Weeknight Dinner: Five Easy Pieces – Part 1
Cooking a decent dinner every night of the week is a daunting task, and a special shout-out should be give to those who actually do this week after week. Its not just the cooking itself, it also involves planning ahead – having a recipe in mind and shopping for specific ingredients.
Fed up with our current “fly by the seat of your pants” approach to making dinner on weeknights, my wife recently offered me a challenge: she would agree to cook dinner every night of the work week if I would provide her with five simple recipes. As we have two extremely active children, the requirements were that the recipes could not involve long prep times or require excessive vigilance. The final requirement was that the recipes contain tasks that our 3-year old son could help with, to keep him out of mischief.
Now, I would be a fool not to take her up on this, so I did, on the condition that I be allowed to blog about it.
The challenge here, of course, is to cook a variety of interesting dishes that will not get old if they get served on a semi-regular basis. of course, the dishes need to be relatively quick and easy to prepare, and should not require long lists of expensive ingredients. So, I will be posting the five recipes that I come up, and I challenge J. Burger to post five of her own that meet these approximate criteria. We’ll see if she takes me up on this.
MONDAY NIGHT DINNER
Chicken biryani is a simple chicken and rice dish that is sexed up with the addition of numerous exotic spices. Variations of biryani are cooked in India, Iran, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka – although it is primarily recognized in this country as an Indian dish. This version has been simplified to a simple “one pot” meal that requires a short prep time before it cooks unattended. The resulting dish is very flavorful and satisfying – I can’t really think of a better way to cook basic chicken and rice.
2 tbsp. butter
1 large onion
10 whole cardamom pods (black, white, green or a mixture)
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 pinch saffron threads
1 tsbp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 – 2 lbs. boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut in bite size pieces
1/4 cup almonds
Notes about ingredients:
*There are a lot of spices here, but you should be able to find most of them at a decent supermarket, on Freshdirect or (best of all) at your favorite Indian grocer. Once the spices are on your shelf, they will last a long time, and you can make all sorts of interesting recipes with them.
*Keep in mind that chicken breasts will dry out a lot quicker than thighs, so if you use breasts, don’t leave it cooking on the stove any longer than you absolutely have to
*You don’t have to use almonds, any nuts that you enjoy should work just fine
*Regarding stock – use homemade if at all possible. But since it is not always feasible, use the best quality, lowest sodium stock you can find at the store – and taste it before just pouring it in – you may find you want to dilute it with water
* Basmati rice really makes a difference, but in a pinch, any standard long grain rice can be used.
Cooking Time: 40 minutes (15 minutes prep, 25 minutes unattended)
1. Slice the onion, assemble all the spices nearby.
2. Melt the butter in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, when the foam subsides, add the onions
3. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they soften, 5 -6 minutes.
4. Add the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, bay leaf and saffron to the onions, stir and let cook for another 5 minutes.
5. In the meantime, cut the chicken into bite size pieces.
6. Toast the almonds in a small pan over low to medium heat, until they are light brown and fragrant, set aside.
7. Add the rice to the onion mixture, stirring for a minute or two to coat the grains
8. Add the chicken pieces, stir to incorporate. Add the stock. Bring to a boil then cover and turn down to a bare simmer.
9. Simmer for 25 minutes without removing the cover, then check it. If the rice is tender and the chicken cooked through, it is ready serve – fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper to taste. You may also wish to remove the pods and cinnamon stick, or not.
10. Serve hot, with the almonds (or other chopped nuts) sprinkled over the top.
The dish will taste even better after sitting in the fridge for awhile, so it makes excellent leftovers. Also, any steps that involve putting things in the pot and stirring them (see nos. 3, 4, 6 & 7) can easily be done by small children, provided the ingredients are ready to go.