These two dishes together must surely be the epitome of a reasonably easy, but special course for a special occasion.
Recently, I had the chance of such an occasion, being Mother's Day. This also fell on the eve of a planned and long-outstanding knee-op for myself. So Mother's Day offered a suitable opportunity to experiment in the kitchen, with my long suffering wife as the guinea pig.
In this instance the experiment was not eclectic in any way, as the preparation of either dish appeared to be reasonably simple, if involved. And so it turned out to be.
The recipe started yet again with a brief search on the internet for jewelled rice recipes. I eventually settled for ingredients which I had in hand or easily available. Again, what struck me is that the eventual flavours are determined more by the process of preparation, than the ingredients themselves.
The rice part was completed by basmati rice. As for the rest of the ingredients, I had to be somewhat more creative. The nuts part were filled by some almonds and cashews. The dried fruit contained raisins and dried cranberries. I toyed with the idea of adding some fruit cake mix, but decided that doing so would be stretching my luck. The carrots were coarsely julienned, the onions finely chopped. The spice contingent was made up of cinnamon sticks, saffron, turmeric, some sugar and dried citrus peel.
The dried citrus peel I made myself some time ago. This is a very Cape Malay spice, widely used in sweet dishes. This is made by drying citrus peel. Especially the soft citrus peel, which does not have the bitter white inside of lemon and orange peel. You dry the fresh peel in the microwave oven, taking care not to fry the fresh peel. The dried peel is then blitzed in the blender or coffee grinder until the required fine-ness. Very personal taste, I guess. This dried powder may then be used in rice or any sweet dishes to enhance the flavour. This Cape style food habit of drying fruit and making a pesto or paste for curries stems from the intermittent supply of suitable ingredients in the old days, giving rise to a whole fusion of culinary styles. For which I am eternally grateful.
So here goes:
Jewelled Rice with Tandoori Chicken
6 Chicken drum sticks/thighs
250 ml plain or double cream yoghurt
1 tablespoon masala paste
3/4 cup basmati rice, soaked and rinsed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, coarsely julienned
3 cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of saffron
4 green cardamom pods, whole
1 tablespoon dried citrus powder
1/2 cup raw almond shavings
1/2 cup unsalted cashews
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
some oil for cooking
The chicken is thawed properly, then cut through the skin to allow the marinade to penetrate. The marinade is the yoghurt, add some salt and add the masala paste. The chicken is thoroughly bedaubed with the marinade and then left to marinate until the rice is done. I cooked the chicken over medium coals on the griddle outside, while the rice was resting, before dishing up. The chicken on the braai griddle was a culinary adventure on its own, providing suitable psychological torture to the rest of the neighbourhood.
The jewelled rice was a new adventure altogether. I had these ghosts of past experiments in the back of my head, where I was confronted afterwards with bitter resentment of the many dirty dishes and a dirty kitchen. Jewelled rice calls for several ingredients to be cooked and prepared before final assembly, so some thought about sequence are in order. The nuts provide much more flavour when they are freshly roasted, so this happens first. The nuts were ground coarsely in a mortar and pestle, then roasted in a dry pan until they started to caramelise, then set aside until cooled.
The cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods were fried in a lightly oiled pan until the flavours come out, then the carrots added. To this lot I added some sugar and the dried citrus peel and fried until the sugar caramelised, then came the dried fruit. This was also set aside as soon as the dried fruit and citrus peel started to show flavours.
The rice was soaked and rinsed during all this preparation. The next thing was to start the final assembly of the dish. The onions were fried until they started to caramelise, after which I added the turmeric. This was fried until the turmeric was taken up by the onions, about fifteen seconds or so. The soaked and rinsed rice went in next to pick up some of the flavours. While this was going on, the pinch of saffron got ground along with some sugar in the mortar and pestle, then boiling water added to steep the flavours out.
As soon as the rice was sufficiently fried to my taste, I added some boiling water to the pan and started the dish in pulao style. I deemed this an appropriate way of getting flavours into the rice. Once the first dollop of water was absorbed, the saffron water went in. Check for salt. Add some water as the rice dictates, little by little. When the rice is almost cooked, the carrots, raisins and nuts are added. Then no more water goes into the pan. The lid goes on the pan and the burner turned low for a few minutes, then off. This dish has to go fluffy with the steam inside.
While this went on, I started a fire and cooked the chicken outside.
Then we had dinner.
Having read a lot about the Persian style dishes and their sweetness, I had some idea of what to expect. However, my wildest dreams could not reach the flavour profiles we experienced during this meal. The chicken provides a salty but soft angle, while the saffron and the cardamom puts the rice in a different category altogether.
A recipe to keep. For sure.
Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2019-05-19