THIS is happening. What is this, exactly? THIS is my answer to that strong craving for food that’s greasy, heavy,
and so awful that it’s incredible. Don’t judge. We all get that craving from time to time, no matter how deep our dedication to clean eating runs. I’m proud to say, I am not the exception to this rule. It is this exact love for eat-in-the-moment-and-regret-later genre of food that has caused my latest obsession of recreation; with many, many batches of every part of these food cart style platters, tweaking, slicing, dicing, grilling, and braising. How else would I have been able to recreate an iconic cheap-ish, greasy meal with all of the flavors (and then some) and none of the guilt?
My dear internet friends and fellow [self-labeled] foodies, Chicago has recently become one of the new(ish) homes to the infamous halal platters you find at food carts in NYC. And let shamelessly admit to you that I was one of the people who waited in line for many hours to score a few of these highly coveted platters, devour it, and then do mental math to figure out how long I’d have to be on the treadmill during the week to even things out. Follow all of this up with guilt, then a promise to myself to make the consumption of said platters an annual thing. I was in the clear, right?
But then the craving hit, a couple of weeks ago. AFTER I had made the resolution to eat better. I just wanted it so bad, I could literally almost taste it. Enter my slimmed down version of platter style chicken over rice. Yes, this is for real; I’m not toying with you or me (or us). These platters are an unbelievably-better-for-you-without-sacrificing-flavor-type-yummyness. I mean, tender, yellow, perfectly cooked rice is the bed on which delicately spiced, succulent pieces of chicken lay; next to a crisp, cool cucumber, tomato, and fresh herb salad; topped with a complexly creamy sesame sauce. And if you’re a heat seeker, apply sriracha or sambal olek liberally. For serious. I firmly believe that heaven has endless vats of sriracha and all things spice.
You want really want this chicken in your life. You NEED this chicken in your life. By braising boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a flavorful marinade of coriander, fresh lemon juice, and a few other spices, there is less of a need for tons of oil. I used a slow cooker to braise the chicken you can easily cook the chicken stovetop if you’re in a time crunch. Though I’m a white-meat kinda girl, I’ve grown fond of boneless, skinless chicken thighs over the last few months, like this skinny one pot chicken with tomato cream sauce. Dark meat tends to be naturally fattier, which helps prevent it from drying out quickly and/or needing a lot more additional fat. Plus, slow cooker on a busy day= instant kitchen win. One of my favorite parts about this chicken is that leftovers make a fantastic addition to salads, soups, or you can eat it just by itself, if you please. So go right ahead, leave the rice out of a low carb meal and toss this chicken into your favorite salad for instant protein. And though it looks like a lot of steps, the actual hands on time is 30 minutes making this a very easy weeknight dinner.
I swapped out a mayonnaise and sour cream based sauce for a lighter, creamier but still tart, sesame sauce made with tahini paste, or sesame paste. You can get tahini sauce/paste at any middle eastern grocery store. By itself, it’s got a thick and bitter quality but brighten it up with a little bit of greek yogurt and fresh lemon juice, and it becomes a magically addictive, drink-it-straight-from-the-jar kinda sauce. I was tempted to forgo the actual meal and just eat this sauce by the spoonful. It’s that good.
During the first few bites, I kept thinking about how clean and fresh these platters taste. The Mister agreed. And you should know that he is banned from saying things are ‘good’; he and I both used fresh and clean in our assessment, at the same time. The flavors of the traditional street cart, greasy food are definitely still there, in a big way, sans the grease. But let’s talk about the cucumber, tomato, herb salad that really imparts that flavor of cleanliness. Fresh cucumber, plump, ripe tomatoes and a combination of fresh mint and parsley, with a squeeze of lemon juice really pull this meal together. And given my disdain for having to make separate sides, the salad mixed with the rice and chicken not only add a crunch and brightness, it cuts out extra dishes for me. Win-win situation here.
Guys, how have I not told you about the rice yet?! The vibrant yellow comes from blooming turmeric right before adding the rice in. Blooming a spice takes it to another level of complexity and draws out the richness of said spice so you don’t have to add a lot of fat for flavor. All you do is heat a little bit of oil, add your spices and cook for 30 seconds, until the spices come to life. Just trust your nose on your nose on this one: it’ll know exactly when the right moment hits. So what really brings this rice alive is the ras al hanout, or a blend of spices you normally use in tagines. I usually grind a large batch and it lasts me several months but you can also find it at middle eastern grocery stores. Simply stir a teaspoon into the hot cooked rice and it it work it’s magic. If you don’t have ras al hanout, or can’t find it, use a 1 teaspoon of cinnamon instead.
The hot sauce, should you choose to use one, is really based on preference. I like sriracha on top of everything but sambal olek works just as well. And if you can’t get either one of those, a good quality hot sauce is the second best option. If you can handle the heat, you really should use some, even a dash is good. It adds a level of flavor that brings this entire dish together.
Enough reading, get to work and make this already. Like it has at my house, this will becomes a regular dinner!
Don’t forget to instagram your manna & spice dishes: @mannaandspice!
for the chicken:
- juice of 2 lemons (1/4 cup)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tbsp oregano
- 2 tsp pepper
- ½ tsp paprika
- 1 heaping tsp ground coriander
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
- 2 tbsp water
for the sauce:
- ¼ cup tahini paste
- 2 tbsp 0% fat greek yogurt
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- juice of 1/2 lemon (2 tbsp)
- 4–5 tbsp warm water
for the salad:
- 3 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1 ½ cups cucumber, seeded and diced
- ¼ tsp salt
- juice of ½ lemon (1–2 tbsp lemon juice)
- ½ cup red onion, diced
- ¼ cup finely chopped mint
- 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
for the rice:
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp coriander
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp ras al hanout (or ½ tsp ground cinnamon)
- 2 cups long grain basmati rice
- 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
- MARINATE THE CHICKEN: whisk lemon juice, water, and olive oil with all the spices for the marinade together. Coat chicken with marinade and set aside for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. If using slow cooker, add to slow cooker and cook on high for 2 hours or low for 3 hours. If cooking stovetop, reserve 1/4 of the marinade to add in at the end, after the chicken has cooked through.*
- MAKE THE SALAD: combine the vegetables and herbs, add salt and lemon juice and gently toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- MAKE THE SAUCE: Whisk together all ingredients, adding water 1 tbsp at a time, until the sauce is to desired consistency. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- MAKE THE RICE: heat olive oil in a pot with a lid on medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add turmeric and coriander and bloom or cook for 30 seconds, while stirring. Add rice and stir to coat well with spices. Add salt and slowly stir in chicken broth. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat and gently stir in ras al hanout as you fluff with fork. Cover immediately and set in a warm place until ready to serve.
- ASSEMBLE PLATTER: Add rice to a bowl, layer with chicken and salad. Drizzle 1-2 tbsp sauce ove the top, along with hot sauce if desired.
- Serve with extra sauce and pita bread if desired.
*to cook stovetop, heat a pan or skillet on medium heat. Add chicken and cook for 5-8 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Take off heat and add reserved marinade to the chicken and toss to coat. Set aside.