Lebanese Style Chicken and Brown Rice

This is one of my favorite ways in which to prepare chicken...it's simple to make, it's healthy, and the flavors (and aromas) are incredible. What makes this interesting and a little different from many other chicken-and-rice recipes are two things: one is the use of dried and toasted pasta, which gives the dish not only a unique flavor but also consistency; the other is that the recipe is seasoned with cumin, allspice, and cinnamon.

What makes this recipe a little different from a traditional Lebanese chicken-and-rice recipe is that in this recipe I used brown rice. This, of course, makes it healthier, but is also serves another purpose: In this recipe I used bone-in chicken thighs which normally would have to be par-cooked to insure doneness (white rice takes a mere 18-20 minutes, not long enough to cook thighs entirely); by using brown rice (which takes 35-45 minutes to cook) par-cooking is not necessary.

A simple salad would go great with this recipe, as would almost any Mediterranean-style vegetable preparation. I ate it with green beans sauteed in olive oil with tons of garlic, hot pepper and lemon. I also included a side of homemade yogurt and pickled cabbage. Anyhow, this is how I made it; a recipe follows the text.

Start by browning the chicken in olive oil. Remove the chicken to a plate and add either ground beef or lamb to the pan; brown the meat and set that aside also. Clean the pan of any burned or browned bits, add a little more oil if necessary, then add a diced onion and a handful of dried (not cooked) spaghetti or vermicelli that has been broken into 1-inch pieces. Cook the pasta and onion until it just begins to brown, then add a clove or two minced garlic and cook until golden brown.

Add the ground meat back to the pan along with the spices and a little salt. Stir and cook the spices for about a minute, then add the rice, chicken, and chicken broth.

Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a low simmer. Cover the pan and simmer for about 35 minutes (adding more liquid if necessary). Remove from the heat and allow to rest (covered) for about ten minutes before serving.

Lebanese Chicken and Rice

Yield: 4 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 ounces diced onion
12 ounces ground beef or ground lamb
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups long grain rice
3 cups hot chicken stock, lamb stock or water
2 tablespoons minced parsley

Heat the olive oil over high heat in a heavy bottomed pan (preferably cast-iron). Saute the chicken breasts on both sides until they are golden brown. Remove the chicken breasts from the pan and set aside.

Add the onion and ground beef or ground lamb to the same hot pan. Cook until the onions and meat is beginning to brown, then add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Add the cinnamon, allspice, cayenne pepper and salt; saute two minutes while stirring.

Stir in the rice making sure that it is fully incorporated with the oil and spices, place the chicken breasts in the rice. Pour in the stock or water and cover with a tight fitting lid or aluminum foil. Bake in a 375 oven for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with minced parsley.