Zilleh Chicken with Saffron Rice

As parents, most of our decisions revolve around children, especially when it comes to eating out. It’s a true blessing to find a place where we can all sit and enjoy a meal without unnecessary arguments like, “Papa, I don’t want to eat this”, or, “Can we please get something else?”, or (God forbid), “I’d rather have McDonalds!”. Zilleh was just that; oh, how I miss thee!

About five years back, we came across a gem of a Turkish restaurant called Zilleh. Unfortunately for me, and much to the dismay of my kids, it was closed down without any notice some three years ago. We still mourn its loss at least once a week – oh, that crispy succulent (extra spicy) chargrilled chicken with a side of fragrant saffron rice was just the pick-up you’d need to get you out of that funk!

For those of you who follow my blog, you are well aware of how much I love my copy-cat recipes, and Zilleh Chicken was no exception. I sauntered into the kitchen one beautiful day, rolled up my sleeves, and raided the pantry with one mission – to recreate the magic of Zilleh!

When recreating a recipe solely based on flavor profile, I always start with the most dominant flavors and then start adding more spices to the mix. I only stop once I get an 85% match. In this case, it was close to 100%, and what resulted was a beautifully cooked, perfectly succulent, tantalizing chicken. When paired with the extremely fragrant saffron rice, it was a party in my mouth.

I’d be selfish if I didn’t share this discovery with the world, so here’s how you can recreate this masterpiece to impress your family and friends. The rice, the salad, and the french fries are totally optional – however, the chicken would feel very lonely without them on your plate!

Ingredients (chicken):

  • 1 kg chicken (cut into 4 tikka-style pieces)
  • 2+1 tablespoon ground red chili paste (also called Shatta/Sambal – we get this readymade from our local supermarket or you can make it yourself)
  • 3 tablespoon heaped ginger garlic paste (use equal quantities of ginger and garlic – blend with very little water)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Handful of fresh parsley
  • Juice from ½ a lemon
  • French fries (as a side)
  • Cucumbers (as a side)

Ingredients (salad):

  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 medium onion
  • Juice from ¼ of a lemon
  • Some parsley
  • Salt to taste
  • Sumak (Arabic spice) to taste

Ingredients (saffron rice):

  • 1½ cups basmati rice
  • 1-2 small pieces of cinamon
  • 2-3 cardamoms
  • 2-3 black pepper corns (dried whole)
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 5-6 strands of saffron
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2½-3 cups water (depending on the directions on your rice package)
  • Salt to taste

Method (chicken):

  1. Apply shallow tikka-style cuts to the chicken
  2. Marinate chicken with 2 tbsp red chili paste, ginger garlic paste, salt, and black pepper
  3. Keep it in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours, preferably overnight
  4. Heat oil in a frying pan and add the chicken to it; cook on a low-medium flame
  5. Once the chicken is fully cooked, add in the parsley and half the lemon juce and mix it well
  6. Take the pan off the stove
  7. Apply the remaining 1 tbsp red chili paste evenly on the chicken
  8. Pre-heat the oven to 300 F
  9. Place the pan in the oven and grill for 5 minutes

Method (salad):

  1. In a bowl, put the thinly sliced onion, the chopped tomatoes, lemon juice, parsley, sumak and salt
  2. Mix it well and set it aside

Method (saffron rice):

  1. Bring water to a boil on a high flame
  2. Add the rice into the water – make sure it is rinsed several times before adding to the pot
  3. Add in the cinamon, cardamoms, black pepper corns, cloves, saffron, turmeric and salt
  4. Once the water has dried out and is not visible on the surface, cover the pot with a lid and let it steam for 5-7 minutes until done

Final assembly:

  1. On a platter, make an even bed of rice
  2. Put the chicken on top of the rice – scrape out all the lovely spiced mixture from the pan
  3. Put some salad on the side
  4. Add in some french fries (optional but oh so delicious!)
  5. Garnish with some fresh parsley
  6. Dig in!

Note: This recipe is dedicated to some of my office friends who share my love for food. Kavya, Sumaiya, Souvik, Reumaysa – food is what unites us!

