Friday, May 18, 2012

50 Women Game Changers in Food - # 48 Cat Cora - California-Style Spinach Paella

Warning! Protect your eyes before continuing.

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I first met/saw Cat Cora back in 1999 when she and Rocco Di Spirito co-hosted the Mediterranean segment of a program called the Melting Pot. They were a young good-looking pair and while they were obviously stellar cooks, they were not yet comfortable with the camera or each other. I wrote them both off and thought their stars would fizzle once the series ended. The black holes I predicted turned, instead, to novas, and, while they took separate paths, their reputations continued to grow. Cat Cora's rise was the least flamboyant of the two, but she steadily gained stature and went on to become the first and only American female Iron Chef. While her heritage is Greek-American, she was born in Mississippi to parents who were restaurateurs and her cooking reflects both those influences . Her training began in the kitchens of her childhood, but over time, her style has morphed into a blend of Southern and Greek cooking with Asian overtones. Following completion of her degree in biology and exercise science, her mentor, Julia Child, suggested she attend the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating from the CIA, she continued her training with apprenticeships in some of the great kitchens of Europe. Since being made an Iron Chef, she has also been named Teacher of the Year and executive chef of Bon Appétit magazine. Chef Cora has written two books, has two restaurants and is in the process of developing a TV show of her own. Outside of the kitchen, she is known for her philanthropy. She is a spokesperson for UNICEF and is president and founder of Chefs for Humanity, an organization that raises funds and resources for emergency, educational and hunger-related causes. Chef Cora has deservedly been named one of the 50 Women Game-Changers in Food. She is still a young woman and it will be interesting to see what she does in the future.

I find most of Cat Cora's published recipes to be grounded and family friendly. I chose this one because I thought its outrageous color would be an attention-getter and cause a smile or two. I hasten to add this paella is delicious, and if the spinach puree is a bit much for you, leave it out. I actually used only half of the puree I made and next time I'll cut the ingredients for it in half. This is a soulful recipe that is packed with balanced flavors that I think your family and close friends will enjoy. I do hope you'll give it a try. Here's how it's made.

California-Style Spinach Paella...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Cat Cora


4 cups Rich Chicken Stock or store-bought low-sodium stock
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1 pound chicken tenders or boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-by-3-inch strips
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 15-ounce link cooked turkey chorizo (or any sausage you like), sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh jalapeño pepper
1 cup drained and chopped canned tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup medium-grain rice, preferably Spanish (or substitute Arborio)
Spinach Puree
1 pound baby spinach leaves, well washed
About 1/2 cup water
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish


1) Heat the stock in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, reduce the heat to low, and keep at a simmer.
2) Place the saffron in a small bowl. Pour about 1/2 cup of the warm stock over the saffron and let it steep. 3) Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat until it shimmers but is not smoking. Add the sausage and the chicken to the pan. Cook, stirring, until golden brown on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes, and transfer the chicken and sausage to a plate.
4) Add the bell pepper, jalapeño, tomatoes, and garlic to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook until the peppers begin to caramelize, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the paprika and the cumin.
5) Pour the rice into the pan and stir just until coated. Pour in 2 cups of the warm stock and add the saffron and its steeping liquid. Return the chicken and sausage to the pan along with any juices on the plate, stir to combine, and simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, until most of the stock has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.
6) Meanwhile, make the spinach puree: In a blender, puree half of the spinach with the water. Add more spinach, a little at a time. If the mixture can’t be pureed, add more water, 2 tablespoons at a time; the puree should be very thick. Set aside. (You may not need all the stock.)
7) To finish the paella: Taste the rice and add salt to taste. If the rice is still hard, add another 1/2 cup warm stock and stir. Simmer until the broth is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the rice again and add another 1/2 cup broth if it is still too hard. Add more salt if necessary. The paella is done when the rice still has a hint of firmness. Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid or a large sheet of foil, letting it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir the spinach puree into the paella. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like. Transfer to a large platter, sprinkle with the scallions and cilantro, and serve family-style. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

The following bloggers are also featuring the recipes of Cat Cora today. I hope you'll pay them all a visit. They are all great cooks who have wonderful blogs.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast, Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed, Susan - The Spice Garden
Heather - girlichef, Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney, Amrita - Beetles Kitchen Escapades
Mary - One Perfect Bite, Sue - The View from Great Island, Barbara - Movable Feasts
Linda A - There and Back Again, Nancy - Picadillo, Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen, Annie - Most Lovely Things, Jeanette - Healthy Living
Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook, Alyce - More Time at the Table
Kathy - Bakeaway with Me, Martha - Simple Nourished Living, Jill - Saucy Cooks
Sarah - Everything in the Kitchen Sink

Next week we will highlight the career and recipes of Soraya Darabi and Alexa Andrzejewski. It will be really interesting to see what everyone comes up with. If you'd like to join us please email me for additional information no later than Monday, May 21st.


