spices and herbs taste together? It would seem like there is too much flavoring going on and the ingredients would compete. Yet, Middle Eastern food is the master of mixing all these spices and herbs in just the right way to create one harmonious flavor out of many.
Baked Sesame Chicken
When I started developing this recipe for baked sesame chicken, I loaded it up with a lot of different spices and ingredients that I love in Middle Eastern foods. Yet, after my first batch I decided to keep the flavor profile of baked sesame chicken on the subtle side. What stood out to me is the combination of the toasty notes of sesame seeds and the sweet and tangy flavor of pomegranate molasses and wanted to make sure these flavors stood out. It took a lot of will power to resist my temptation to add saffron to the marinade, but I do believe it would work nicely here.
Chicken benefits from some marinade, especially when the skins and bones are not there to add extra flavor. However, you do need to be careful and not marinade chicken for too long when there is a lot of acid. Chicken, especially boneless breasts, turns mealy if it sits in a marinade for too many hours. In this recipe, the amount of time marinating is kept at a minimum of 30 minutes at room temperature seasoned with Kosher salt, then an hour in the refrigerator coated in the sesame marinade. There is not a lot of acid in the marinade, so the chicken thighs can take a longer marinade if you wish, but not overnight.
Like the yogurt dressing, the roasted vegetables are more like a condiment for the baked sesame chicken as opposed to a vegetable side dish. The concentrated and bright flavors of roasted fennel and grape tomatoes help the nutty and subtle sweetness stand out. The yogurt dressing is optional, but I think the vegetables roasting in the oven with the chicken is an integral flavor for the meal.
To Grill or Not to Grill
This time of year, it is tempting to want to grill these chicken thighs. The days are longer, warmer and bright, and I just want to spend to whole time outside. However, I have good reason to bake sesame chicken and not grill it. Sesame seeds burn easily when seared over the hot coals. Unlike chicken meat, the charred sesame seeds turn very bitter and unpleasant. Therefore, this is not a recipe that effortlessly transitions from roasting to grilling.
Specialty Ingredients for Middle Eastern Style Baked Sesame Chicken
There are a couple of specialty items in the recipe, Aleppo Pepper and Pomegranate Molasses. both ingredients are available at specialties markets. You can find both at Middle Eastern food stores like Sahardis in Brooklyn or online. If you are interested you can make pomegranate molasses using this recipe from Alton Brown. Personally, I have not had a lot of luck making it, so I buy it.
Pomegranate molasses has a unique flavor of tart, sweet and caramelized pomegranate syrup and there is not a good substitute.
If you cannot find Aleppo pepper, you can substitute it with most varieties of chili peppers.
Sesame Seed Love
I love just about anything with the toasty nuttiness of sesame seeds and sprinkle them on bread, in salads, stirred into rice as in Crunchy Jasmine Rice, sprinkled over a stir fry in Sesame Shrimp with Spinach, or as a featured flavor like in Cold Sesame Noodles. Even though they are seeds, I get the same warm nutty flavor I love.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs are staple dinner items in many households, especially mine. They are easy to prepare and do not take a lot of time to cook. We eat them so often, it is nice to have a variety of marinades for chicken to change things up a bit. Baked Sesame Chicken is a great alternative to a breaded cutlet creating a meal with a unique flavor profile. The combination of the nutty sesame seeds and the sweet and bitter components of the pomegranate molasses, orange zest and honey, compliment the roasted chicken and vegetables for a unique tasting chicken dinner.
Roast thinly sliced fennel and grape tomatoes to brighten up the nutty chicken. The yogurt dressing is optional and adds a tangy contrast to the roasted chicken.
Serve with a green salad made with arugula, orange segments and avocado slices with a citrus vinaigrette.
This meal is also delicious made with skin on and bone in chicken thighs. Or, any part of the chicken with or without the skin and bones.
