Last Year's Post: Mustard Swordfish Kebobs
Two Years Ago: Spaghetti with Chicken, Herbs and Cherry Tomatoes
I found this recipe on the New York Times website and was intrigued by the fact that it came from a cookbook of food from Jerusalem ("Jerusalem: A Cookbook" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi). I looked the book up to see if there was a defining characteristic to the food of the city, and found (not surprisingly) that it's been influenced by Muslims, Jews, and the diverse ethnic make-up of the region - I think of it as sort of a unique Middle-Eastern blend.
In any event, the most surprising part of the recipe to me was that it was at once familiar and comforting (it is chicken and rice, after all) while also being mysterious and exotic (when was the last time you cooked with green cardamom pods?). The deeply caramelized onions make the house smell great, and the spices add their fragrance as the rice and chicken cook. The low-and-slow cooking method results in very tender and moist chicken and perfectly cooked rice, and the herbs are the final bright touch. The fact that it's a one-pot recipe doesn't hurt, either.
I adapted the recipe, which you can see here (including a video), because I prefer boneless skinless chicken thighs and also because it seemed to contain way too much rice for four people. I'd suggest warning people about the whole spices when you serve it - the cinnamon sticks are pretty obvious but the green cardamom pods tend to blend in (they aren't really all that green) and the cloves are the same color as the currants. No one wants to break a tooth. I guess in theory you could try to fish out all the whole spices before serving, but you'll still probably miss one or two so I'd warn everyone anyway. Plus they look cool on the plate.
Speaking of currants, I tried to find barberries but was unsuccessful even with the local upscale grocer, Trader Joes and Whole Foods. I might have made the trek to a Middle Eastern market but I already had currants in my pantry and I don't think it would have made much of a difference anyway.
You can never have too many chicken recipes, right? This is a great and very healthy alternative to get you out of the same old rut.
Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons barberries, or currants
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 green cardamom pods
Scant ¼ teaspoon whole cloves
1 ½ cinnamon sticks, broken in two
1 ¼ cups basmati rice
1 ¾ cups boiling water
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1/3 cup dill leaves, chopped
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
½ cup plain Greek yogurt, optional
Put the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the barberries, and set aside to soak. If using currants, skip this step.
Heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown. Transfer to a small bowl and wipe the pan clean.
Place the chicken in a mixing bowl and season with 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and use your hands to mix everything together well. Heat the sauté pan again and place the chicken and spices in it. Sear the chicken until golden brown on each side and remove from the pan. The spices can stay in the pan, but don’t worry if they stick to the chicken. Add the rice, caramelized onions, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Drain the barberries and add them (or the currants) also. Stir well and return the seared chicken to the pan, pushing it into the rice.
Pour the boiling water over the rice and chicken, making sure the rice is submerged. Cover the pan and cook over very low heat for 30 minutes (check at about 20 minutes to see if a little more water is needed to prevent burning). Take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean tea towel over the pan, and seal again with the lid. Let stand for another 10 minutes. Finally, add the herbs and use a fork to stir them in and fluff up the rice. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot with optional yogurt on the side.
Note: warn guests that the dish contains whole spices that should be picked out and not eaten.