Daughter Miriam is coming over to work on an article with her mother. She is on a soft food diet for her TMJ and is suffering from an illness that prevents her from eating anything in the leek family. Her sister, Eilene, just had a dental implant, so she is on a soft food diet as well.
Soft food does not necessarily to mean that it has to be bland. Simply because you cannot use any onions or garlic does not imply that the food cannot also be flavorful. There are many spice blends that can fit the bill. Today, I decided on Italian seasonings.
Soft food also does not mean no meat. You simply need to cut the meat up finely enough that it can be swallowed with a minimum of chewing. In this case, after browning the ground chicken, I minced it finely. The same idea is behind using orzo. The rice grain sized pasta is small enough that it can be swallowed with ease with out chewing.
Note: When you take a bite of chicken, how many of you really follow the Gandhian ideal of “chew your drink and drink your food”? This is the idea of mindful eating—that instead of gulping down your drink, you savor it in your mouth, and instead of bolting your food, you chew it until it is a liquid that you drink. Most people just chew just enough that they do not choke on the meat as they gulp it down. Finely minced meat is as much breaking down of the meat as most of us do anyway when we chew and swallow.
Karl’s Soft Food Chicken Orzo Italiano
1 lb. ground chicken
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. tomato paste
½ cup spinach, frozen
½ cup green bell pepper, finely diced
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. marjoram.
½ tsp. thyme.
¼ tsp. basil.
¼ tsp. rosemary.
¼ tsp. sage.
28 oz. chicken broth
1 cup orzo
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1. Form the ground chicken into a single thin patty and lightly salt and pepper both sides.
2. Put the olive oil into a large wide pan and heat it over a medium high heat.
3. Fry the chicken patty until well browned on both sides.
Tip: This is a American Test Kitchen trick to get the flavorful Maillard reaction without turning your meat into dried out pebbles.
4. Transfer the chicken to a plate to cool.
Tip: When the chicken has cooled mince it as finely as your diners need it.
Note: For a non soft food dish you may leave the chicken in large chunks.
5. With our cleaning the pan add the tomato paste to the pan and sauté it until it starts to brown.
Tip: While I am making this dish without garlic and onions—yes, I understand that it can hardly be called “Italian” without these ingredients—you are free to add as much as you like at this point.
6. Add the frozen spinach and bell peppers and sauté them for 3-4 minutes.
Tip: Add the spinach straight from the freezer. There is no need to defrost or blanch it.
7. Stir in the lemon juice, herbs, and chicken broth
8. Bring the pan to a boil.
9. Stir in the orzo and simmer for 6-7 minutes.
Tip: Stir frequently.
10. Stir in the sherry and cover the pan.
11. Remove the pan from the heat and let the dish rest for another 6-7 minutes.
12. Fluff the orzo and serve.
Tip: This dish should not be neither a soup nor too dry.