Zesty Orange Chicken

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Oranges taste great on their own; I hardly know anyone who doesn’t like them. They are a mind-blowing combination with chocolate, second only to mint, and are used extensively in desserts. But never in a million years had I expected to fall head-over-heals in love with oranges in an entrée. I’ve been obsessed with Orange Chicken ever since I tried it some four odd years ago at a Chinese Restaurant.

Like all recipes I’m obsessed with, I tried recreating this sweet and sour concoction with a hint (subjective) of spice last weekend. After some experimentation, I got the flavor profile I was looking for; in retrospect, I should have left out a few ingredients that gave the dish some outlandish undertones, a clashing after-taste, if you may. The recipe below doesn’t include those ingredients so you should be able to enjoy a mouth-watering Orange Chicken. I strongly recommend serving this gravy with Chinese Fried Rice (leave me a comment if you want me to post a recipe).

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Ingredients:

  • ½ kg chicken (cut into one-inch cubes)
  • ½ cup + ½ cup fresh orange juice (I used navel oranges)
  • ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp fresh orange zest
  • 5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1” cube of ginger (finely chopped)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • I tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp white pepper powder
  • ½ tsp chili flakes (optional)
  • ½ tsp black pepper powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp chicken powder
  • 1 tbsp corn flour
  • 5-7 dried red chilies (optional – I used African bird’s eye chili)
  • 1 tbsp peanuts (salted and roasted)
  • 2-3 spring onion stalks (one-inch pieces)
  • ½ green bell pepper (medium sized – cut into cubes)
  • 1 onion (medium sized – cut into cubes)
  • ¼ tsp MSG (a.k.a. ajino moto)
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 tsp honey (optional)

Method:

  1. Mix chicken, black pepper and corn flour and set it aside
  2. Heat sesame oil in a pan and add in garlic and ginger
  3. After a minute or so, add chicken to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes
  4. Mix in chili flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, MSG, and white pepper and let it sit for a minute
  5. Add in ½ cup orange juice and lemon juice and let it cook for 2 minutes
  6. Add soy sauce, chili sauce and vinegar to the chicken and cook on high flame
  7. Once the sauces have dried out a bit, add in peanuts, dried chilies and the remaining ½ cup orange juice to it
  8. When the juice evaporates again, add in Worcestershire sauce, chicken powder, green peppers, onions and the spring onion
  9. At this point, taste the chicken and see if you need salt (as the sauces used are already salty) or honey (if you feel the chicken is a bit on the sour side – mainly because of the oranges used)
  10. Give the chicken a good mix and turn off the flame
  11. Take out in a serving bowl and garnish with some fresh orange zest

Serve without waiting another second – make sure you have the Fried Rice ready beforehand. Any comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Enjoy!

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Chow Down Some Chicken Chow Mein

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We all love Chinese food and more often than not, rely on restaurants to satisfy our cravings. If I talk about myself, my Chinese experience is never complete without a serving of Chicken Chow Mein; it’s a no-brainer that this is one of the first things I order. This is also one of those things that most restaurants don’t get right.

My wife makes a mean Chow Mein which is universally loved by everyone in our family. If you talk about authenticity, this is a Pakistan-ized version similar to what’s served in restaurants across the country. I often hear people complaining why they are unable to prepare restaurant-style Chow Mein at home; well, here’s her secret. She cooks everything separately and assembles the Chow Mein towards the end; this not only keeps everything from turning into mush, but also gives a distinct flavour profile in every bite.

On those lazy nights when you don’t feel like going out or ordering in, what more could you want than a plate of piping hot stir-fried noodles? So here’s how you can prepare some in the confines of your own kitchen.

