Persian-Style Lentil Rice With Chicken
Pairs Well With
1 cup basmati rice
1/2 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter, divided
1 medium yellow onion, halved and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup raisins, preferably golden
5 dates, preferably Medjool, pitted and quartered (optional)
3 1/3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
2 pinches saffron
In a medium bowl, combine the rice and lentils. Using very hot tap water, rinse the grains 3 or 4 times, or until the water runs almost clear. Cover the rice and lentils with very hot water and set aside to soak.
Place the chicken thighs on a plate or tray and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper evenly on both sides. Set aside, at room temperature, to allow the seasoning to permeate the meat.
In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid over high heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the ghee or butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent any spots from burning, until crisp and deep brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in the raisins and dates, if using, allowing them to soften, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the onion and raisin mixture to a small bowl.
Return the pot to high heat. Add the chicken thighs, arranging them in a single layer across the bottom of the pot, and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. (The chicken will not be cooked through.) Lower the heat to medium. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a plate.
Drain the rice and lentils and add them to the pot along with the water, the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee or butter, 1 teaspoon of salt, the cumin, cinnamon, if using, and saffron. Increase the heat to high and, using a wooden spoon, gently stir to ensure the spices are well incorporated. Bring the rice mixture to a boil.
Meanwhile, wrap the lid of the pot in a clean dish towel, preferably one that's waffle-knit or terry cloth, securing it to the handle with a knot or rubber band so the edge of it won't be in danger of catching flame. This is essential: The towel will absorb steam as the rice cooks.
Nestle the chicken thighs atop the rice and lentils. Tightly cover the pot with the swaddled lid and lower the heat to medium- low. Steam the rice, lentils and chicken until cooked, tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed, fluffing with a fork once or twice, 40 to 45 minutes.
Toss some of the onion and raisin mixture with the rice and chicken and serve hot, with the remaining onion and raisin mixture on the side.