Chiara said...

I love this paella with healty spinach,looks amazing !Have a good weekend, blessings....

Ginny Hartzler said...

Wow, this is bright!! I have seen Cat Cora on Iron Chef shows and other shows, too. She is bright, efficient, and likeable.

Banana Wonder said...

No shades necessary! Bring on the green. Love Cat Cora giving us Greeks a little props. Great recipe!

Coleens Recipes said...

Just gorgeous!!

Kim said...

Why would anyone would leave out the spinach puree. I love the emerald green color of this paella. Thank you for all these informations about Cat Cora, I did'nt know anything about her (beside the fact that she is a Iron chef) before! Have a nice weekend Mary!

Tanna said...

That is one colorful dish!! I love the way it looks and I do love spinach, so I think this one is a winner. blessings ~ tanna

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

This recipe is packed with flavour Mary!

Unknown said...

Oh my gosh, that's right.. I forgot it was Cat that was in the Melting Pot. I used to love that show!! She's definitely a game changer in the food field! Love the green of that paella.

Kathy said...

Mary, Great post! I never saw Cat on TV and really didn’t know much about her until I researched this. Your Paella looks fabulous…love the addition of the spinach. Have a great weekend!

Penny said...

Color is good. Spinach is good for us. Thanks for an informative post and for starting this wonderful look at 50 women game changers in food.

Heather S-G said...

I think the amazing technicoloredness (totally a word) of this is what calls me to make it most! Beautiful :D

StephenC said...

You are right about Cat being uncomfortable on tv in the early years, but that has changed. I am a fan of hers. I don't know what has become of Rocco. Thank you for always sharing things worth knowing about.

Claudia said...

You're right - the color got my attention - and I love it. Saving this - it is so-do-able and that's a definitely plus for her recipes. Interesting that you watched her years never knows...

We Are Not Martha said...

Ahh! I LOVE that you posted a pair of sunglasses :) And I LOVEEE the colors of the dish. Seriously, it looks so delectable!


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Loved learning more about Cat - I didn't know much about her background. And, yes, the Paella is an eye opener and show stopper!

Jill~a SaucyCook said...

Wow!! This Paella was like a morning wake up call for me!! Bright, enticing and compelling! I am struggling with what to make for a couple who are gluten free vegan's tonight and I am thinking of modifying this recipe!

Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits said...


What an unusual paella. In Spain there is a restaurant chain that specializes in paella, but I don't remember seeing a green one. Nice discussion about Cat and Rocco. I'm going to have to learn something about him.

Suzie said...

That is a bright dish. I love it though. Sounds like a nice summer recipe. Love Cat Cora, she's featured a lot in my Food Network Magazine.

Barbara said...

How fun to have met her, Mary. And to have watched her become a star...Iron Chef sure made all the difference in Cat becoming a household name. Wonder if it would have happened otherwise. Sometimes just being in the right place at the right time is sheer luck. Not that she isn't a good chef, but who knows?

And you're so right, that is one bright dish!! Cute to have the glasses there.

Alyce said...

It's not easy being green!
BEautiful pics! Happy Friday.

Susan Lindquist said...

What an incredibly colorful dish! I love spinach and the idea of it central to a paella is just sooo interesting! Looks wonderful ... with or without the glasses!

Miranda | Mangoes and Chutney said...

LOVE your write-up of Cat Cora. I always thought she was sweet and talented, but never very flashy or standing out. I never really did seek out her recipes, but when I try them, I like them. Great choice here, it looks tempting!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I've read about Cat's background on several blogs in this series, and for some reason, I kept thinking of Rocco and couldn't quite remember why. Somewhere in my cobwebs of my mind I recalled a television show they had together.

I really appreciate your confirming it. Things like that drive me crazy (smile). Love your choice of recipe. It suits her to a tee. Have a wonderful weekend Mary.

Jeanette said...

Mary - the color of this paella is just stunning! I have got to give this one a try. Have a wonderful weekend.

My Little Space said...

Gosh, super love the colour of the rice. Green has been my all time fav colour and it makes the rice looks even tastier. Thanks for the recipe, Mary.

kitty@ Kitty's Kozy Kitchen said...

I have to tell you, Mary, that Cat Cora taught a class on a cruise that we took in Alaska, several years ago. It was a class particiation that my hubby and I both attended. She is really so personable. I still have the apron that I wore in the class and she autographed it!! I'll have to do a post one day of one of her recipes that she had us do and show the apron!!

France@beyondthepeel said...

It did indeed make me smile! What an outrageous color. Fantastic!

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