Kabsa

Chicken kabsa in my kitchen in Stockholm, 2020

This dish actually carries popularity throughout many Arab states of the Persian Gulf. It combines rice, meat, vegetables, and a blend of spices. All of these naturally vary depending on where you go.

The Wikipedia article on kabsa mentions a number of spices that seem to be quite essential in achieving the desired kabsa spice mix. These include black pepper, cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, dried lime or lemon, bay leaves, and nutmeg. I did not have any dried lime (also called black lime) nor any saffron, so I managed without both.

Additionally, there seem to be two very important toppings to garnish the dish with. Almost all recipes I found, suggested to use raisins and nuts. Some used almonds, others used pistachios or pine nuts, whatever. I found that the addition of these lifted the whole dish to a new level.

While looking at different sets of instructions and comparing them amongst each other to distill the general direction people think this dish should be heading in, I encountered an amazingly insightful video by a Saudi woman, which basically became my de facto recipe. I will still quickly summarize what I did.

Let us start off by cooking some onions and ginger on medium-high heat. I then draped in some chicken thighs I still had lying around, until I started seeing some nice browning. It is now time to hit it with the spices. The key with spices is to not be afraid of putting in too much (within certain bounds of reasonability). I used about a tablespoon of salt, 1/2 tbsp black pepper, 1/2 tbsp fine cardamom (I had cardamom pods lying around, but my kitchen lacks a mortar and pestle, so I got some fine cardamom powder), 1/2 tbsp cinnamon (some more does not hurt), 1/2 tsp cloves powder, and 1/2 tbsp nutmeg. Also throw in a tin of tomatoes. Let the simmering start, and once the oil starts separating on the top, pour over enough water to later cook your rice in (I should have used about 250 ml) and cook the chicken with the lid on. My pieces of chicken were relatively small, so I let them have their bath for about ten minutes before I pulled them out. Apparently the basmati rice should have been soaked in water for 45 minutes, which I forgot to do, so I just threw it in the pot directly and cooked it as I normally would. I also added some finely julienned carrots.

In the meanwhile, it was time to lightly fry my garnish of raisins and almonds. With a little bit of oil in the pan, I toasted the almond halves until they had an appealing brown color to them. Let rest on some kitchen paper. Do the same with the rainins and beware that they might burn quickly. These two will smell amazing. Be sure to sneak some of them to your mouth already, while waiting for the rice to finish.

Speaking about finishing, right before serving, I fried up the pieces of chicken in a pan to get them crispy and warm again. Serve rice, put pieces of chicken on top, and sprinkle with our heavenly garnish.

Max Crone, CC BY 4.0