When a dear foodie friend gifted me the cookbook PLENTY by Yotam Ottolenghi a few years ago, my experience as a ‘home chef’ was elevated forever. Both PLENTY and his more recent offering JERUSALEM occupy the VIP corner of my bookshelf and I reach for them whenever I’m looking for culinary inspiration.
Yotam’s dishes are inspired by the generations old, rich and sophisticated cuisines of the Middle East. Simple to prepare yet utterly complex in the unique and unexpected combinations of flavors, all his recipes have woken up my palate to new possibilities, if not completely blown me away.
We close our cardamom series then with an easy to execute, comforting and totally delicious one pot meal for the family table. Cardamom joins hands with cinnamon and clove to enliven a chicken and rice pilaf with caramelized onions, juicy golden raisins, fresh dill, parsley and cilantro. Let’s get cooking.
Adapted from JERUSALEM by Yotam Ottolenghi, page 184
CARDAMOM CHICKEN RICE PILAF
12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult
Chicken thighs are often perceived as the ‘bad guys’ compared to their breast meat counterparts because of elevated fat content. But they are most definitely more flavorful, especially in stews and pilafs, as they don’t dry out easily. More importantly, chicken thighs provide a generous helping of the important micronutrient selenium which assists anti-oxidant enzymes in the body in scavenging free radicals that can damage our DNA and cells. In fact, mercury toxicity may be reversed by increasing dietary intake of selenium! Chicken also provides protein, zinc and the critical B vitamin niacin which aids in stress hormone production and blood circulation. The wild rice blend is complex carbohydrate with protein, magnesium as well as iron and has a much better glycemic load for sustained energy versus the insulin spike and crash that too much white rice can produce. All in all, a very nutritious meal for anyone and everyone. Vegetarians can add chopped carrots, squash, blanched and peeled fava beans or really anything you fancy as a substitute for the chicken.
Generously serves a family of 4
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions thinly sliced
2 1/4 lb / 1 kg boneless skinless chicken thighs (feel free to use bone-in skin-on thighs if you prefer)
10 cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks each halved
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 1/4 cup wild and brown rice blend (or white rice, brown rice or any rice you fancy)
2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 teaspoon parsley leaves chopped
1/2 cup dill leaves chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
If using wild or brown rice, soak the rice for 3-6 hrs and discard the water. This is REALLY IMPORTANT when using wild or brown rice as unprocessed whole grain rice contains phytic acid which can prevent zinc absorption in the body. Soaking gets rid of the phytic acid. Clearly, our ancestors knew what they were doing with all that pre-soaking!
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a pan for which you have a lid over medium heat, add the onion and saute for 10 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the caramelized onions to a bowl and wipe the pan clean.
In a mixing bowl, toss the chicken with the remaining olive oil, spices and 1 teaspoon salt. Reheat the same pan and sear the chicken for 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and drain the oil leaving just a fine film at the bottom. Don’t worry if some of the spices stick to the chicken or to the pan.
Now add the pre-soaked rice, onions, 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste and the raisins and stir well. Add the chicken pieces pushing them into the rice. Pour the boiling water over the mixture, cover the pan and cook over very low heat for 50 minutes (30 minutes if using white rice). Take the pan off the stove, remove the lid and place a clean tea towel over the pan and seal quickly with the lid. Don’t disturb the dish for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid, add the herbs, fluff up the rice and serve.
For young toddlers, blitz some chicken, rice and greek yoghurt into a textured puree. I serve my 2 year old the pilaf with a beetroot ‘raita’ — steamed or roasted beats, yoghurt, cumin, salt, a pinch of sugar and dill for a complete meal. You can throw in some frozen green peas halfway through the cooking process and be done with the veggie part. Greek yoghurt with a little olive oil mixed in is also a nice accompaniment. A glass of spicy peppery Shiraz is the only side required for the adults 😉