- 1.85 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 5
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ¾ tsp dried oregano
- A few grounds of white pepper
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 TB dry white wine or vermouth
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- Zest from half an orange and orange slices
- 3 TB toasted sesame seeds
- Sesame chicken
Marinated sesame chicken thighs
- 1 fennel bulb with fronds about 13 oz (380 g)
- 8 oz 2331 g grape tomatoes
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 orange slices
- ¼ cup plain yogurt or crème fraiche
- ½ clove pressed garlic green germ removed
- Pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes or a pinch of ground cayenne pepper
- If it is too thick thin it out with a squeeze of lemon juice or milk. Adding a little at a time until you get the right consistency for easy drizzling.
Make the marinade
Place the chicken thighs on a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the chicken thighs and pat them dry on both sides. Sprinkle Kosher salt over both sides of the chicken and let it sit on the counter at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Mix the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the chicken thighs. After the 30 minutes rest, add the seasoned chicken thighs to the marinade and toss around with your hands to get the chicken pieces well coated with the sesame seeds and marinade.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate the chicken for one hour or more.
20 minutes before you want to bake the chicken, turn the oven on to 400°F (200°C / Gas Mark 6) and place the rack in the middle position.
Putting it all together
Cut off the stalk and fronds of the fennel bulb, then cut the bulb in quarters. Slice the bulb quarters into thin pieces less than a quarter of an inch (.5 cm) thick. Add the sliced fennel to a large mixing bowl. Add the grape tomatoes, the extra virgin olive oil, some fennel fronds, a pinch of Kosher salt and a couple grounds of black pepper. Toss to evenly coat the vegetables with olive oil.
Arrange the chicken thighs on a rimmed baking sheet. Add the fennel and grape tomatoes and arrange around the chicken. Slide in the orange slices near the chicken.
Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a fork, about 165°F (74°C).
While the chicken is cooking, mix in a small bowl the yogurt, pressed garlic Aleppo pepper and lemon juice. Add a pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grounds of fresh black pepper. Taste and correct seasoning. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let it rest on the counter until ready to serve.
Serve hot drizzled with yogurt sauce and a tossed salad of arugula and fresh herbs, avocado and orange segments.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Most of us had, and possibly still have, foods we did not, or still won’t, eat. Currently, raw oysters are on my list of undesirable foods, but when I was a kid I disliked peas, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. Honestly, it is a miracle I overcame any of my childhood food prejudices, especially vegetables. Mom only made frozen vegetables and she burnt them 8 times out of 10. Over time I grew to love all vegetables with Brussels sprouts being the last holdout.
About 15 years ago at a holiday celebration, a beautiful plate of Brussels sprouts was served with dinner. Up until then I did not give this cruciferous vegetable any thought or attention, but out of politeness and curiosity I put aside my childhood opinion and ate them. After one small spoonful of Brussels sprouts, my attitude changed forever. I cannot remember how my sister-in-law made them, but what I do remember was how surprisingly sweet they tasted. Even with the innate bitter components found in all types of cabbages, a tender and sweet flavor emerged. My sister-in-law’s meal tasted nothing like the Brussels sprouts of my childhood.
It is possible my attitude changed because now I tolerate bitter flavors. Whatever the reason, Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables during the fall and winter seasons. The key to delicious and sweeter tasting Brussels sprouts is cooking them properly. What I learned over the years is, they taste their best with fast cooking methods because the longer they cook the more bitter they taste. The cooking method that retains the most amount of nutritional benefits is steaming them. This is true for all vegetables. Yet, I like to sauté, braise or roast Brussels sprouts. Each technique creates a caramelized sear on the sprouts that add contrasting color and flavor. They are not as quick to prepare as green beans or asparagus,, but like most green vegetables they finish cooking within 20 minutes.
How to Cook Brussels Sprouts
This recipe uses two cooking methods. I first sear them in a hot skillet. Once they are nicely browned I add garlic, shallots and add some hot red pepper flakes then sauté them with the Brussels sprouts. For this recipe, I add the garlic after I sear the Brussels sprouts because I do not want the garlic to brown or burn. Then, I braise them in stock or water until they are just tender. I believe the steam from the liquid cooks them faster than they would if only sautéed. Plus the liquid gives the Brussels sprouts a nice coating for the pomegranate glaze to adhere to. Once they finish cooking, I add a glaze of butter and pomegranate molasses over the tender sprouts. It is just that simple.
