We are very fortunate in Las Vegas to have a wide array of fine dining restaurants to choose from, whenever we want to go out for a special occasion meal. It seems that every great chef from Guy Savoy to Charlie Trotter has opened up at least one establishment here. They are usually located on the strip, and they are always an investment.
The challenge with the Las Vegas food scene is that, despite all of the wonderful steakhouses, gourmet rooms, and tasting menus, there are very few great quality casual dining options. This is a town in love with (and overflowing with) franchises and chains. Have a craving for a Bloomin' Onion at the Outback? It's just down the road. Looking for a Quizno's, Subway, or Cold Stone? Pick a direction, and you'll reach one eventually. What we really need here are more of those great hole-in-the-wall, locally owned and operated, mom-and-pop places; the kind that you can go to over and over again because you know that you will be served great food, and the staff will greet you by name.
So far, we have only found a handful of these hidden gems. One of them, Table 34, we dine at so often that we are probably nearing stalker status. Let's put it this way: We were asked by our usual server, Rich, if we wanted to be part of the waitstaff's NCAA pool for this year's Final Four Tournament. The food is always great, and the atmosphere is relaxed, and that combination is perfect after a long work week. Another favorite find is Crazy Pita, a small Mediterranean restaurant, which serves some of the most flavorful chicken kabobs and couscous that I have ever tasted. I have not once been at Crazy Pita when the owner, Mehdi, was not there too. He runs a tight ship, which is reflected in the quality of his craveable cuisine and operational efficiency. My only complaint is that we need to travel about 15 minutes to get there.
No matter how much I am craving a Crazy Pita Marinated Chicken Skewer Platter with a side of hummus, sometimes I just don't want to make the trip. So, I decided to attempt to come up with my own similar marinade. While this is definitely not the same caliber as Mehdi's masterpiece, it does have some similarities, and it is enough to keep me satisfied until my next Crazy Pita run. Here are a few tips for making this healthy, flavorful, and moist main dish:
- If you can, marinate the chicken overnight, or for at least eight hours. The extended marinating time is important for tenderizing the chicken and for keeping it juicy throughout the grilling process.
- Garam masala is a traditional Indian spice mixture with many variations. It usually contains cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, ginger, chili, and cloves. If you don't have any on hand, then add about 1/4 teaspoon of the included spices in order to achieve a similar flavor profile. Garam masala has become popular enough that most major spice companies now offer it, and you should be able to find some in your local grocery store.
- This chicken is great on its own, served over a bed of baby spinach or with a side of couscous, but it also makes a wonderful grilled chicken sandwich, topped with some caramelized onions, mixed greens, and the seasoned yogurt sauce.
- This recipe would also work well with chicken thighs, shrimp, beef, lamb, and firm cuts of fish. You can also make it into kabobs.
4 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
2 teaspoons ground coriander, divided
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chopped seeded jalapeno
8 cloves garlic, crushed
2 1/2 cups plain lowfat yogurt, divided
1/4 cup lemon juice, divided
2 teaspoons salt, divided
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium high heat. Add the paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander, garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne to the pan; cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant, stirring constantly. Remove from the pan and cool.
Place the onion, ginger, jalapeno, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the spice mixture, 1/2 cup of the yogurt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt to the onion mixture; process until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large zip-top bag, add the chicken to the bag, seal, and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.
Preheat the grill.
Combine the remaining 2 cups yogurt, 2 tablespoons juice, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon coriander, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl and mix well. Cover and chill.
Remove the chicken from the bag and discard the marinade. Grill the chicken about 7 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Serve with the yogurt mixture.