Medleys of Middle Eastern spices are what culinary dreams are made of. Until recently, I had no idea that grinding cardamoms and bayleaves and adding pinches of their dust to dishes here and there could REALLY turn something ordinary into a wonder… particulary if that something is rice. This dish is meant to be a new take on what is known around here as ‘Kabsa’ - a national Saudi Arabian dish inundated by an array of spices and the delectable flavors of chicken on the bone, all of which bubble together and seep into rice — mixed and cooked together in a deep pot or dutch oven, then tossed out and served with a garnish of almonds and chicken that is literally falling off the bone. While there are variations to Kabsa across the Gulf region, with additions of vegetables, various kinds of meat (including lamb, goat, camel fish and even shrimps), and an array of nuts, there are items that always stay consistent; namely, the long-grain rice, as well as the tomato puree in which everything simmers. One word of definition - deliciousness.
My version is meant to make life a little easier — I’m using chunks of chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken, and have expanded beyond the traditional set of Kabsa spices and created my own; namely, a mix of 10 spices. I’ve also added more nuts and raisins, and used basmati rice for favour of speed. All in all, I was surprised by two things — that it all came together within an hour without much complication, and that it’s quite affordable; chicken breasts, spices, rice, and a handful of nuts. There are no downsides to this gorgeous dish — and if you need a centrepiece at your dinner party, this would be a winner for sure.
500g chicken breasts, cut into large cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1⁄4 cup tomato puree
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon saffron
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cardamoms
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice (or Chinese 5 spice)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups hot water
1 chicken stock cube (note — you can substitute the water and stock cube for any soup or broth you might have)
2 cups basmati rice
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄4 cup dried cranberries (dark raisins will work too)
3 bay leaves
1⁄4 cup slivered almonds
Melt butter in a large pot, and sauté onion & garlic until tender. Add chicken pieces, and cook until their pink turns white.
Stir in tomato chunks, tomato puree, and sugar, and simmer over a low heat.
Add all the spices, followed by lemon zest, and salt.
Leave to simmer for a few minutes, and then add the water and stock cube (or broth).
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes on medium heat. Remove chicken cubes and set aside.
Add rice to the pot and stir. Once it boils, lower heat completely and cover. Leave to cook until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Add raisins, and leave on heat for an additional 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, gently brown chicken cubes in vegetable oil. Once browned, set aside, and gently toast almonds in the same saucepan until slightly browned. Remove immediately and leave to cool.
To assemble the Kabsa — place rice in a large serving dish. Poke the chicken cubes into the rice, and garnish with toasted almonds.
Serve immediately next to a yogurt salad or green salad. Enjoy!