That Chicken and Rice Dish

by Julia Sementelli

It’s March and the official month of the start of Spring! But here in Boston the temperatures have been playing games with our hearts, which makes trying to decide what to make for dinner a bit tricky. This recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi’s “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice” is the perfect meal to help you transition from winter to spring. Warm and comforting from the spices and hearty chicken and rice, but refreshing and light from an abundance of fresh herbs and a tangy yogurt sauce. This dish has become a staple in my cooking repertoire and I’ll share with you my tips for making the best possible version of this delicious dish.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

I was sitting in the grass in my backyard on a warm fall day, with the sun shining on my shoulders, perusing the Boston Globe when I stumbled upon a beautiful picture of a skillet brimming with verdant green herbs. There were so many herbs that you could just barely see the beautifully browned chicken thighs on a bed of spiced rice underneath. The accompanying article was about Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook, which had garnered a cult-like following. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born, British chef and restaurant owner. He is well known for his cookbook, Plenty, in which he transforms vegetables into the most beautiful recipes. His recipe for “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice,” and the photograph I was drooling over, was described as particularly outstanding. I knew I had to make it. I ran to the bookstore to get my hands on Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

Despite the recipe’s apparent simplicity, the result is an intensely fragrant and complex combination of sweet, from the currants and caramelized onions, and savory, from the crisp chicken thighs and tart yogurt sauce. It is a one-pot wonder to make on a cool, fall evening. It will solve your weeknight cooking woes because it makes a generous portion, easily satisfying a family of four with one or two rounds of leftovers. It could also feed one person for a whole week of dinners. It is a favorite among my family as well. I have received countless requests to make “that chicken and rice dish” for dinner.

The vessel in which you make this dish is paramount. If the skillet is too small, the chicken will simply steam rather than brown, the onions will not caramelize, and the rice will be unevenly cooked. Therefore, it is important to have a large skillet (at least 12 inches wide) with a tight-fitting lid. Once you have chosen your pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Next, add 2 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions. Allow the onions to cook for 20 minutes, only stirring occasionally to allow the onions to caramelize. You will know when to reduce the heat when the onions are a dark brown. Every time I make this dish I always question if I cooked the onions too long. We are used to golden onions as the sign that you can move on to the next step of cooking. But in this case, you want a deep brown color. In my opinion, the caramelized onions transform this dish so give them the attention (or lack thereof) that they deserve. If you move them around too much, they will not achieve that deep golden brown. Once the onions are concentrated and nearly syrupy, which is essential for the flavor and sweetness of the dish, transfer them to a dish and set aside.

Next, in a large bowl, combine 2 ¼ pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with 1 ½ teaspoons each of kosher salt and black pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 10 cardamom pods, and 2 long cinnamon sticks broken in half. Mix everything with your hands and wash your hands. Next, over medium heat, add the chicken and spice mixture to the skillet, searing the thighs for five minutes on each side. Try your best not to move the chicken as this will interfere with browning. Using tongs, remove the chicken and spices from the pan. While the pan is still hot, add 1 plus 2/3 cups uncooked basmati rice, 2 ½ tablespoons of dried currants, and 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper to the pan. Return the chicken and spices to the pan as well, nestling the thighs in the dry rice. Now, add 3 ¼ cups boiling water, cover, and immediately set the heat to low. It is imperative to add enough water to ensure that your rice is perfectly cooked since nobody likes crunchy rice. There is a discrepancy between the prescribed amount of water between the cookbook and the Boston Globe article. The book calls for 2 ¼ cups of water while the article states that one more cup of water is necessary, recommending 3 ¼ cups total. The latter is the winner, based on personal experience. The couple times that I forgot to add that extra cup of water, the rice did not cook enough. Having crunchy rice bits mixed in with the soft ones is a nightmare. Trust me, two and a half cups is not enough water. It results in some uncooked rice in the pan and warrants adding more water as you go, so do yourself a favor and just start with the three and a half cups of boiling water.

Cook the chicken and rice covered for 30 minutes over very low heat. After 30 minutes, take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean dish towel over the pan, and return the lid to the pan. The towel serves to absorb moisture to prevent the rice from becoming waterlogged. Let the dish sit for another 10 minutes, remove the dish towel, and then add 1 ½ tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, ¼ cup cilantro leaves, and ½ cup dill leaves, all chopped.

The final step is to make a quick yogurt sauce to go with the chicken and rice. I remember the first time I made this dish I omitted the yogurt, under the assumption that it wouldn’t make that big of a difference. When I finally decided to give the yogurt a try I realized that I had made a significant mistake the first time. The tangy yogurt cuts through the meaty, deep flavor of the dish. Combine 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons of high quality olive oil. Serve alongside the chicken and rice.

Sometimes the beauty of a recipe is not necessarily in the final product but in the path that led you to it. My path to this recipe seems rather serendipitous given that I merely stumbled upon on it the newspaper on that warm summer day. I, as well as my friends and family, have fallen for a dish that seems so simple upon first glance. While there are only a handful of components, it is important that the ingredients are of high quality and all the steps are executed well. The combination of flavors is so warm and comforting that this recipe certainly deserves a spot in your cool weather recipe repertoire. It has surely become an unbreakable part of mine.