The pomegranate molasses has a bitter-sweet taste adding just a touch of acid to brighten up the flavor. You can find pomegranate molasses at specialty markets, like Middle Eastern markets or Asian markets, or online. Or, you can make it. I recommend store-bought pomegranate molasses because it has a long shelf life. You can also use pomegranate molasses in a variety of recipes like, Muhammara.
There are so many variations for additions and garnishes for this meal. I added pomegranate seeds for a pop of color and compliment the pomegranate molasses. A touch of acid like lemon juice brightens the meal, but too much lemon juice, or any acid, will change the color to a drab green.
Other nice additions are crispy pancetta or fried prosciutto. Anything salty like cured meats or anchovies will cut out some of the bitter flavor. If you use anchovies, omit the pomegranate molasses.
Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Glaze
- 1.5 lbs (750 g) Brussels Sprouts
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt plus more to taste
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 cloves shallots thinly sliced in half moons
- 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or dried red pepper flakes
- 1/2 - 2/3 cup (125 - 150 ml) chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
- 2 TB butter
- 2 tsp pomegranate molasses
- Fresh ground black pepper to Taste
- Garnish with pomegranate seeds or fried slices of prosciutto, or crispy pancetta (optional)
Wash and dry the Brussels sprouts. Cut off the bottom stem then slice the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise. Remove any loose outer leaves that are not in good shape.
Add 2 TB of extra virgin olive oil to a very large skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Once the olive oil starts to shimmer add the Brussels sprouts and lay them cut side down. Sear the Brussels Sprouts until golden about 2-3 minutes. Once seared to your desired color, stir them around then add the minced garlic and sliced shallots. Cook until the shallots start to soften, about 2 minutes.
Add the stock or water, cover with a tight fitting lid and cook until the Brussels sprouts are tender in the middle, when pierced with a fork. about 7-9 minutes.
When the Brussels Sprouts are tender, remove the lid and cook off any remaining liquid in the pan.
Once the pan is just dry, add the butter, or 1 TB olive oil for a vegan dish, and pomegranate molasses, stir to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with pomegranate molasses, lemon zest, and or crispy prosciutto.
If you are cooking for a large crowd, roasting Brussels sprouts is the easiest way to prepare them. Coat them in extra virgin olive oil and roast in a 400°F / 200°C oven for about 35 minutes on rimmed sheet pans. Turn them over from time to time during roasting. Add the pomegranate molasses immediately after they finish roasting with extra olive oil or melted butter and salt and pepper to taste.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Day 2 of Super Bowl Dip frenzy featuring Muhammara. This is a delicious dip recipe made with roasted red peppers, chili pepper, chopped walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Muhammara, pronounced [mu-HUMM-a-da](Maureen Abood), is an amazing discovery and could be the best party dip ever.
Roasted red pepper dip has its origin from Aleppo, Syria. It is typically served as part of mezze. To generalize, mezze is the Middle Eastern equivalent to Spanish Tapas. A selection appetizers featuring spreads, cheeses, several meats, and served with drinks. We served Muhammara with grilled chicken for dinner last night and I thought it was out of this world. I could not stop myself from spreading it over everything on my plate. I showed great restraint not to dollop this dip all over my salad.
If you are ever looking for an alternative to hummus, Muhammara is a good substitute. Nonetheless, you will have nothing to lose if you want to serve both. I believe there is always room for more. The walnuts make this dip of roasted red peppers thick and creamy, and the olive oil smooths the texture. Additionally, pomegranate molasses adds a touch of sweetness to counter the spice of the hot peppers.
