BOONEVILLE • Ten years ago, Rick Hargett and his wife, Lisa, got into a food rut.

“We were tired of the same-old, same-old,” said Hargett, systems administrator for the Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District in Booneville. “So I started trying to cook different ethnic foods.”

First up was Indian food because Tupelo didn’t have an Indian restaurant.

“I watched YouTube videos of Indian chefs,” said Hargett, 53. “I’d take recipes and combine them. I’d keep the stuff I liked and come up with something on my own. My curry is the fastest Indian dish I make, and it tastes gourmet. Butter chicken is also a favorite, but it is a long process.”

The Hargetts have two sons, Alex and Zac. When one of them was dating a girl from Vietnam, Hargett decided he wanted to impress her with his culinary skills, so he learned to make a couple of Vietnamese dishes.

“I make Bahn Mi, which is a sandwich, and Pho, which is a noodle soup,” he said. “And I learned that Vietnamese have some type of fresh herbs on their table at every meal.”

Hargett didn’t stop there. He can make a Thai green curry, a Chinese dish called Mongolian beef, and Japanese stirfry.

“I even did Korean food, but Lisa’s not a fan of that,” he said.

Italian food is his latest kick. For years, he’d been making staples like spaghetti, tetrazzini and lasagna, but he took it up a notch.

“I perfected baked ziti and then I perfected pappardelle with Italian sausage,” he said.

Hargett was born in North Carolina. His family moved to Ripley in 1978 and then to Tupelo a year later. He graduated from Tupelo High in 1985.

“My father was the cook in our house,” he said. “Most of the men in our family were cooks. My maternal grandfather was probably my biggest influence. He had an egg farm, so we had eggs at just about every meal.”

When the Hargetts married – they’ll celebrate 33 years on Valentine’s Day – he mainly cooked sweets, like cookies and cakes.

He still enjoys making those desserts, but ethnic food is where his interest is now.

“Mexican and Spanish food is probably next,” Hargett said. “I’ll spend all day in the kitchen coming up with something. I am a spice guy. I like things not just hot, but hooottt. I make my own hot sauce, but I don’t let others taste it because I’m afraid it will kill them.”

SEA SALT COOKIES

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup raw sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

1 (12-ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Sea salt flakes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Beat the melted butter, brown sugar and raw sugar with a hand or stand mixer until well blended. Add vanilla, egg and egg yolk and beat until light and creamy. Gradually add dry ingredients and beat just until blended. Fold in the chocolate chips using a wooden spoon.

Refrigerate cookie dough for 15 to 20 minutes or until chilled. Keep dough cold between batches.

Drop cookie dough by spoonful onto prepared baking sheet 2 inches apart. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt flakes and press gently into dough to secure. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheet 2 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

RIKI-TIKI-TAVI CURRY

4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon lime juice

3/4 cup canola oil

1 large sweet onion, chopped

9 garlic cloves, minced

2 inches fresh ginger, minced

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons coriander

2 teaspoons cayenne

4 teaspoons curry powder

1 tablespoon water

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (no substitute)

16 ounces full-fat plain Greek yogurt

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 bunch cilantro, chopped, and divided

Cooked basmati rice

Cut chicken into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Add salt and lime juice and stir to coat.

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes, being careful not to let onion burn. Add garlic and ginger and saute for 4 minutes; adjust heat if needed.

Add cumin, coriander, cayenne and curry powders along with the water to keep spices from burning. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and add tomatoes, then yogurt. Use a whisk to incorporate ingredients. Add garam masala and half of the cilantro. Mix well.

Add the chicken chunks and the remaining cilantro. Stir with a heavy wooden spoon. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 25 minutes. Serve over cooked basmati rice. Serves 6 to 8 hungry people.

PECAN PIE MINI MUFFINS

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup chopped pecans

2/3 cup butter, melted

2 eggs

In a bowl, combine sugar, flour and pecans; set aside.

Combine butter and eggs and mix well. Stir into flour mixture just until moistened. Fill greased and floured mini muffin pans 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until done. Remove to wire racks to cool. Makes about 4 dozen.

PAPPARDELLE WITH ITALIAN SAUSAGE

1 pound ground sweet Italian sausage

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup white wine (optional)

1 (25-ounce) jar Mezzetta tomato and basil sauce

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

Salt

1 (8.8-ounce) package Delallo pappardelle pasta

1/4 cup reserved pasta water

Brown sausage in oil in a large pan over medium heat. Do not drain. Add garlic and onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and cook 5 minutes more. Add wine, if using, and cook until it reduces. Add tomato basil sauce and the spices. Let simmer for 15 to 30 minutes (can go longer).

While the sauce is simmering, heavily salt a pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When pasta is done, turn off heat and with tongs, add some pasta to the sauce, folding it in gently. Repeat until all the pasta is in the sauce. If mixture seems thick, add some reserved pasta to loosen it. Serve with garlic bread. Serves 4 to 6 hungry people.

DO YOU KNOW A GOOD COOK? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can call (662) 678-1581 or email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

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