Spring chicken: Celebrate the season with this colorful and spicy dish

Fran Sun / Photo

Fran Sun
RUTLAND BITES

Well, spring is finally here, folks. There’s something about the first sniffs of truly warm weather that makes me want to eat light, crunchy vegetables. And drink mint juleps. My toddler’s feet have been bare on the grass for the first time in a long time — certainly, this is the first time he’s been aware of that delicious feeling. The warm sun on his face! The taste of dirt in his mouth! His squeals of delight when he sees a squirrel or a bird or a blowing plastic bag! Not being covered in 40 layers! He is living his best life. The tulips are in full, joyful bloom, and so are my poor husband’s allergies.

It’s possible I have mentioned this in previous columns, but I come from a subtropical climate where there aren’t really any seasons. This is my fourth spring in Vermont, and I will never stop being absolutely astonished by just how fast things happen in the spring. One day, the trees and gardens are brown and bare, and the next, greenery has burst forth! In the morning there are tulip buds, and in the afternoon, lovely full blooms with bumblebees giddily buzzing around. How do bumblebees fly? This is a legitimate question. They are huge and their wings are small! It shouldn’t be possible, and yet, there they go. I love it.

Anyway, back to the crunchy vegetables. I had seen a big buzz in one of my most trusted social media groups around a dish from, you guessed it, “Smitten Kitchen Everyday,” by Deb Perelman. I’ve never been steered wrong before by either the group’s greatest-hit recipes or by SK, so I decided to give it a try. It’s the “street-cart style chicken & rice.” A mound of gently seasoned rice beside a pile of bold, Mediterranean-spiced chicken and a cascade of simple, refreshing salad — yes, please!

I will admit right now that I have never eaten actual street-cart chicken. The dish reminded me of the open kebabs I ate in London though, and those were superb, so I was excited to give this a try. It’s also a wonderfully toddler-friendly meal; my 16-month-old ate lots of tomatoes (his favorite) and tried everything else, too. Can’t ask for more than that. I urge you to make like him and dig into this dish with both hands (and most of your face).

Street-cart chicken & rice

(adapted from “Smitten Kitchen Everyday”)

Chicken / marinade:

  • Juice of half a lemon (or 1 tablespoon bottled juice)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Rice:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin or 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 cups basmati or any long grain rice
  • 3 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Sauce:

  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Assembly:

  • ½ head iceberg lettuce or other crunchy, firm lettuce, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced, or ¾ cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (e.g. Rutland’s own Vermont Maple Sriracha)
  • 1 tablespoon harissa
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Chopped cilantro (optional)
  • 3 large pocketless pita breads, toasted and halved

Combine all the marinade ingredients and place with the chicken into a large ziplock bag. Slosh it all around well until the chicken pieces are thoroughly coated. It needs to marinate for at least 30 minutes and can go for up to two days.

Make the sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl or jug. Adjust for taste. If it needs a touch more acid, add a tiny amount of vinegar.

To make the rice, add 1 tablespoon of oil to a saucepan over medium heat, then toast the rice and spices for a couple of minutes. Add the stock and salt and bring to a light boil, then turn the heat down to low, cover and cook for 15–17 minutes, or until the liquid has absorbed and the rice is tender. Take it off the heat and let it rest, then fluff with a fork when ready to serve.

Meanwhile, to cook the chicken, use a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the skillet lightly with oil, then add the chicken, in batches if necessary, and cook undisturbed until the chicken is no longer sticking to the pan (5–7 minutes). Flip and cook for another 4–5 minutes. Repeat for other batches if necessary. Put the chicken aside, covered, until a couple of minutes before serving.

To make the salad, combine the lettuce, tomatoes and onion, then season with salt and pepper and toss well. Combine the hot sauce and harissa for a sauce that will please those who enjoy a kick of heat with their dish.

When it’s time to serve, chop the chicken roughly and then pop it back into the pan to finish cooking. Pile the rice and salad on a serving platter. Top the rice with the chicken and drizzle the sauce over the salad. Add chopped cilantro if desired. To serve, take a pita half then pile rice, chicken and salad as desired. Drizzle with sauces to taste and enjoy!

Fran Sun

Fran is a new stay at home mom who moved to Rutland from Australia in 2015.

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