Recipe Wednesday! Comfort from the Middle East

For God sakes! It’s only eight days into the new year and I’m betting it doesn’t bloody matter what your political persuasions are, you’re anxious and exhausted. The inmates are running the asylum has never been truer.

Hence, I need sanity which, for me, means control, which means despite the theme of this blog, sheltering in my kitchen where I can, at least, attempt controlled cooking.

Then I looked in my refrigerator which is in post holiday state.

A true embarrassment quickly turning into quality lab specimens. Bread hardening; meat paling; sauces separating into mysteries; desserts deadly. That’s the first and second shelves. I didn’t even battle through the last shelf and certainly did not open produce drawers or the compartment on the bottom where cheese goes to mold more than it should. That carton of Egg Nog would be too scary to open.

Two items, though, insisted on showing themselves: The large bag of bell peppers someone brought to the house instead of wine that fell out as soon as I opened the refrigerator door and the two 10 pound bags of chicken breasts and thighs preventing the freezer from closing.

Given the last three days, I decided to make an Iranian dish because a country’s cuisine is one of the great insights into its society. An intimate understanding of a culture is found in learning about foreign ingredients and why and how they’re put together. It’s one aspect of a people’s place in the world that you can’t take away from it, never blow up.

I didn’t find a recipe that would take care of both chicken and peppers. Instead, I roasted the peppers figuring they would add more color to the chicken dish I chose. I wrote a post last October about how lucky I am to live in a neighborhood settled by many people from Middle Eastern countries. Thanks to that I had all the ingredients I would need on hand.

Roasting peppers is ridiculous: Slice them in half or in slivers, toss with olive oil, and roast in an oven heated to 450 degrees for about 20 minutes or, if you have an oven like mine, until the edges of the peppers are a little charred. Mine took 40 minutes. I have to get the damn oven fixed.

There’s a lot of different versions of this classic recipe but they all revolve around a marinade of spices and lime (or lemon) juice. This one comes from Epicurious.

Persian Chicken with Turmeric and Lime

1 cucumber–small Persians if you can find them, peeled and chopped

1 cup packed mixture of mint, dill, cilantro or parsley

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinned chicken thighs or breasts, cut into serving bits

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 teaspoon ground turmeric

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus two or three whole limes for serving

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup basmati rice

1 smashed garlic clove

1 cup plain yogurt (the thickest you can find)

1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (I used raw), coarsely chopped

Sumac (This may be hard to buy in your neighborhood but please try to find a store that carries it. It has a tangy, sort of lemony flavor and you’ll find wanting to sprinkle on everything.)

First, the cucumber mixture:

Mix the cucumber with the herbs and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Marinade the chicken:

In a medium bowl, mix the chicken with the onions, turmeric, chopped garlic, lime juice, 1 Tbsp. oil, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. salt and 3/4 tsp. pepper. Make sure the chicken is well covered. Let sit for at least a half hour.

Now the rice:

Mix the cardamom, cinnamon and a little pepper together in a small bowl. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium heat in a saucepan with a good heavy bottom to it. Add rice and smashed garlic and stir every now and then until the rice and garlic are brown. Toss in the spices and add about 1 3/4 cup water. Bring to boil then cover the pot and lower the flame, gently simmering until the water evaporates–should be about 20 minutes.

As the rice is cooking, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet until hot then add the chicken. Stir the meat every now and then until it’s cooked through. Stir in the yogurt.

Put the dish together:

When the rice is finished take the pot off the stove and use a spatula to reach under the rice to the bottom where there should be a crust. Carefully lift it up onto a plate. Spoon the rest of the rice around the crust. Spoon the chicken around the rice. Squeeze a lime or two (to your taste) over all, then sprinkle one pistachioss and sumac.

Serve with the cucumber and the roasted peppers. Hope someone in Iran is making an American dish.