My research revealed that there are as many versions of this dip as there are recipes, and almost as many different pronunciations. (Food Network pronunciation is [moo-hahm-MRAH].) So please feel free to play around with the amounts of each ingredient. After all, the more you make this dip you will develop Muhammara into your own special creation. I adapted this recipe of Muhammara from two recipes, Red Pepper Dip with Walnuts and Pomegranate by Amanda Hesser from Cooking at New York Times, and Muhammara from 101 Cookbooks.
Tips for success making Red Pepper Dip: Muhammara
Roast the peppers on a hot grill, under the broiler, or over the flame on a gas burner. You want to get the whole surface of each bell pepper really charred. It is a lot easier to peel off the skins when the peppers have a good char, followed by a good steam in a covered bowl.
I used Aleppo pepper flakes, but feel free to use any dried red pepper flakes you have. You can also use a fresh hot chili pepper. Roast the chili with the red bell peppers, peel off the skin, and add according to how spicy you want it to be. You can buy Aleppo pepper flakes at specialty spice markets or on Amazon.
Toast the walnuts. Toasting nuts brings out the flavor by releasing the oils and makes a big difference in their flavor and texture. You can toast walnuts by spreading them out on a sheet pan and place in a preheated 350˚F oven for 8 – 10 minutes. Watch the nuts carefully so they do not get scorched. The walnuts are finished toasting when they are slightly darker and have a toasty-nutty aroma.
Pomegranate molasses is concentrated pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice which is cooked down and reduced to a thick syrup. You can make it or buy it at specialty markets (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Korean Markets, Middle Eastern Markets, specialty grocery stores, or Amazon).
For a simple shortcut you can buy jarred roasted red peppers, or from the olive bar in the deli section of a grocery store. You will need the equivalent of 3 whole red bell peppers.
Muhammara is also delicious with:
Be forewarned, this dip is very addictive.
Roasted Red Pepper Dip: Muhammara
- 2 lbs red bell peppers 2-3 red bell peppers
- 1 Tb Aleppo pepper or dried red pepper flakes, or 1 small fresh hot chili pepper
- Up to 1 ½ cups toasted walnuts coarsely chopped
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 2 Tb pomegranate molasses
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- ½ tsp granulated sugar
- 2 Tb olive oil more for garnish
- Pita bread for serving
Roast the red peppers (and fresh chili pepper if using): Turn the oven on to the broiler setting. Cut the red bell peppers in half and place them on a sheet pan covered in aluminum foil, and put the peppers under the broiler*. Broil the peppers until the sides are charred all over. This will take some time, about 10 - 20 minutes. You will need to watch the peppers closely during the broiling process. The more it is charred the easier it is to peel the skin off the bell peppers.
Once the peppers are charred, immediately put them in a bowl large enough to accommodate all the peppers and quickly cover with plastic wrap. Let the peppers steam in the bowl for 15 minutes.
Once steamed and cool to touch, rub the skins off the peppers and remove the seeds and pith. Rough chop the peppers and place in the blender, or food processor.
Using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, combine half of the chopped walnuts and the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil, into the bowl to process. You might need to add the ingredients incrementally depending on what small appliance you are using. I used an immersion blender and the dip got very thick until I added the roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth and add more of the walnuts to reach your desired consistency. If the dip is too thick you can add a small amount of water, two teaspoons at a time.
Add the olive oil and process until very smooth. The dip can have some texture to it, but you want a smooth consistency.
Let the dip rest on the counter, or covered in the refrigerator if longer than one hour. Serve the muhammara at least one hour after you make it. Muhammara is best served at room temperature. Drizzle the dip with extra olive oil, ground cumin and chopped walnuts. Serve with plain or toasted pitas.
Muhammara will last in the refrigerator for one week.
Toast the pita bread.
Turn on the oven to 350˚F and cut each pita into 8 triangles and place on a rimmed sheet pan. Place the pitas in the oven and bake until lightly browned and crispy, about 10 to 20 minutes.
*If you are using a fresh hot chili pepper, broil and remove the skin at the same time with the red bell peppers. Add the amount of chili pepper to the dip to satisfy your desired level of spice and heat.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.