Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chicken Afghan Pilau: A flavor memory

Some people have astounding memories.  They learn things, remember them, file them away.  I have a friend JYC, who remembers thousands of phone numbers, including the phone number of my parents' house, whom he really doesn't ever call.  Something about 10 digits in a row gets him, and he remembers them.

Others remember key details of events, sequences of events, and exact words spoken more than 15 years ago.  One of my friends, CJR is a person with an elephant's memory; she can remember the tiniest details from things said many many years ago.

Still others remember Bible verses, and can call them up when needed and give a verse to you when necessary.  I love my friends who do this, in times of joy and in times of pain. 

Memory comes in a lot of different forms.  I have what I consider to be a pretty amazing food memory.  I remember flavors and tastes from long ago, keep them in my head and every once in a while, it pops back into my head, and I say, "OH!  I want to eat that!"  Sometimes it means that I have to go to a certain restaurant and order a dish and other times I'll sit and try and recreate it at home.  From about a week ago, a memory of a certain dish, an unusual dish kept on popping up in my head, and I had no way of eating it at the restaurant, which meant I had to try and MAKE it.

I ate this Afghan Pilau (sometimes called Qabuli Pilau) over 15 years ago, during my heavily vegetarian years.  I ate it at my favorite hometown restaurant, Walters (those of you from Claremont, CA may know of it)  and I ate it only once, but loved it.  When this food memory popped in my head, my mouth watered, my nostrils flared, and my entire body started craving the flavors of that dish, but I didn't have the name of the dish, nor did I have any sort of recipe by which to go by.

Desperate, I looked up the restaurant menu online, discovered that the dish was no longer there, but had a sense of what it was called, and began a pretty exhaustive internet search for this dish.  After reading through numerous recipes, I thought I had an idea of how to make it and set out to make it on my own.  I changed things up and turned it into a chicken rice dish, since I'm no longer vegetarian, and went for it. I am so glad I did.  Daughters LOVED it, and I have to say that I kept on stuffing my face with so much of the aromatic rice that Daughter #2 looked at me at one point during dinner and said, "Hey mommy.  Save some for us." 

This probably not super authentic or original, but it did capture the flavors I had wanted -the cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, cloves, countered with sweet raisins and carrots.  It matched up fairly well with my food memory and I ate it all up.The technique is not hard, but it does take a bit more time than I'd like to admit. However, the end result is so different and yummy....I can't wait to eat the leftovers for lunch tomorrow!  YUMMY!

Chicken Afghan Pilau (Qabuli Pilau)
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable for sauteing (more as needed)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 lbs of chicken thighs, cut into cubes
2 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons of ground cardamom (available at a better price at your local Indian store, but you can find it at your local supermarket)
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
2 cups basmati rice, washed until water is clear, and drained

In a heavy pot over medium high heat, heat oil and saute onion with salt, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and cloves.

Cook for about 2 minutes, until onions begin to wilt and then add diced chicken. Cook until chicken is browned, and then add 2 cups of water. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the meat (sometimes you get onions too) from the cooking liquid, and set meat aside.

In reserved cooking liquid, add basmati rice, and enough water so that the liquid is about 1 inch above the rice. Bring cooking liquid to a boil, and then reduce heat and cover, and cook until water is absorbed, and rice is tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300. Place rice in a large casserole dish. Add cooked chicken on top in an even layer.

Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes. (this somehow dries out the rice a bit and makes it extra toasty and tasty.) While rice is baking, make carrot raisin topping. (recipe below)

Remove from oven, uncover dish and top with carrot raisin topping. Serve piping hot, with sprigs of cilantro and plain yogurt as garnish.

Carrot Raisin Topping
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 carrots, julienne
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup of raisins

In a fry pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add carrots, sugar and cook, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add raisins and cook until raisins are softened as well. about another 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside until needed.

Printable recipe

A dollop of plain yogurt just makes this dish complete.


roxan said...

Wow, this looks so flavorful and delicious! I love that the onions are cooked in all the spices from the very beginning. I think my husband would love this dish. Does this take long to make? I'm thinking it's more of a weekend dish rather than a weekday/after work dish?

Joanne Choi said...

The chicken simmering and baking of the rice already puts the dish well over an hour. With everything all included (not all of it is active labor however) you'll need a good 1 1/2 hours to complete it. Weekend dish is probably better. :)

Rajesh Kumar said...

Thanks a lot for this recipe. It turned out great.
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