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Prep Time: 35 mins

Serves: 3-4 people

Ingredients

  • 300 grams egg noodles (or rice noodles, depending on your preference)
  • 150 grams boneless chicken (cut into 1 cm thin strips)
  • 2 medium-sized carrots (thin 1-inch julienne cut)
  • ½ green bell pepper (julienne cut – if red and yellow bell peppers aren’t available, use 1 green bell pepper)
  • ¼ red bell pepper (julienne cut)
  • ¼ yellow bell pepper (julienne cut)
  • 125 gm cabbage (thinly sliced)
  • 2 spring onions (one inch pieces)
  • 1 medium onion (thickly sliced)
  • 6-7 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 4 tablespoon sesame oil (use vegetable oil if sesame is not available)
  • 6 tablespoon soy sauce with honey-like consistency (if using the watery version, double the quantity)
  • 6-8 tablespoon chili sauce (to taste)
  • 2+1 teaspoon salt (2 teaspoon salt required while boiling noodles)
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon chinese salt (Ajino Moto or MSG – optional)
  • A pinch of sesame seeds (for garnish)

Method

  1. Set aside all ingredients before starting to work on this recipe
  2. Boil noodles as per the instructions on the box; add two teaspoon salt during the process
  3. Drain the water and let the noodles cool
  4. In a wok, stir fry all the bell peppers in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; take it out in a bowl once done
  5. Next, stir fry the cabbage in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  6. Stir fry the thickly sliced onion in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  7. Stir fry the carrots in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  8. In a sauce pan, add all the remaining sesame oil along with soy sauce, chili sauce, black pepper, chinese salt, salt, chili flakes, and half of the garlic; cook for 3 minutes till the consistency is thick
  9. Once all vegetables have been separately stir-fried, add half of the remaining sesame oil and the garlic in a wok
  10. After a minute, add the chicken and cook for 4-5 mins (or till the chicken is tender) with the lid on
  11. Add in the noodles to the chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes
  12. Add in the stir fried vegetables one by one and mix well
  13. Add the sauce to the noodles and cook for 2 minutes
  14. Finally, add in the spring onions and turn the heat off
  15. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately!

Ciao (or should I say, Chow?)!

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Piri Piri Chicken Cutlets

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Ever since I first tried Nando’s some ten years back, I have been obsessed with the global phenomenon that is peri-peri; just thinking about the tangy-spicy flavor gets my mouth watering. I have been searching far and wide for the secret behind the peri-peri sauce, the infamous ‘African Birds-eye Chilies’ (a.k.a. piri-piri), so that I can try making the sauce at home, but until I do, I’ll have to settle for some store-bought (read uber-expensive) Nando’s sauce.

Ramadan is a time to thank Allah for all the bounties he has bestowed upon us; it is also a time for specially prepared feasts and platters full of delicacies to be shared with everyone (especially those less fortunate). After not having anything to eat or drink for almost fifteen hours daily, your mind naturally tends to think about food (a lot) and you cannot help but obsess over what needs to be cooked for the iftar (breaking of the fast at sunset). While fasting a few days back, I started lusting for some peri-peri goodness and thought of trying something new using the sauce as a key ingredient. Here’s what I came up with and believe me, it turned out fantastic; easy to make, perfectly crunchy, spicy and cheesy. It’s everything you’d want in a dish to satiate your Ramadan cravings.

This recipe here serves THREE people.

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts (cut horizontally into ½-inch thick fillets)
  • 3 tbsp + 2 tbsp Nando’s Hot peri peri sauce (you can choose to go for mild)
  • 1½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 4-5 slices of cheese (alternatively, you can go for a shredded mozzarella + cheddar combo instead for that rich thready texture)
  • 3-4 cups oil (for frying)

Method 

  1. Put the chicken fillets along with THREE tablespoons of peri-peri sauce into a bowl and mix well, ensuring that each piece is coated perfectly
  2. Set it up in the refrigerator for TWO to THREE hours to marinate; this step can be reduced to half-an-hour too but two to three hours gives the best results (taste-wise)
  3. Whisk eggs and milk in a bowl to make an egg-wash
  4. Take two plates and fill one with flour (add salt and pepper as seasoning to the flour) and the other with the bread crumbs
  5. Take a piece of chicken and coat it with the flour; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  6. Next, dip the chicken into the egg-wash; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  7. Finally, take the egg-washed chicken and drop it into the crumbs; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  8. Repeat steps 5, 6 and 7 till all pieces have been coated properly
  9. Set it aside for FIFTEEN minutes to air-dry
  10. Here you actually have a choice: you can either (a) pan sear the chicken using a few tablespoons of olive oil or (b) deep fry it on medium heat till the chicken is tender and has a crisp-golden coat on either side – I prefer the deep-fried version
  11. As soon as you take the chicken cutlet out of the pan, add a slice of cheese (or the shredded combo) on top to allow it to melt
  12. In a separate bowl, mix two tablespoons of peri-peri sauce with cream cheese and mayonnaise to make the sauce; add some milk if you want to adjust the consistency
  13. Spread some sauce at the base of a plate and put the chicken cutlet on top
  14. Other garnish options include jalapenos, olives, spiced feta cheese, and even some tomato ketchup (if you’re really that into it)
  15. On the side, you can choose to add french fries or Peri Bites

