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!

My Quest For Peri-fection: Your Guide To Perfect Home-made Nando’s-style Peri Bites

Perfectly crunchy and crispy Nando's style Peri-bites

Perfectly crunchy and crispy Nando’s style Peri-bites

Obsession is a dangerous thing to have and once you get something in your head, it is impossible to let go of. For me, recreating restaurant recipes at home is one such obsession and at times, it drives me to the edge of insanity.

Nando’s Peri-bites has been an OCD of mine ever since I first tried it some five years back. These are deep-fried green chilies stuffed with a succulent, cheesy chicken filling that just melts in your mouth (and sets it ablaze). A few years back, I successfully created a Peri-bites recipe that tasted much better than the original; there were two problems I consistently faced:

  • the coating kept falling off
  • the filling kept oozing out

Not all chilies were affected, though, but a sizeable percentage (around 60-70%) had one or both of these flaws. Therefore, I kept on going back to Nando’s for my Peri-bites fix – my fellow Peri-junkies should be able to relate to this. On one of my more recent visits to Nando’s, I found several issues with my appetizer:

  • lack of chicken in the filling
  • the taste was a bit ‘off’
  • the coating wasn’t as crisp as it should be

With a broken heart and a huge disappointment (that would put Mt. Everest to shame), I put my culinary skills to the test and gave the recipe one more try. This recipe that I’m about to share is an absolute 110% improvement on the Nando’s original. I promise you will not be disappointed with the results.

Prep Time: 30 mins

Serves: 3-4 people

Ingredients

  • 1 medium egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¾ tablespoon corn flour
  • ¾ tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups bread crumbs (for dry coat)
  • ½ chicken breast (1-inch strips)
  • 2 teaspoon peri-peri sauce for cooking (hot or wild flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon peri-peri sauce for mixing in
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoon grated mozzarella
  • 1 tablespoon grated cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese
  • 8-10 green chilies (approx. 3-4 inches in length – use banana peppers for a milder flavor)
  • Canola oil (for deep-frying)

Method

  1. In a sauce pan, put a teaspoon of oil and add the chicken breast
  2. Mix in the peri-peri sauce once the chicken is tender and turn off the heat after cooking for a minute; let the chicken cool
  3. After the chicken has cooled, add in cream cheese, mayonnaise, cheddar, mozzarella, and peri-peri sauce; mix well
  4. To fill the chilies, make a T-shaped incision from the base of the chili (as shown in the picture below) and take out the seeds
  5. Take about 1-2 teaspoon of the chicken filling (make sure there are chicken chunks in each portion) and stuff it gently into the chili; do not over stuff as the incision may not close and the filling may come out during frying
  6. In a bowl, mix the egg, milk, corn flour and all-purpose flour
  7. Dip each stuffed chili into the egg mix and roll it into the bread-crumbs; repeat this step twice for each chili
  8. Put a pan with oil on medium heat for deep-frying
  9. Gently drop each chili into the oil; try not to touch them for a minute to let the coating stick to the chili
  10. Cook them for a few more minutes till the chilies are crisp and golden
  11. Serve them immediately with a peri-peri sauce of your liking!

So what are you waiting for? Get started on a batch right away; it’s sure to knock your socks off and set your head steamin’. I hope you enjoy this recipe; comments would be appreciated!

 

chili

The Incision – ‘T’ marks the spot

 

Bananas for Bananas: My Obsession With Spicy Banana Chips

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Cravings are a natural part of life, primarily influenced by the feel-good sensation you have after you’ve consumed the coveted item to your heart’s content (or your stomach’s). But let me ask you a question: has your craving ever turned into an obsession – like Gollum’s my-precious-one-ring obsession? Just say it out loud; you know you want to!

My fixation doesn’t end with having this dish over and over again. I have to recreate it within the confines of my own kitchen with the ingredients that I happen to own so that I can have it whenever and wherever – no strings attached (apologies for this borderline OCD rant). It takes me days, sometimes even months, to come up with a recipe that’s 80 to 90 percent close to its original counterpart. The results are satisfying, to say the least; what’s even better is being able to share that recipe with the rest of the world. But the cherry on the top is when someone actually tries the recipe and gives me feedback on how it tastes and/or can be improved.

A brief list of some recent obsessions along with their current statuses follows:

Spicy Banana Chips are the latest addition to the list above. Ever since I first tried this snack in 2007, I’ve been head-over-heels in love with them. Originally from India (Kerala, to be precise), these delightfully crispy chips are a perfect mid-afternoon snack to help during those hunger pangs. The traditional Indian spicy chips are fried in coconut oil, topped with salt, pepper, and powdered curry leaves. I did find a tastier version more suited to my Karachiite palate at a bakery but the bakery doesn’t have them anymore; ergo, the obsession.

I decided to give the recipe a try at home and luckily, got it right the very first time; having said that,it wasn’t until the third try that I finally got a version tastier than any banana-chip variation I had ever tried before. So before you drool all over your favourite t-shirt, let me dive straight into the recipe.

Prep Time: 35-50 minutes (depending on how many batches you have to fry them in)

Servings: 5-6 (yields approx. 200 grams)

Serving Size: 30-40 grams

Ingredients

  • 1 kg raw bananas or plantains (characterized by their tough exterior)
  • ½ teaspoon chat masala (can be found at any Pakistani grocery store)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon citric acid powder (or granules)
  • ⅛ teaspoon turmeric powder for seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder for soaking the bananas
  • 2 cups water
  • Oil for deep frying

Method

  1. Take a bowl and prepare the seasoning; mix the chat masala, salt, red chilli powder, black pepper powder, turmeric powder and citric acid powder – in case you have citric acid granules, you may need a mortar and pestle to powder it
  2. Prepare a water and turmeric solution and soak the peeled bananas in it for 5 minutes; peeling raw bananas can be a bit tricky so here’s a video that shows you how to do it
  3. In a deep pan, add canola oil for deep frying and heat it on a medium flame
  4. Once the oil is hot, make 2-3 mm thick slices of the banana using a slicer directly over the pan; please be very careful while doing this
  5. Let the chips sit for 45 seconds before tossing and turning them around; keep moving them till they are nice and golden to get an even color on both sides
  6. When these turn golden brown (it takes around 9-12 minutes), take them out in a bowl and liberally sprinkle the seasoning; toss them around for an even coat and then spread them on a paper towel
  7. Serve after they have cooled down somewhat
  8. Keep in a zip-lock bag for up to 5 days (good luck if they last that long) to preserve freshness

Now don’t just sit there and watch; go get some raw bananas and get slicing!

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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