Gary Leib, of Bristol, hit a homerun and scored a touchdown with his recipe for Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate Sauce on Oct. 29 at Temple Beth-El, in Providence.
A panel of three judges named Leib’s tasty dish the “Best Tailgate Recipe” at a competition for the best football foods, called “The World Series of Tailgate Favorites.” So there you have it – Leib’s recipe is in an entirely different league than nachos and hot dogs.
And winning this title was no small feat – the competition was stiff. The 200 people who attended the annual fundraiser for the Leslie Y. Gutterman Religious School also sampled two dozen other snacks, from the simple, such as Saul Kaplan’s Cracker Snacks, to the elaborate, including Hal Weiner’s Potato Wontons with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce.
Crowds clustered around Robert Sandy’s Duck Sliders with Gribenes Chips, and ate up Jenny Gold’s Turkey Taco Cups. The 13-year-old was making her first “World Series” appearance, but she had expert guidance from her grandmother, Adrienne Uffer, of Cranston, a winner last year for her pumpkin cheesecake.
Across the room, Brendan Weiner, 13, of Providence, created a sensation with his easy-to-eat sliders and spunky celebrity chef presentation.
Brendan explained how trial and error led him to create a turkey slider encased in a tender bread shell and served with a colorful slaw and a schmear of a spicy sauce – all of which the teen made himself, right down to the mayonnaise.
Others went a more traditional route, such as Judy Moseley, who rifled through the family recipe files for cocktail meatballs – before giving it a modern twist that turned it into Sweet-Hot Cocktail Meatballs. Ethnic foods – mostly Israeli – were also represented, as were a few vegan dishes and desserts.
After nibbling their way across the room, everyone had a personal favorite.
“Delicious!” Mark Schneider, of Providence, said of Judi Labossiere’s Maple Chicken Wings.
“Amazing!” Rosemary Ciccone, of Warwick, said of Faye Stolzman’s Chicken Sausage Pinwheels.
But when the People’s Choice ballots were counted, the winners were:
First: Barbara Barry’s Vegan Buffalo Bites with Ranch Dip
Second: David Cicilline’s (yes, that David Cicilline) and Debbie Blitz’s Black Bean and Mango Salsa
Third: Judi Labossiere’s Maple Chicken Wings
And then it was the judges’ turn. After they finished looking, sniffing and chewing, Russell Morin, of Russell Morin’s Fine Catering, in Attleboro, and Johnson & Wales Chefs Neath Pal and John Aukstolis put their heads together – and then declared:
First: Leib’s Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate Sauce
Second: A tie between Tara Demyan’s Mediterranean Sliders and Hal Weiner’s Potato Wontons with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce
Third: Emily and Mia Shalansky’s Bourbon Balls
Here, for your snacking pleasure, are two of the winning recipes.
Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate Sauce
Gary Leib’s recipe was based on Elise Bauer’s recipe for a classic Persian dish called Fesenjan.
3 cups yellow onions, chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat, cut into chunks
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 pound (about 2 cups) toasted walnut pieces, finely ground
5 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 16-ounce bottle of pomegranate juice, divided
2 tablespoons of sugar
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
For the pomegranate molasses
1 cup pomegranate juice
For the garnish
1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (arils) (optional)
Make the pomegranate molasses by simmering 1 cup pomegranate juice until it reduces to 5 tablespoons (or buy it).
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep pan over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken pieces dry and place in the pan, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Cook until golden brown on all sides.
Remove the chicken from the pan, set aside. Add 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Lower the heat to medium low. Add chopped onions to the pan in batches and sauté until translucent, stirring on occasion to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Return the chicken pieces to the pan with the onions and add 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Add ground walnuts, pomegranate molasses and remaining juice, sugar, spices. Cover and cook on very low heat for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to prevent the walnuts from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When a thick gravy has formed and chicken is fork tender, remove from heat. Cool slightly and adjust sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serve hot over rice.
Yield: 6-8 servings or 25 small plates.
Vegan Buffalo Bites
with Ranch Dip
2 garlic cloves
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed, drained
4 ounces button mushrooms
2 tablespoons arrowroot mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided use
5 tablespoons vegan butter, such as Earth Balance
1/2 cup hot pepper sauce, preferably Frank’s Red Hot
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 cup vegan mayonnaise, such as Vegenaise
Dash garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon tahini
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 block extra-firm tofu
Celery sticks, to serve
Arrange a rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or oil.
Pulse garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add celery, beans, and mushrooms and pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl.
Stir in arrowroot and water mixture, panko and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Using your hands, roll tablespoonfuls of bean mixture into balls. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.
Roast veggie balls, turning halfway through, until firm and cooked through, 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook vegan butter, hot sauce and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Stir until smooth; set aside.
To make the ranch dip: Mix vegan mayonnaise, garlic powder, tahini, lemon juice and vinegar until it has a smooth consistency. Add crumbled tofu and stir until combined; set aside for serving.
Transfer veggie balls to a large bowl. Toss with hot sauce mixture.
Serve with ranch dip and celery sticks.
Makes about 24.
CYNTHIA BENJAMIN is an editor, writer and chef. She is a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, in Woonsocket.