Family Meals From a few of Wellesley and Weston’s Beloved Chefs

What’s for dinner?”

Does this simple question cause your pulse to quicken as the day draws to a close and dinner looms ’round the corner?

For some, it’s practically impossible to find time between work, carpools, evening meetings, and homework help to even cook a hot meal. For others, it’s a challenge to come up with yet one more idea for a dinner the entire family will eat without complaining. Whether you’re tired of take-out, watching your budget or your waistline, or just longing for the comfort of a delicious home-cooked meal, read on.

We’ve asked a few chefs from Wellesley and Weston to share their family-tested dinner recipes. Here are their favorites, sure to warm the bellies and souls of all those around your kitchen table.

Mehmet Ozargun is the chef of family-owned Café Mangal, which opened in Wellesley in 2000 when Mehmet was a sophomore at Babson College. Since then, Mehmet has also earned a degree from Johnson and Wales University. Mehmet’s family has been in the food and hospitality business in Turkey since the 1800s, and Café Mangal’s menu is influenced by the Ozargun family’s Turkish roots. Judging from Café Mangal’s accolades, Americans adore it. Café Mangal has been voted “Best of the ’Burbs,” 2010 by Boston Magazine, has won numerous “Reader Choice Awards” from the Wellesley Townsman, Needham Times, and Newton TAB, and earned an “Excellent” rating from the ZAGAT Boston restaurant guide.

“We are a very close family and food shopping, cooking, and eating together is what we love to do,” says Mehmet. Mehmet shares his “must-have” ingredients to stock in your pantry to save time when you cook for your family: high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, (Mehmet suggests either Horio or Market Basket’s store brand); fresh onions, garlic, and tomatoes; tomato and red pepper pastes; plain yogurt; kosher or sea salt; and, of course, butter.

Chicken Breast Dardanelle Casserole
Serves 8
Casseroles are a Turkish mainstay. This dish substitutes chicken for the typical beef and lamb. Mehmet included a favorite ingredient of each member of his immediate family in this recipe and named it after the region in Turkey near Troy, of Trojan horse fame. It is as popular at the restaurant as it is at his home.

3.5 pounds chicken, cut into ½ x 2 x 2 inch pieces, or about 7 ounces per portion

For the marinade: 
(To save time, prepare the marinade beforehand, as it will keep for four days in the refrigerator)
1 Tablespoon kosher salt and white pepper mixture (Mix 5 Tablespoons kosher salt with 1 teaspoon white pepper and save the extra)
2 Tablespoons garlic, chopped very fine
3 Tablespoons lemon juice (fresh or Orchard Island freshly squeezed lemon juice)
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the tomato mixture (1⁄4 cup per portion):
2 cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced ½ inch
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ Tablespoon kosher salt and white pepper mixture

For the topping:
2 artichoke hearts cut in half
5 whole, pitted Kalamata olives
½ cup crumbled feta cheese (Valbrese French feta cheese — unwrap and place on paper towels or kitchen towels, rewrap and refrigerate overnight so that it dries out a bit)
¼ cup finely chopped scallions
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon demi-glace sauce
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

• Cut the chicken into pieces and place in a casserole dish with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least four hours or up to 2 days.
• Just before baking, top with tomato, artichoke hearts, olives, feta, and scallions in that order.
• Drizzle with ½ Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, then bake at 375 degrees for • Add 1 Tablespoon of demi-glace sauce drizzled over the top and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with rice pilaf.

Turkish Carrot Salad Meze
Serves 14 appetizer portions
Mezes are little appetizers, popular in Turkish, Greek, and Middle Eastern cuisines. This carrot meze is a refreshing dip, perfect with slices of pita bread.

4 cups carrots, cut in small pieces and finely chopped in a food processor by pulsing and stopping, and scraping the sides down with a spatula
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon garlic, grated or very finely chopped
½ cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
5 cups Greek-style whole milk yogurt
¾ cup fresh dill, chopped

• Mix the chopped carrots and salt with a fork.
•  Add the yogurt and mayonnaise and blend.
• Add the garlic and mix well. Then add the dill and mix.
• Chill in the refrigerator for an hour or two before serving to allow flavors to meld.

Wilton Osorno is the new chef of the Southern European inspired Milestone Restaurant in Wellesley, owned by Charlie Papakonstantinou (co-owner of The Maugus Restaurant) and his wife Camille. Osorno emigrated to the U.S. from Colombia about 15 years ago and began his cooking career at Casablanca Restaurant in Cambridge, where he met and trained under Chef Ana Sortun, a James Beard Award-winning chef. Wilton went with Sortun when she left Casablanca to open Oleana Restaurant in Cambridge, where he was sous chef, and then helped Sortun open Sofra Bakery in Cambridge.

