Sri Lankan Chicken Biryani with Mint Sambol

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Once a year, I try my hand at making biryani. It’s typically a disaster: mushy or undercooked rice — nothing like the fluffy, fragrant grains infused with spice that I’m aiming for.

But this year is different! I finally stumbled upon a method, fool-proof for a biryani novice even like me. Success! Delicious, ghee-laden success. Accompanied with a cooling mint sambol, this chicken biryani is the real thing.

Sri Lankan chicken biryani with mint sambol

Ingredients:

For the chicken:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds chicken (I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs but any cuts will do just fine)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon roasted curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup tomato puree
2 tablespoons chopped cashews
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
1 cardamom pod
1 clove
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ghee
1 onion, chopped
1 serrano chili, chopped

For the rice:
1 pound (about 3 cups) basmati rice
3 teaspoons ghee
1 onion, chopped
2 cardamom pods
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 2-inch stick cinnamon stick
A pinch of ground saffron
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt

For the mint sambol:
3 cups mint leaves
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 serrano chili
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste

1. Wash and dry chicken. Season with salt, pepper, curry powder, and cayenne pepper.

2. In a food processor, blend yogurt, tomato puree, cashews, and coconut.

3. Combine yogurt mixture, cardamom pods, clove, and bay leaves with chicken and marinade at least 2 hours to overnight.

4. When ready to assemble and cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 300F degrees. Heat ghee in a medium pan on the stovetop. Fry the onion and chili until onions are lightly browned.

5. Remove chicken from marinade (reserving marinade), add to pan, and saute for about 10 minutes. Add a little water to the reserved marinade and pour over chicken. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and place chicken in a deep oven-proof baking dish.

6. Prepare the rice: Wash and drain the rice. Heat the ghee in a medium pan. Fry onion until lightly browned. Add cardamom pods, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick.

7. Add rice and fry for a few minutes until rice starts to turn lightly golden. Add saffron and mix well.

8. Pour in stock and simmer until rice is partially cooked (about 15 minutes). Add salt.

9. Place rice on top of chicken in baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in heated oven until moisture evaporates, about 45 minutes.

10. In the meantime, make the sambol: Blend all of the sambol ingredients together in a food processor to make a thick green paste. Serve with yogurt alongside biryani.

Persian Gulf-Style Chicken and Rice (Goboli Polo)

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This Persian Gulf-style spiced chicken and basmati rice pilaf is piled high with heaps of fried onions and potatoes. And I mean let’s be real: who doesn’t love fried potatoes? I adapted this from Najmieh Batmanglij’s Cooking in Iran, her tome on the lesser-explored regional cuisines of Iran. The rice is cooked in the spiced chicken broth, giving the dish a decadently rich flavor. I didn’t grow up with this dish, but it’s becoming part of my rotation now.

Goboli polo

Ingredients:

For the chicken:

1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
6 cups water

For the rice:

2 cups basmati rice, soaked in water for 15 minutes, drained and rinsed at least 3 times

For the garnish:

1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground heart of dried Persian limes (limoo omani)
1/2 cup currants or raisins, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained

1. To cook the chicken: In a large pot, place all the ingredients for the chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 45 minutes, until the chicken is tender. Place a sieve over a large bowl and drain the chicken, reserving the broth. Return the broth to the pot and set the chicken and chickpeas aside.

2. To cook the rice: Add the rice to the broth. Give it a stir with a cooking spoon and bring it back to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes until the rice is tender and the broth has been absorbed.

3. Make the garnish: In a wide skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the potatoes and saute until golden brown. Remove the potatoes from the skillet and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.

4. Add the remaining oil to the same skillet and saute the onion over medium low heat for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Add the salt, turmeric, dried lime, currants, and potato, and saute for another 2 minutes.

5. Just before serving, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a wide skillet over medium heat until hot. Saute the chicken and chickpeas until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.

6. To serve: Remove the rice from the pot and transfer it to a serving platter. Arrange the chicken and garnish on top. Serve with sabzi khordan (fresh herb platter).

Hoisin-Chicken Nachos with Avocado

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Okay, so these aren’t really nachos. They’re more like vegetable chips plus chili-sake-tomato-avocado guacamole plus roast chicken plus a generous drizzle of hoisin. I can’t tell you if the leftovers keep well because we ate the whole thing in one sitting.

The first time I made these, I used roast duck, but leftover roast chicken is easier to come by and works just as brilliantly.

Hoisin-chicken nachos with avocado

Ingredients:

2 ripe but firm avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tomato, diced
3 green onions, thinly sliced, divided
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
3 teaspoons sake
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced roast chicken
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
2 bags Terra chips or similar vegetable chips

1. Mix the avocados, onion, tomato, half of the green onions, ginger, cilantro, sake, lime juice, vegetable oil, chili garlic sauce, and salt in a medium bowl, without mashing the avocado. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly to the surface and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Arrange the vegetable chips on a large platter. Dot spoonfuls of the avocado mixture across the chips evenly. Evenly scatter the roast chicken onto the chips next. Drizzle with hoisin sauce and garnish with the remaining green onion slices. Serve immediately.

