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!

Jammin’ Juice Lollies

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Who doesn’t love ice lollies? It’s easy to buy one from a supermarket freezer if you’re OK feeding artificial content (refined sugars, colours and flavours) to your kids. I prefer making one of these insanely delicious coolers, filling the lolly moulds with whatever’s left over. Three hours and a thousand are-they-done-yets later, I have happy smiling kids devouring refreshing/hygienic lollies. These especially come in handy during the summer months and are ideal as an after-school treat for kids.

You can try experimenting with other fruit juice combinations; some that work well together include:

  • Orange and mango
  • Orange and carrot
  • Pineapple and coconut
  • Lemon and honey
  • Mint and lime
  • Apple and pomegranate
  • Raspberry, strawberry and blueberry
  • Watermelon and strawberry

Mexican Fusion Pita Pockets

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Change is the only constant; people are always on the lookout for something fresh, something that enthralls them. Ordinary is now associated with boring. The same is true for food too; no wonder molecular gastronomy and fusion cuisine are such a rage these days.

As a self-proclaimed food aficionado, I’m always on the lookout for new culinary experiences. At times, I pick ingredients hallmark of a specific culinary tradition and mix them up with others; the results can be anywhere between disastrous and exemplary. Fortunately, the Middle-eastern Mexican Fusion recipe I’m about to share with you is towards the latter end of the spectrum.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 3-4 people

Hummus

  • 1 cup boiled chickpeas
  • ½ tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 green chili
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cups yogurt

Method

  1. Add all hummus ingredients in a blender and mix till it forms a fine paste
  2. Pour the hummus out in a bowl

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Chicken Filling

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 3-4 mushrooms
  • ½ chicken breast cut into small cubes (1 cm2)
  • ¼ red bell pepper
  • ¼ yellow bell pepper
  • ¼ green bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoon sambal (use less for a milder flavor – if you can’t find sambal, you can use 1 tablespoon ground chili paste instead)
  • 4-5 tablespoon hummus
  • 1 tomato (chopped)
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste (as sambal is already a bit salty)

Method

  1. Take a pan and heat the olive oil
  2. Add in the garlic and fry on medium for a minute
  3. Add the chicken to the pan and once it turns white, add in the mushrooms too
  4. Once the chicken is tender, add the red, green and yellow bell peppers to the pan
  5. Stir in the sambal, hummus and salt and cook for about 30 seconds
  6. Add in the tomatoes and take the pan off the heat

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Final Assembly

  • 10-12 mini pita breads (you can use regular pita bread too)
  • 10-12 leaves of Iceberg lettuce
  • Sambal
  • Hummus

Method

  1. Pull apart the two pita layers till it forms a pocket
  2. Spread some hummus on one layer, sambal on the other and a lettuce leaf in between
  1. Add in the chicken mix and serve immediately  

Shayan: Persian Hospitality With A Lebanese Twist

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Shayan, part of the Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana, is famous for serving an authentic Persian dining experience in the heart of Dubai. It recently relaunched with a new menu, featuring a host of Lebanese introductions to its stellar Persian line-up and I was fortunate enough to be invited to this wonderful event. Food is perhaps one of the things I love photographing most and opportunities like these help awaken the photography beast within me. There’s no harm taking great photos while enjoying good food. right?

So without further ado, I’d let you feast your eyes on these mouth-watering temptations; if something does catch your fancy, head down to Shayan and try it out for yourself.

Ramadan Treats: Watermelon Strawberry Coolers

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With the heat-wave that’s causing abnormalities in the global seasonal patterns, we all knew what to expect this Ramadan, especially my fellow fast-ers (using this for lack of a better word) based in the Middle East. Just today, the weather in Dubai peaked at a whooping 47 degrees (Celsius, not Fahrenheit); I was soaking with sweat and completely parched by the time I got home from work. With still a good four hours to go before I could officially break my fast, it got increasingly difficult not to think about something cool and refreshing that would not only quench my thirst, but also give me the much-needed energy boost.

They say the best ideas come to you when you need something most. I came up with the Watermelon and Strawberry Cooler on a whim, without even giving the pairing of the ingredients a second thought; my hands automatically picked out the things from the refrigerator as they just ‘felt’ right.

The watermelon I had bought a few days back was slightly mushy (and I do not like mushy watermelon) so instead of throwing it out, I scooped out the flesh, placed it in a bowl, and mixed in a few ingredients instinctively. The result was a tasty sweet-and-tangy beverage perfect for Iftaar (breaking of the fast). Let me dive straight into the recipe so that you can try it out for yourself.

Ingredients:

  • 2 kg watermelon (with the skin on)
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4-5 tbsp strawberry syrup (the one you use as a base for carbonated drinks)

Method:

  1. Scoop out the red fleshy part of the watermelon and place it into a deep bowl
  2. Using a hand-blender, puree the watermelon, seeds and all
  3. Take a sieve with a super-fine mesh and remove the pulp from the juice
  4. Add the lemon juice and the strawberry syrup to the watermelon juice; stir well
  5. Keep it in the freezer for at least 1 hour before serving
  6. Garnish with mint leaves (optional)
  7. Enjoy the refreshing drink at Iftaar and remember me in your prayers

The quantity mentioned is good for SIX servings of roughly 225 ml each. You can adjust the quantities according to your serving requirement. For those of you who do try this, do let me know how you liked it.

Ramadan Kareem and stay hydrated!

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