“You’re eating rice for breakfast?”, said my friends with their eyebrows raised all the way to their foreheads. In Korean culture, many of us couldn’t think of any meals without a bowl of rice on our dining table. But, my Western friends, who grew up with bread, couldn’t possibly imagine eating rice 3 times a day, especially for early morning breakfast. Rice, the most important crop in Korea, is also the king dish in Afghanistan. Wealthy Afghan families often eat one rice dish per day, much like high class Koreans (i.e. “yang ban”) used to eat a meat dish as their status symbol in old Korean society. Because of its status, a variety of delicious rice dishes are also made for special occasions in Afghanistan. They are considered to be the best part of the meal, like “turkey on Thanksgiving” in the US. Finding Afghan foods to be one of the most flavorful cuisines in the world, I am making a king of my meal today, an Afghan mushroom chicken pilau.
To start, wash 2 ½ cups basmati rice and soak it in water. Separately, rub some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper on 1 lb skinless chicken drumsticks. Next, preheat 2 Tablespoons 7th taste mushroom olive oil in a thick cast iron pot and sauté 1 onion (chopped) for a couple of minutes. Then add the chicken and brown all sides of the meats. Next, add 6 chopped tomatoes (~3 cups) to the pot. Continue cooking the chicken with tomato and onion for about 15-20 minutes. Then, stir in one 8 oz box of fresh mushrooms (washed and quartered) and a couple of chopped green chili (optional) to the pot, along with 2 teaspoons ground cardamom, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Next, drain the rice and add it to the pot. Bring the pot to boil and simmer with the cover, until the rice and chicken are completely cooked. Before serving, stir in all ingredients and drizzle a bit of my mushroom olive oil.
What an amazing “king” this dish turned out to be. Each spoonful has a great depth and complexity of tangy tomato, rich chicken and earthy mushrooms with a soft undertone of buttery mushroom olive oil and smoky cardamom. A bite of this mushroom chicken pilau also has amazing multi-flavor dimensions, ranging from an earthiness to a crisp sweetness to a mild spiciness to a smooth butteriness to a minty coolness in the throat. Flavors are not only beautifully balanced but also uniquely contrasting each other. There is just so much going on in every bite, but nothing screams out with a dominant voice. This rice dish is like listening to a beautiful octet acapella without a prima donna. If every “king” of the meal is balanced like this, I can’t imagine what a problem-free dining world we would have. Enjoy this delicious Afghan recipe. Happy cooking.