Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Chicken and Majaddara
What makes something authentic, anyway? What's the cutoff point at which something stops being what it purports to be? In the case of food, who gets to decide? I got this rice mix at TJ's to see what it was like, and it's pretty generic, I think of it as being typically 'american' flavored. It's got long grain rice, wild rice, and a bunch of dehydrated vegetables in it. Looks great in the bag, plenty less so once you cook it up. By itself, it's awfully blah. It's rice for people who don't want to eat rice, but aren't adventurous enough to go out and get something with texture or flavor. This is what despairing non-cooks will slap on their oafish menfolk's plates in the hope of getting them to eat anything except white bread and a pound of bratwurst for dinner. I tried making risotto with it, which tasted ok, but I might have known it would lack the creamy texture that makes risotto worth stirring for half an hour.
Then I thought of majaddara. Nicholas' Restaurant has amazing majaddara. I looked up a bunch of recipes, and they're all just 3 things: lentils, rice, fried onions. The flavoring agents range from salt only to any combination of salt, pepper, allspice, bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, coriander, lemon rind, fennel seed, and nutmeg, plus maybe other things. Which brings me back to the authenticity thing. I don't actually care that much about authenticity, especially in food, but I did feel like the vague instructions in some of the recipes to use whatever I feel like to tart it up gave me the green light to use this bastardized rice for majaddara. Good thing, because otherwise I think that rice would have stayed in my cupboard until it got infested by meal moths.
Majaddara according to me:
1/2 cup rice
1/2 cup lentils
2 or 3 allspice berries
1 or 2 cloves
1 bay leaf
a couple pinches cumin
the fried onions from the previous post
yogurt, chopped mint, oregano & parsley for serving
Cook the rice & lentils separately, because they get done at different rates. I salt the water for the rice, but not the lentils. Cook the rice as you normally do, but add the spices. Cook the lentils as though you were making pasta, again with the spices in the water. I used red hulled lentils, which cook very fast. Because they are hulled, they tend to disintegrate quickly. I solved the problem by just cooking them until they were barely done, then draining them quickly and putting them back in the warm pan with a little olive oil and a dash of salt. This let them continue softening up while the rice cooked. I also pulled out the bay leaf and allspice to keep flavoring the rice. When the rice is done, throw out the cloves, leaves and berries, and mix the lentils, rice, and onions together.
The chicken that went with:
2 chicken thighs
1/4 lemon, chopped into 1/2" bits
2 green onions, chopped
salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
a pinch of cayenne
about 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
about 3 tablespoons olive oil
Marinate the chicken for about 2 or 3 days with all the other ingredients. I recommend pan-frying the chicken, unless you have a grill and want to cook it that way. The benefit of the frying pan is that the marinade reduces to a zippy glaze. Throw out the lemons halfway through cooking if you do that, or the rinds will overpower the rest of the flavors. On the other hand, grilling makes most things turn out pretty well. That's what Pete does, and it's his recipe. Except for the pie spice- he uses cinnamon sticks, but I don't have any of those.