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication & Behavior Change student and Boston-based registered dietitian who works in a local hospital and also counsels private clients. You can find her on Instagram (@julia.the.rd.eats- Follow her!) where she shares her love of real food, like this chicken and rice dish.

Fall Flavors and Balanced Bites: Easy, Tasty, and Flexible Recipes for your Thanksgiving Repertoire

by Hannah Meier, RD, LDN

 For many, Thanksgiving is a time to take a step back and enjoy the little things–not least of which are family, friends, and food. But Thanksgiving also falls at a high time of stress for many students (and professors alike). Take advantage of the nostalgia that this season brings, and embrace your life as it is right now–how cool is it that you GET to be stressed out by your finals at the only nutrition school of its kind in the country? Okay…maybe that’s a stretch, but I know you will at least enjoy these recipes as simple and creative ways to squeeze in some Holiday cheer. And because I love finding tasty ways to enhance the nutritional value of any dish (without, of course, compromising taste!), all of these recipes are those I’ve developed or modified from their original versions to not only provide positive Holiday vibes, but also powerful nutritional moxie.

With the dawn of the 11th month of the year comes Thanksgiving. (Really, one could argue that the feast-filled festivities kick off with the first bite of pumpkin spice whatever, which this year happened to be August 29th when Dunkin Donuts debuted its sweetly spicy treats.) If you listen closely, you might be able to hear American foodies across the country .

Thanksgiving in America has long been associated with a bountiful table of rich and delicious food, prepared with care and shared among close friends and family. As graduate students in Boston, often far from home, harnessing anything reminiscent of warm thanksgiving dinners of years past can bring some peace to the hectic pace of school and work life.

But of course, as students with limited budgets, thinly stretched time, and perhaps a particular dietary preference or two (I see AND appreciate you, vegans!), it can seem like preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast often isn’t in the cards. Think again! Get inspired with the following recipes that require just a few seasonal and nutritious ingredients, everyday kitchen tools, and easy preparation methods and savor the season as a thrifty, well-nourished omnivore or herbivore. Rest assured that the seasonal ingredients in these recipes provide meaningful nutritional benefits and come together in balanced combinations of nutrient-dense carbohydrates, cardio-protective fats, and lean proteins. Most importantly, they are absolutely delicious and worthy of being shared with your favorite people.

Appetizers & Finger Foods

Lox and Cracker Bites

Makes about 24 “Bites”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A play on the classic cream cheese, capers, and lox combination, these savory snacks can be pulled together in no time. Compared to more traditional cheese and sausage on crackers, the smoked salmon here offers anti-inflammatory fats and is less of a saturated fat bomb for a similar amount of protein. Look for whole grain crackers to round out the dish with filling fiber.

Ingredients

  • One 4-oz package of smoked salmon, sliced into thin strips
  • Plain strained (think Greek or Icelandic) yogurt—I like the consistency of Siggi’s in this recipe
  • Capers
  • Whole grain crackers (I like Mary’s Gone Crackers Rye)
  • Fresh dill (optional)
  • Cracked black pepper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Lay out about 24 crackers (you may need less or more depending on the type of cracker you use).
  2. Spread about 1 tablespoon of yogurt on each cracker. Top the crackers with a few capers, one or two slices of smoked salmon, and a pinch of fresh dill (optional).

Sprinkle black pepper over the crackers and serve.

 

Tahini Stuffed Dates (vegan)

Makes 25 dates

Photo Sourced via Pinterest (baconveggie.blogspot.ca)

Photo Sourced via Pinterest (baconveggie.blogspot.ca)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sweet-and-savory combination, stuffed dates are another great finger-food option to bring to whatever Thanksgiving celebration you find yourself attending this season. Super simple to prepare, the dates pack their sweetness into a portable, fiber-full package that is a perfect complement to the tangy tahini filling and crunchy pistachio topping. Made from sesame seeds, the tahini brings a satisfying dose of unsaturated fats and protein that helps to balance out the sugary dates.

Ingredients

  • 25 Medjool dates, pitted
  • ½ cup of tahini
  • 25 shelled pistachios for topping

Instructions

  1. If not already pitted, remove the pit from 25 dates and lay on flat surface.
  2. Peel open or slice dates down the middle, forming a “boat” for filling.
  3. Stuff each date with 1 teaspoon of tahini and top with one whole, shelled pistachio.
  4. Enjoy!