When it comes to cooking for his family, Wilton relies on comfort foods from his native Colombia. But truth be told, Wilton’s wife, who also works in the restaurant business, does most of the cooking at home on their days off.

Chicken Ginger Soup
Serves 4 to 6
This soup is Wilton’s mother’s recipe that she served with warm “arepa,” bread made from corn, popular in Colombia. You can serve the soup with any or your favorite breads or rolls or with traditional corn fritters (recipe below).

20 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed
1 medium carrot, diced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stocks, diced
8 cups chicken broth
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

•  Sauté chicken and ginger in olive oil over low heat for 5 minutes.
• Add diced carrot, onion, and celery and continue cooking another 2 minutes.
• Add chicken broth and simmer for about 20 minutes.
• Take off the heat and add the diced red pepper, let sit 5 minutes, and serve.

Fresh Corn Fritters
About 10 golf-ball size fritters
Corn fritters are a traditional Colombian side dish and this recipe is another of Osorno’s mother’s staples that she prepared for her family.
6 cups freshly-shucked corn kernels
4 scallions
2 eggs
1 cup corn flour
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup milk
6 cups canola oil

•  Grind the corn kernels and scallions in a food processor until it forms a
lumpy mixture.
• Transfer to a bowl and mix in eggs, corn flour, brown sugar, and milk until it is the consistency of lumpy grits.
• In a medium-large saucepan, bring 6 cups canola oil to 350 degrees, drop in Tablespoon-size balls of the mixture, and cook about 5 to 6 minutes until golden brown, but still soft in the middle. Drain off excess oil on paper towels.

Lisa Roblin & Joanne Baron opened Off Center Café in Weston in 1998 when Joanne was recovering from breast cancer, and Lisa was ready for a new challenge because both her children would soon be off to college. Neither of the women are formally trained chefs, but both are fabulous cooks, passionate about preparing home-style food. Joanne’s specialty is baking and Lisa’s making savory dishes, so customers find a complete selection of comfort-food in one cozy spot. Lisa describes Off Center’s menu as, “ta’am,” the Yiddish expression for food with soul and flavor.

“The secret to making a fast, easy meal is buying high-quality, fresh ingredients because then you barely have to cook to make something delicious,” explains Joanne. Lisa and Joanne consider themselves “locavores,” or people who prefer to eat locally grown and produced food. “There’s nothing better than an heirloom tomato from Verrill Farm in Concord in the summer.”

Italian Wedding Soup
Serves 6
“This soup is every kid’s dream — little meatballs, pasta, and warm. Just don’t mention the escarole,” warns Lisa.

6 quarts of chicken broth (store-bought is fine)
1 head of escarole, washed and cut into strips
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into circles
8 ounces of orzo pasta

For the Meatballs:
½ pound each of veal, pork, and beef
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
½ cup diced onion
1 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

•  Bring broth to a boil, add carrots and escarole, and simmer about 20 minutes.
• Meanwhile, make the meatball mixture and roll into ¾ inch balls. Drop meatballs into the broth, add orzo, and continue to simmer about 20 minutes.
• Serve with the grated cheese.

Turkey Meatloaf
Serves 6 to 8 (Leftovers make great sandwiches)
Off Center has been experimenting with how to substitute turkey for beef without sacrificing flavor and moistness. This version is moist and full of flavor with the addition of sautéed onions and Granny Smith apple.

1 cup chopped of each: celery, onion, Granny Smith apple
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 ½ pounds ground white turkey meat
2 ½ pounds ground dark turkey meat
1 cup panko bread crumbs
5 eggs
½ cup ketchup
½ cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
• Sauté celery, onion, and apple in olive oil until soft (about 8 minutes) and then remove from heat to cool.
• Combine turkey meats and all other ingredients until well mixed. Shape into a loaf and top with salt and pepper.
• Bake in a roasting pan 1 hour or until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees. Let rest
before serving.

Macaroni & Cheese
Serves 6 to 8
Make this quintessential comfort food according to the recipe, or jazz it up with lobster chunks mixed in for grown-ups or bread crumbs sprinkled on top for kids.

1 pound large shell pasta (not stuffing shells)
1 quart low-fat milk
1 stick butter
½ cup flour
4 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon of each: salt, pepper, and nutmeg

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
•  Boil pasta according to directions on the box, being careful not to overcook.
• Meanwhile, heat milk over low heat in a pan until hot, but do not let milk boil.
• In another pan, melt butter and whisk in flour to make a roux. Cook 1 minute and add the hot milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat.
• Spray a 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Add drained pasta and toss with cheese (leaving 1 cup for topping).
• Add milk mixture and toss to coat until cheese melts. Top with remaining cup of cheese.
• Cover with foil and bake 40 to 45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake a few more minutes to allow top to brown, about 5 minutes.

