Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice.

Accompanied by roasted butternut squash, peppers & red onion with tahini and za’atar.

Flavour of the week: Cardamom; nothing screams Middle Eastern to me like cardamom rice and anyone who knows me will tell you, I like to scream Middle Eastern. In other flavourful news tahini and za’atar are also typical Middle Eastern flavours and both are delicious. Tahini is sesame seed paste and is used in many things including houmous whilst za’atar is a blend of spices used frequently in cooking all over the Middle East and it is such an unbelievable combination of flavours. Just in case I haven’t said the word flavour enough: flavour, flavour, flavour, flavour, FLAVOUR.

Cookbook of the week: Jerusalem – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Both recipes mentioned are from this book, it is a beauty of a book, exquisite quality and gorgeous photography interspersed with fascinating insights into the Holy City. A friend of mine bought me this book as a congratulations on finishing your degree present and in the hopes I’d stop talking about how much I NEEDED to own it. She succeeded in that and it is one of my most prized gifts, if you don’t own this book then I really am very sorry. These two dishes are what I made this week for my belated Valentine’s meal, my man and I were both Middle East expat children so it seemed fitting. These recipes are completely from Jerusalem and belong to Ottolenghi and Tamimi. I made very small tweaks (dried cranberries instead of barberries and adding peppers to the vegetable dish). Growing up in the Middle East means that for me nothing says home like the smell of cardamom rice, this chicken and rice dish is a pretty simple one pot dish bursting with flavour and for me a whiff of home sickness and sheer carbohydrate induced pleasure. For me a dish without a big ol’ side of vegetables isn’t a dish so I paired this one pot with roasted veg topped with a gorgeous nutty/earthy dressing and za’atar, a beauty of a combination.

cardamom onion rice chicken

Chicken with caramelized onion & cardamom: (page 184 of Jerusalem)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 40g dried cranberries (Ottolenghi uses barberries soaked in 40g sugar dissolved in 40ml of boiling water)
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 1kg of chicken thighs (with skin and bone)
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 1/3 tsp whole cloves
  • 2 long cinnamon sticks, snapped in half
  • 300g basmati rice
  • 550ml boiling water
  • big handful of chopped coriander (recipe suggests dill and parsley as well)
  • 100g Greek yogurt (mixed with two tbsp olive oil, I omitted the olive oil)
  • salt and black pepper

Method:

  1. Heat half the oil in a large pan and cook the onions until golden brown (10-15 mins). Pop the onions into a small bowl and set aside, wipe down the pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl season the chicken thighs in 1.5 tsp of salt and black pepper then add the remaining oil followed by cardamom, cinnamon and cloves and ensure the chicken is coated. Heat the pan and cook each chicken piece for 5 minutes on each side. Once browned on each side remove the chicken from the pan onto a plate.
  3. Remove any excess oil so that only 1mm remains in the pan and then add the rice, onion and salt & pepper. Add the cranberries and stir.
  4. Put the chicken thighs back into the pan and make sure they are nestled into the rice.
  5. Pour the boiling water into the pan, cover and cook for 30 mins and a low heat.
  6. Remove from the heat and quickly place a tea towel under the lid (replacing the lid after) and leave to stand for 10 mins.
  7. With a fork fluff up the rice, top with fresh herbs and serve, with yogurt if you so desire.

tahini zaatar squash

Roasted butternut squash (peppers) & red onion with tahini and za’atar: (page 36 of Jerusalem)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large butternut squash, cut into wedges (I opted for cubes)
  • (two red peppers, chopped however you like)
  • 2 red onions, cut into wedges
  • 50ml olive oil (I confess to not measuring this and just making sure there was enough olive oil on the baking tray)
  • 3.5 tbsp of light tahini paste (I used dark because I am rebellious)
  • 1.5 tbsp of lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 30g pine nuts (I thought I had some but didn’t so VERY sadly had to omit these)
  • 1 tbsp za’atar
  • 1 tbsp of chopped parsley (I omitted this because I think parsley tastes like soap)
  • salt & pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 240°C/220°C fan. Ottolenghi wisely advises you to take the onions (and peppers) out earlier if they look to be done first.
  2. In a large bowl toss the vegetables with 3 tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Spread out on a (largeish) baking tray and roast for 30-40 mins.
  4. In a small bowl mix the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, 2 tbsp of water and a pinch of salt. Add more water or lemon juice if needs be until a honey like consistency is achieved.
  5. Use the remaining oil to brown the pine nuts (with another pinch of salt if you desire).
  6. Once cooked, serve the vegetables drizzled with tahini, dusted with za’atar and topped with pine nuts (if you have any) and parsley (if you think it doesn’t taste like soap).

It might sound like a lot of faff but really this meal is a flavourful one pot with some dressed roasted vegetables. I can’t wait to eat it again on Monday.

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