 

Side Dishes

Cauliflower and Celery Root Mash (vegan)

Inspired by Gourmande in the Kitchen

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is nothing wrong with potatoes, but why not try bringing something unique to the table this year? Celery root, also known as celeriac and knob celery, is in peak season during October and November. Though it is not the most handsome of vegetables, it can be eaten raw and tastes like a refreshing cross between celery and fresh parsley. When cooked, its flavor mellows to an almost nutty flavor. The combination of cauliflower and celery root in this mash brings a creamy alternative to potatoes in a dish with far less concentrated starchy carbohydrates per serving.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 small head (about 16 ounces) cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Steam the celery root and cauliflower in a microwavable steamer or in a steamer basket over boiling water.
  2. Transfer the cooked celery root and cauliflower to a tall blender or food processor (you may need to work in batches). Add oil and salt and blend/process until smooth. Add 1-2 tablespoons of steaming liquid to loosen the puree if needed.
  3. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

 

Main Course

Roasted Turkey

Servings vary depending on size of bird

Adapted from Food Network Magazine

Photo Credit: http://www.bhg.com

Photo Credit: http://www.bhg.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you get more traditional than a roasted turkey at Thanksgiving? Probably not. Though most Thanksgiving feasts are not famous for their stellar health profile, placing oven-roasted turkey at the center of the dinner table is actually a nutritionally sound tradition. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, one 3 ounce serving of light meat turkey (without the skin) contains 125 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 26 grams of protein (plain meat of course does not provide any dietary carbohydrates but that’s before you smother it with cranberry sauce or gravy). Dark meat turkey gets a bad rap, but actually only contains 3 more grams of fat per serving with slightly less protein and about 25 more calories. Dark meat tends to contain a higher concentration of vitamins B-6, B-12, niacin, choline, selenium, and zinc, though the light meat is also a good source. Compared to other animal meats, roasted turkey is generally a lean choice that is low in saturated fat (animal-based saturated fats seem to consistently have the worst effect on cardiovascular disease markers) and a good source of easily digested protein. In order to get the most out of your turkey dish and avoid post-feast “meat sweats,” try to keep your portion to about a size of a deck of cards, especially if you’re filling your plate with other protein-rich dishes.

Ingredients

  • A 10- to 12-pound turkey
  • Salt and pepper (or salt-free seasoning such as Mrs. Dash)
  • Onions, carrots, and apples, all chopped into large bite-size pieces
  • Fresh herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme (per personal preference)
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F .
  2. If not already removed, pull neck, liver, and giblets out of cavity. Save giblets for gravy if desired.
  3. Dry turkey with paper towels, then season inside and out with salt and pepper. Try using salt-free seasoning like Mrs. Dash to reduce sodium content for sensitive individuals.
  4. Fill turkey with chopped vegetables and apples, as well as fresh herbs of choice.
  5. Place breast-side up (legs on the bottom) in a roasting pan and brush with olive oil. Tent with foil and roast for 2 hours (add an extra 15 minutes per pound for larger birds).
  6. Remove foil, baste with more oil and turn up oven to 425 degrees. Roast for another hour or so until the meat at the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds.

 

Cranberry, Lentil and Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash (vegan)

Makes 4 Stuffed Squash Halves

Photo Credit: http://www.lentils.ca

Photo Credit: http://www.lentils.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffing acorn squashes is an easy way to make it look like you can get fancy in the kitchen (but look at you, you can!) This time of year, acorn squash is plentiful at the grocery store and market, and is often on sale. If you can’t find or don’t like acorn squash, you can use a kabocha or small butternut squash instead. Winter squash, with its deep orange and yellow color, is bursting with phytochemicals, and when roasted takes on a caramelized flavor that makes it easy to forget how richly fibrous the flesh is. Did you know you can eat the squash skin? Just be sure to wash it well before cooking!

Wild rice, actually a seed not a grain, joins forces with lentils to provide a complete amino acid profile and round out the entrée as one that is entirely satisfying. Dried cranberries balance out the texture of each bite and provide irresistible jewels of tart sweetness. Enjoy this plant-based acorn squash dish as a vegan entrée or on the side of any traditional Turkey Day feast.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup uncooked wild rice
  • ¼ cup dried green or brown lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (unsweetened, if you can find them)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Spices (optional): ½ teaspoon rubbed sage and  ½ teaspoon dried thyme

  • 2 medium acorn squashes, cut in half and seeds removed.

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, large skillet, or rice cooker, combine rice, lentils, and vegetable broth or water. If cooking in skillet or saucepan, bring liquid to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer until rice and lentils are cooked, about 50 minutes. If cooking in rice cooker, use brown rice setting and let it do its thing.
  2. While the rice and lentils cook, preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil, lightly coat foil with oil or non-stick spray, and place squash halves cut side down. Bake until tender, about 30-35 minutes.
  3. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and cook onion over medium-low heat. Add sage and thyme if using and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and just begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more.
  4. Add wild rice and lentil mixture to skillet. Add cranberries, and raise heat to medium-high. Cook 1-2 minutes, until mixture is heated through. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, scoop wild rice, lentil, and cranberry mixture into each squash half and enjoy!

Hannah Meier is a second-semester Nutrition Interventions, Communications and Behavior Change student and not-so-closet foodie. She loves to come up with better-for-your-body substitutions to traditional recipes that don’t sacrifice flavor or appeal. This year, she is thankful for a supportive and trusting family, and beautiful fall weather in New England.