Ming Tsai opened Blue Ginger in Wellesley in 1998, earning rave reviews and numerous awards. A national ambassador for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, Ming helped write a Massachusetts bill, signed into law in 2009, requiring restaurants to comply with food allergy awareness guidelines. Tsai is currently the host and executive producer of the Emmy-nominated public television show Simply Ming, and the author of multiple cookbooks, including his soon to be released book, Simply Ming One-Pot Meals.

“A well-stocked kitchen is the first step to making dinner any night of the week,” suggests Ming. “Also, make extra of whatever you are preparing for leftovers, particularly rice and noodles for stir-fries and crispy noodle dishes.” Ming himself relies on time-saving tricks, such as buying peeled garlic cloves (not pre-minced garlic) and shredded carrots, and using the defrost feature on the microwave to thaw ground pork, chicken, and beef that he freezes right after buying it so it stays fresh.

Chicken Fried Rice 
Serves 4
Ming’s secret for getting children to eat anything is to start by sautéing garlic and onion in oil. “As the ingredients caramelize, your house will smell great, and your kids won’t be able to wait until dinner,” promises Ming.

1 pound ground chicken meat
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon finely-chopped fresh ginger
1 onion, cut into small dice
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, white and
green separated
3 carrots, grated or 1 cup of sliced carrots
5 cups cold cooked brown and white rice combo (kids won’t notice), preferably day-old so it’s nice and dry; make sure to order extra next time you get Chinese take-out (alternatively, place cooked rice on a sheet tray and place in freezer to cool and dry)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
Canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

• In a wok or non-stick sauté pan over high heat, add a touch of oil and add
garlic and ginger and stir-fry until soft, about 30 seconds.
•  Add onions, carrots, and scallion whites and stir fry 3 minutes until al dente.
• Add the ground chicken meat and cook for 8 minutes or until chicken is
cooked through.
• Add rice and stir-fry until heated through.
• Season with soy sauce, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper and check for flavor. Transfer to a platter, garnish with the green part of the scallions, and serve immediately.

For a recipe variation or for meatless fried rice, add 4 eggs, lightly beaten. 
•  In a wok or non-stick sauté pan over high heat, add oil.
• When the oil shimmers, add the eggs, which will puff up. Allow to set, about 5 seconds, and, using a spatula, push the sides of the eggs toward the center to allow uncooked egg to completely cook.
• Flip the eggs, allow them to set, about 5 seconds, and slide onto a dish;
do not overcook.
• With the edge of the spatula, break the eggs into small pieces. Set aside.
• Continue with the original recipe. Return the scrambled eggs to the pan once the rice has been added.

Braised Ginger Oxtail
Serves 4 with leftovers
“When my wife is feeling under the weather, this is the meal she asks me to make,” says Ming, who calls this recipe a “holistic” dish. While oxtail may not be part of your repertoire, Ming extols the virtues of this inexpensive comfort food. Make sure to cook extra, as Ming promises that all stews and curries taste better the next day. It takes virtually no more work or time to make a double batch.

6 to 8 pieces oxtail
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 bag carrot nubs
2 yellow onions, peeled, rough chopped
4 stalks celery, rinsed, rough chopped
1 head fennel, cored and rough chopped
1 small piece ginger, washed and sliced
8 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 cup red wine
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into1-inch dice
1 apple washed and split
2 bay leaves
3 Tablespoons naturally-brewed soy sauce
Canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• Season the oxtail and dust in flour.
• In a large stock pot coated with oil, sear the oxtails on both sides until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove and wipe out pot.
• In the same pot, coated with oil, sauté the carrots, onions, celery, fennel, ginger, and garlic. Deglaze with wine and reduce by 50 percent.
• Add sweet potato, apple, bay leaves, and soy sauce and cover with cold water. Check for flavor.
• Bring to a simmer and braise for 2 to 3 hours until fork tender. Alternatively, use a pressure cooker and it will take just 1 hour and be equally delicious.

Crispy Noodles
Serves 4
Crispy noodles are a favorite of Ming’s two sons, ages 8 and 11.

½ pound blanched Shanghai, chow mein, or other soft noodles
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 cup sliced scallions
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• In a bowl, combine all ingredients and season.
• Heat a large sauté pan on high heat and coat heavily with oil.
• Add noodle mixture and press down into a pancake. Cook until golden brown and delicious, and then flip.
• Transfer to a board and cut pie slices. Serve with the oxtail or any protein dish. 


© 2010 Elm Bank Media | Beth Furman, Publisher

Summer 2023