Smoked Trout Pizza

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Okay, hear me out. I know the words smoked trout pizza sound kinda gross in succession, but this pizza is delicious. Think the best lox bagel you’ve ever had, in pizza format. Trust me: just try this and you’ll never look at seafood on pizza the same way again.

Smoked trout pizza

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon salt
, plus more
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

1/3 cup finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish

2 cups flaked skinless, boneless smoked trout (10 ounces)

Pepper

1 pound pizza dough

Semolina flour, for dusting

1/2 cup mascarpone, at room temperature

2 tablespoons capers, patted dry

1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons milk

Small 
dill sprigs and lemon wedges, 
for serving


1. Preheat the oven to 425F degrees. In a small bowl, mix the caraway, 
sesame and poppy seeds, the garlic and onion powders and the 1/2 teaspoon salt. In 
a large bowl, mix the celery, mayonnaise, sour cream and the 1/3 cup of chives. Fold in the trout and season with salt and pepper.


2. Roll the pizza dough to a 12-inch transfer to a nonstick oven-safe baking sheet. Spread the mascarpone all over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border, then dollop with the trout mixture. Scatter the capers over the top.

4. Bake pizza onto the hot stone for 6 minutes, until the crust is puffed and just starting to brown. Remove the pizza from the oven, brush the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with the seed mixture. Slide the pizza back onto the oven and bake for 8 minutes longer, until the crust is browned and the bottom is crisp. Top with chives and dill sprigs and serve with lemon wedges.

Lamb and White Bean Braise with Dill Rice, Kashani Style

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I’ve always been curious about regional Iranian cuisine. My parents are from Tehran and while I love Tehrani-style food, there’s so much to Iran’s diverse cultures: garlicy eggplant mirza ghasemi from the Caspian to okra-laden khoresh-e bamiyeh near the Persian Gulf. These dishes are mainstream — most Iranian households have at least heard of them, regardless of what part of Iran they’re from.

But what about what’s off the beaten path? What’s Kurdish Iranian food like? What do folks eat on Qeshm Island? Or in Khorasan? I worry that these less well-known food traditions will be lost forever, especially among the Iranian diaspora. When I learned that author Najmieh Batmanglij had published Cooking in Iran, a compendium of regional Iranian cooking, I was so excited — and grateful. Since I got the cookbook, I’ve been tinkering with and riffing off of some of her recipes. This lamb and white bean braise with dill rice is popular in Kashan. I didn’t grow up with this dish, but the flavors are all too familiar: the dill rice reminds me of baghali polo (a popular fava bean and dill pilaf), the lamb is stewed with that familiar lime-turmeric-onion combination, and the fried potatoes put the whole thing over the top.

This dish is labor-intensive, but it’s a showstopper.

Lamb and white bean braise with dill rice, Kashani style

Ingredients:

For the braise:

1 cup white beans, soaked overnight and drained
2 teaspoons oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boned leg of lamb, cut into 3-inch pieces
1/3 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 dried Persian limes, pierced
4 cups water
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon salt

For the potatoes:

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes and soaked in cold water for 20 minutes, drained and patted dry
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the rice:

2 cups aged basmati rice
1 1/2 cups chopped dill
1/4 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1/4 cup water

1. To make the braise: Heat oil in a laminated cast-iron pot over medium heat and saute the onions, garlic, and lamb until golden brown. Add the beans, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, and dried limes, and saute for 1 minute.

2. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the lamb and beans are tender.

3. Add the salt and lime juice, give it a stir, and adjust seasoning to taste. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

4. Cook the potatoes: In a large skillet, heat the oil until hot and saute the potatoes over medium heat until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle the turmeric and salt over the potatoes and stir. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

5. To cook the rice: Wash the rice by placing it in a large bowl, cover with water, agitate gently with your hands, then pour off the water. Repeat at least 3 times until the water is clear.

6. In a large pot, bring 8 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add the rice and boil for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a couple of grains — if the rice feels al dente soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain rice in a fine-mesh colander and rinse with water. Set aside.

7. Place 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons water in the pot and ruse a spatula to mix. Place 2 spatulas full of rice in the pot and 1 spatula of dill and potatoes. Repeat, alternating layers and mound in the shape of a pyramid.

8. Pour the remaining oil and 1/2 cup of broth from the lamb braise over the rice. Drizzle the saffron water over the top. Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean dish towel and cover the pot firmly to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes longer. Keep warm until ready to serve.

9. To serve, on a serving platter, gently mound the rice. Arrange the lamb and beans on top with the broth in a bowl on the side. Alternatively, you may serve the lamb, beans, and accompanying broth on the side in a separate serving bowl.