All my Muslim readers will agree with me that coming up with something tantalizing (and different) for iftar each day is something we all fret over. Hopefully, this recipe will give you a much-needed additional option and will earn you some praise from children and adults alike. Enjoy!

YFC: Home-made Fried Chicken

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Be it in the form of KFC or a cloned recipe, Fried Chicken has literally taken this world by storm. What can we say? It is finger lickin’ good and we all love to indulge in some from time to time. For most of us though, we’d prefer making it at home.

I’m in love with the extra-crispy recipe that KFC has and have tried hunting for a good clone for ages. Unfortunately, all the recipes that I have tried so far don’t quite come up to par with the original. After all the experimentation with what works and what doesn’t (corn-flakes and a wet-batter are a definite No-No), I’ve come up with this one recipe, and even though it’s not as good as the original, it is pretty a decent version that is loved by kids and adults alike. I know it’s cliché but I decided to call this Yousuf’s Fried Chicken (abbr. YFC).

So without further ado, let’s get into the technicalities of what goes into making succulent YFC:

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts (with skin) cut into 3 pieces each OR 6 drumsticks [TIP: You can choose any 6 medium-sized pieces for this recipe and remove the skin if you wish; the skin just gives support for the breading and gives the fried chicken a crispier cover]
  • 3 cups water with 1½ tsp salt (a.k.a. Brine)
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cornstarch
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp MSG (a.k.a. Chinese Salt and Ajino Moto)
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I have used Laban to achieve similar results)
  • Oil or Ghee for deep frying [TIP: Ghee works better]

Method

  1. Soak the chicken for about 8-10 hours in brine (ideally) and put it in the refrigerator. I have made the chicken after soaking it in brine for just half-an-hour and it gets good results too.
  2. In a bowl, add all-purpose flour, cornstarch, oregano, MSG, paprika, black and white pepper, and salt; mix in all the ingredients so that the ‘dry batter’ is nice and consistent.
  3. Take out the chicken from the brine and dry each piece using a towel.
  4. Dip a piece of chicken into the buttermilk (or Laban) ensuring all its sides are properly covered, take out the piece and let all the residue drip back into the bowl.
  5. Dip this piece immediately into the dry batter, making sure to coat all sides evenly; give the chicken a slight shake to remove the excess batter before setting it aside on a platter.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 till all the pieces have been coated.
  7. Let all the pieces air-dry for about 5-10 minutes so that the coating is hard and dry; this will ensure that the oil doesn’t splatter once you put the pieces in for frying.
  8. In a deep pan, add oil or ghee and heat it; the oil has to be just the right temperature and to ensure that, add a piece of bread into the oil and it should be brown in about 50 seconds. If you have a candy thermometer, the temperature has to be around 180° to 190° centigrade.
  9. Carefully start putting in the chicken pieces one at a time, skin side down (as it takes slightly longer to cook); make sure not to over-crowd the pan and leave some room for the pieces to breathe (or not – all pun intended).
  10. Flip the pieces half-way through the cooking process so that the other side gets some cruch and color too.
  11. Fry the chicken for about 7 to 10 minutes, till it has a crisp golden brown cover.
  12. Take all the pieces out on a paper towel to drain the excess grease.
  13. Serve immediately with a side of French fries, chili-garlic sauce and mayonnaise (that’s the way, ahan, ahan, I like it, ahan, ahan!!).

Please do try this recipe out and let me know how it was; I’d really appreciate your honest feedback. Also, I intend to keep trying to find ‘THE PERFECT FRIED CHICKEN RECIPE’ and once I do, I will definitely share it with you; till then, you’ll have to settle for this recipe.

Cheers!

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