Sometimes you’re in the mood for Indian food or Italian food or Chinese food. The other day, I was in the mood for Donna Hay food. I’m not sure that even makes sense to me, but I’ll attempt to explain it. Donna Hay recipes are always full of interesting flavors, and the preparations are never too fussy. That was the kind of meal I wanted to make for dinner. In her book, Off the Shelf, there’s a dish called Persian-spiced pilaf with harissa-seared beef, and there’s another one called harissa and yogurt baked chicken. I swapped the chicken for the beef, and that was my dinner plan. You can buy harissa in a jar, but I almost always seem to have some that I’ve made in the refrigerator. I started making it a couple of years ago and figured out it’s a perfect condiment for baked sweet potato fries which is why I usually have some on hand. I make the version from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and it’s smoky and just spicy enough. So, the chicken was marinated in a mixture of yogurt, harissa, cumin, and mint, and that was sure to be a good thing. The Persian-spiced pilaf brought cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron to the meal, and the spice aromas filled the kitchen and lingered through the house.
Although this recipe doesn’t require the chicken to be marinated in advance, I always feel like chicken for any dish should be seasoned several hours or the day before cooking. But, I forgot this time. I mixed the marinade as suggested with cornstarch, yogurt, harissa, shredded mint, and cumin, and spread it over the chicken pieces. It sat while the oven pre-heated. There was no need to worry since these were big flavors, and they found their way into the chicken without any problems. As the chicken roasted, the pilaf was made with basmati rice steamed in vegetable stock with a cinnamon stick, three green cardamom pods, and a pinch of saffron. You know you’re in for a good meal when it smells as good as this one did as it cooked.
This delivered exactly what I was craving both in terms of preparing it and eating it. The yogurt kept the chicken tender, the spices worked their magic, and my work in making the meal mostly involved sitting down with a book while the chicken roasted and the rice steamed. And, when are you not in the mood for a meal like that?