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A Mediterranean Make-Ahead Menu

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Saffron, cinnamon, pomegranate and phyllo lend an exotic edge to a laid-back menu.

This dinner party menu is a perfect example of easy entertaining. It boasts a couple of little tricks (soaking raw onions to mellow their flavor, salting lemon zest for a savory garnish), and some interesting ingredients (hearts of palm, pomegranate seeds, and butternut squash) to spice up the dinner. More important, the meal is easy to plan. Not only can you prepare the chicken braise a day ahead, but the dish actually tastes even better a day later. The menu doesn’t follow the cuisine of one country, but offers a few Mediterranean twists just interesting enough to impress your guests without overwhelming them

Menu Timeline

The day before:
  • Toast the pistachios and almonds.
  • Prepare the lemon garnish.
  • Clean the parsley, cilantro, and romaine; roll in paper towels and refrigerate in plastic bags.
  • Braise the chicken.
  • Poach the pears for the strudel.
  • Soak the raisins for the strudel.
  • Thaw the phyllo in the refrigerator.
In the morning:
  • Make the orange-honey vinaigrette.
  • Slice the onions and soak them in water.
  • Prepare the pomegranate seeds.
  • Assemble and bake the strudel.
Two hours ahead:
  • Chop the 1/4 cup parsley for the braise’s garnish.
  • Lightly rinse and drain the preserved lemons.
  • Cut the oranges into segments.
One hour ahead:
  • Make the couscous; keep warm over a pan of hot water.
  • Reheat the chicken braise, covered, over low heat.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:
  • 1 butternut squash (about 1-1/2 lb.)
  • 2 hearts of romaine
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 large bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 1 small piece fresh ginger
  • 4 to 5 lemons
  • 4 ripe Bartlett pears
  • 3 oranges
  • 1 pomegranate
Meat, Eggs & Dairy:
  • 2 chickens (3 lb. each)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
Other Groceries:
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 can hearts of palm (need 6 hearts)
  • 24 kalamata olives
  • 10 oz. couscous
  • 1 package frozen phyllo dough
  • 1 package amaretti cookies (or stale breadcrumbs)
  • 1 bottle Cognac (need 2 Tbs.)
  • about 15 dried Black Mission figs
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup whole, skin-on almonds
  • 1/4 cup whole pistachios or slivered almonds
Pantry Staples:
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups low-salt (or homemade) chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup canola (or grapeseed) oil
  • 3 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (or 1/2 a vanilla bean)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. saffron threads
  • Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
  • Celery salt (just a pinch; optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • Black peppercorns

Wine Choices: To start the meal, a light-bodied white would be just the thing to pair with the hearts of palm salad. Try the Gini Soave Classico, with lovely almond, straw, and lemon zest flavors to accent the orange honey vinaigrette. Other good, similarly low-priced Soaves to look for ar Inama, Anselme, and Zonin.

The braised chicken with figs and pomegranate calls for a juicy, youthful red with little or no oak. Look to California: the Laurel Glen Reds, a fruity Zinfandel-Syrah blend, or the Unti Vineyards Syrah would bring out the aromatics in the braise.

If you choose to serve wine with dessert, make it something with a touch more sweetness than the strudel. Either the Joseph Phelps Eisrebe from California or the nonvintage Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glacière would be perfect. Both wines are produced by freezing late-harvest grapes, and the results are stunning.

The Menu

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