Curried Chicken Lentil Pilaf

In a wonder of nature, I was stunned by the sight of hundreds of elephant seal pups filling the sandy beach between the surf and brown cliffs with their gray, cylindrical bodies and cute round faces at the Año Nuevo State Park. Despite being abruptly weaned by their mothers only a few weeks after their births, the pups help each other to learn to survive and grow. Their strength somewhat resembles our celebratory evergreen Christmas wreaths. Like evergreens which have leaves throughout the four seasons, elephant seal pups overcome harsh environments and walk their life cycle from birth to death with a great resilience.

I often think of lentils when I see the round faces of elephant seals and their bitter sweet life. The coin-like shape of the lentils are known for symbolizing the circle of life in the Jewish mourning tradition, while eating lentils during the Italian New Year’s Eve signifies the wish for a prosperous new year. I was first introduced to lentils by my Iranian dorm-mate in Denmark who once made a delicious lentil stew over rice. Packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, lentils are one of the healthiest foods in the world. During this holiday season, if you have any guests, who want to reduce red meat consumption, try making my tasty “Curried Chicken Lentil Pilaf”. It’s a delicious healthy dish that won’t break your wallet this holiday.

First, in a thick cast iron pot, preheat 3 Tablespoons 7th taste Curry Olive oil and roast 1 Tablespoon mustard seeds until they start popping. Then, saute 1 onion (chopped), 2 carrots (chopped), 1 anaheim pepper (chopped) and 2-3 Serrano chili (chopped) for 10 minutes. Subsequently, stir in 1 tomato (chopped) and 2 bay leaves and season with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Next, sprinkle some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper on 1.5 lbs skinless drumsticks/thighs and add them to the pot to brown them. Subsequently, add 1 1/2 cups lentils and 1 1/2 cups brown rice to the pot and stir-fry them for a couple of minutes. Next, pour 4 cups of boiling water into the pot and bring the pot to boil. Then, turn heat to low and simmer until the brown rice turns tender. Right before serving, garnish with 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro. (This recipe serves about 8 servings).

This nutty, mildly spicy pilaf has great flavors, an interesting texture, and a warm, sweet undertone. Like a sponge, the lentils absorb the tastes of the rich chicken, the sweet carrots, the spicy chili and the nutty brown rice. A hint of cinnamon and butteryness from my curry olive oil also round off the sharp spiciness, while adding an additional flavor dimension. This dish will not only warm you up during the cold holiday evenings, but will also give you a great feeling of “fullness”, thanks to the protein-packed, healthy ingredients of the dish. Enjoy this recipe and happy cooking. I wish everyone a very happy, warm holiday season!

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