Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kabsat al Dajaj (Chicken with Rice and Tomatoes)

Do you love Christmas?

I f-ing love Christmas. Not as much as I used to - not because of age, but rather the absence of my parents - but I still get giddy about it. Only September, you say? Yes, but Saturday was September 25th and I can hear my mom smiling and yelling out, "Only three months 'til Christmas!" She would start this countdown in July, the broaching of the year's halfway point making it appropriate to look forward to a holiday five months away. It wasn't about commercialism, though both my parents did love giving gifts (because they enjoyed making people happy). Mom loved the spirit, the general joy in the air; the anticipations; preparations; and the music. Definitely the music. When we were young she would play Christmas tapes in the car all year long, but as we (and she) got older she mainly kept it to the six week holiday period. I don't do the countdown anymore, but when I cook something that smells and tastes like Christmas, it's like I inadvertently have.

According to Maria Khalife's cookbook, kabsat al dajaj is a Kuwaiti dish, surprising to me not because of the unintentional holiday flavors, but because I don't normally associate chicken recipes with Kuwait; I think of shrimp and other seafood. No matter. It's moist, flavorful, fairly easy to make, and breathing in the cooking smoke will bring you images of Christmas trees, snow and mulled wine. Or any winter holiday season. Or maybe just winter. It will also make you want seconds and not feel silly putting them on your holly berry dishes.

The recipe calls for a whole chicken cut in eight pieces, but my pack of chicken thighs strikes again. I made a few other modifications: I had neither tomato puree nor good tomatoes, so I added some tomato paste to a can of crushed tomatoes and that worked fine. I also decrease the water to four cups, because the six that Khalife calls for threatened to overflow my pan and really, why do I need six cups of water for two cups of (soaked) rice? I leave out the raisins (added to the top with the almonds) because I did that once and was slightly put off by the texture and unnecessary sweetness they gave to the dish. However, add them if you wish.

Kabsat al dajaj
The Middle Eastern Cookbook (modified)

Medium whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2cups long-grain rice
1/4cups vegetable oil
2 medium onions, sliced
15oz can crushed tomatoes
1/4cup tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 1/4cups hot water
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
Grated rind of one orange
4 cloves
4 cardamom pods, cracked open
3 cinnamon sticks
4tbsp raisins (optional)
4tbsp slivered almonds (optional)

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Rinse rice and soak in salted water for 30 minutes. Mix together crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.

2. Heat vegetable oil in large saucepan. Add onions and fry until translucent. Add chicken pieces, tomato mixture, and garlic, stirring for about 5 minutes over low heat.

3. Stir in hot water, carrots, orange rind, spice, plus salt & pepper to taste. Cover and cook over medium heat for 40 minutes or until chicken in tender. Remove chicken and keep in a warm place.

4. Drain rice, then add to liquid in the saucepan. Cover and simmer for about 35 minutes until all the liquid has absorbed and rice is tender.

5. Transfer rice to serving platter and arrange chicken pieces around it. Top with almonds and raisins, if using.

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