PLAU B’JEEJ | Chicken with Almonds and Raisins over Red Rice (Iraqi)
First the chicken is cooked in water, tomato paste, and spices, then the spiced cooking liquid is used to make delicious red rice. Clever, huh? And there is more: While the rice is cooking, the chicken is shredded; slowly sautéed with onions, almonds, and raisins; and then served over the rice. Grandma’s cooking at its best! Save any leftover red rice—it makes a delicious side for beef, chicken, and fish dishes.
Serves 4 to 6
4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
5 cups water
7 ounces (200 g) tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Pinch of hot paprika or cayenne pepper (optional)
2 cups long-grain white rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
Pinch of hot paprika or ground turmeric (optional)
1 teaspoon baharat spice mix (see recipe below or store-bought)
½ cup blanched almonds (halved or slivered)
½ cup golden raisins
For garnish (optional)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¹⁄³ cup blanched almonds (halved or slivered)
1. Place the chicken legs in a medium saucepan. Mix the water, tomato paste, cumin, paprika, and cayenne (if using) in a bowl. Pour over the chicken. Partially cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 1 hour over low heat until the chicken is tender. Toward the end of cooking, taste and season with salt.
2. While the chicken is cooking, soak the rice in water for 15 minutes. Rinse in cold water several times until the water runs clear. Drain in a colander.
3. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Measure 3½ cups of hot cooking liquid and return it to the saucepan. Add 1 heaping teaspoon salt. Add the rice and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover tightly, and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Open the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, cover, and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
4. While the rice is cooking, heat the vegetable oil in a large shallow sauce-pan. Add the sliced onions and sauté over medium-low heat until soft and golden, at least 10 minutes. Season with salt, a dash of turmeric (if using), and the baharat.
5. When the chicken is cooled enough to be handled with bare hands, remove and discard the skin and the bones. Shred the meat into small pieces and add to the onions. Add the almonds and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes over medium heat. Add the raisins and sauté for another minute.
6. Prepare the garnish (if using) Heat the vegetable oil in a small frying pan and toss the almonds until golden and crisp. To serve, mound the chicken and onion mixture over the rice and garnish with toasted almonds.
Baharat spice mix is available at Middle Eastern grocery stores, specialty markets, and online. You can also make your own. Grinding whole spices is ideal, but preground ones are fine, too.
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
1½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Keep in a cool, dark place in an airtight jar. Use for meatballs, stuffed vegetables, and meat-filled pastries.
Excerpted from JEWISH SOUL FOOD by Janna Gur. Copyright © 2014 by Janna Gur. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Cover photo by Daniel Lailah.