Thursday, July 7, 2011

Za'atar Roasted Chicken with Persian Jeweled Rice

     Persian jeweled rice is often served with plain roasted chicken as an accompaniment.  There are many Iranian recipes for sumac berry scented chicken with jeweled rice on the internet.  Za'atar spice is a commonly used spice mixture in Egypt and Arabic countries.  The rich sesame seed and spice flavors of za'atar go nicely with Persian jeweled rice.
     Za'atar spice mix is easy to make, but getting Arabic or Egyptian wild thyme can be difficult.  Middle eastern wild thyme has a different flavor than european thyme.  Most Arabic and Egyptian chefs do personalize the za'tar spice mixture to their own liking.  Chef's recipes for za'atar spice mix are usually closely guarded secrets.  Even commercial za'tar spice mix products do not always list the ingredients on the package.
     Basically, za'atar spice has about 75% roasted sesame seed and ground roasted sesame seed in the mixture.  The other 25% of za'atar spice mix is a combination of middle eastern thyme, fenugreek, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, hot chile pepper and a few other spices.  Salt is not part of the mixture.  If you want to make your own za'atar spice mixture, then start with the basic proportion of roasted sesame seed and ground roasted sesame seed.  Add a proportion of the spices that you think will make the za'atar mixture taste good.  The larger proportion of the za'atar spices should be middle eastern thyme and cumin.
     Store bought pre-mixed za'atar spice products are of nice quality.  Za'atar spice mix can be found at Arabic and Persian markets.  I have found that I cannot make za'atar spice mix from scratch as cheaply as the price of a pre-mixed za'atar product.  For this recipe I used a pre-made store bought za'atar spice mix.
     This recipe makes 3 to 4 servings!
     Basmati Rice Preparation:
     Place 2 cups of basmati rice in a bowl.  (The rice has to be basmati rice for this recipe!)
     Cover the rice with twice as much water.
     Let the rice soak for 2 hours.
     Rinse the rice 7 times with cold water, till the water is clear when it is drained off.
     Place the soaked rice into a sauce pot.
     Cover the rice with twice as much water.
     Boil the rice over medium high heat for 10 minutes.
     Place the rice into a fine mesh strainer to drain off the hot water.
     Rinse the rice under cold running water, till it is completely cool.
     Set the rice aside.  (The rice will be only about halfway cooked at this point.)
     Dried Fruit Preparation:
     The fruits can be soaked in one bowl or separate bowls.  The fruits will have to be separated when assembling the rice later in the recipe.
     Place 9 dried apricots into a bowl.
     Add 10 large dates.
     Add 1/3 cup of black currants or dried barberries.
     Add 1/2 cup of golden raisons.
     Cover the dried fruit with water.
     Soak the dried fruits for about 1 hour, till they become partially reconstituted.
     Drain the water off of the fruit.
     Javaher Polow - Persian Jeweled Rice:
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 4 ounces of unsalted butter.
     Add 3/4 cup of thin sliced onion.
     Add 3 minced garlic cloves.
     Saute till the onions turn clear in color.
     Add 1/3 cup of thin shaved carrot slices.
     Add 1/3 cup of water.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of thin sliced fresh orange zest.
     Add 1/3 cup of fresh orange juice.
     Add 1 tablespoon of sugar.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom.
     Add 4 pinches of saffron or 1/2 tablespoon of safflower saffron.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon.    
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of cumin.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric.
     Add 2 pinches of white pepper.
     Add sea salt.
     Simmer the ingredients for 1 minute.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Set the seasoned butter sauce mixture aside to cool.
     Place the prepared basmati rice into a mixing bowl.
     Add the seasoned butter liquid mixture.
     Add 1/3 cup of sliced almonds.
     Add 1/3 cup of coarsely crushed walnuts.
     Add the soaked raisons, black currants or barberries.
     Slice the dates in half.
     Add half of the date halves.  (Reserve the other half of the date halves for later in the recipe.)
     Add 1/3 cup of pomegranate fruit.
     Add 1/2 cup of goats milk yogurt.
     Add 1 tablespoon of crumbled dried rose petals.
     Stir the rice mixture till it is combined.
     Molding the Rice:
     Brush a large bowl shaped baking mold with melted unsalted butter.
     Arrange a few of the apricots and reserved date halves on the bottom of the bowl.
     Spoon about one half of the rice mixture over the dried fruits and press it into place.
     Arrange the remaining dried fruits around the inside of the bowl on the edge of the rice.
     Add the remaining rice.
     Spread the rice evenly and press the rice into place.
     Sprinkle 1/4 cup of water over the rice.
     Cover the bowl tightly with a lid or aluminum foil.
     Bake in a 350º oven for 1 hour.
     Plating the Jeweled Rice:
     Remove the lid from the baking mold.
     Allow the rice to rest and partially cool.
     Loosen the top edge of the rice around the bowl with a thin spatula.
     Place a serving platter over the baking mold.
     Invert the baking mold and platter together as one.
     Tap the bowl and platter against a counter top, till the molded jeweled rice lands on the platter.  (If the rice sticks and does not come out of the mold in one piece, then just mound the jeweled rice neatly on the platter.)
     Sprinkle some pomegranate fruit over the jeweled rice.
     Sprinkle a few drops of rosewater over the rice.
     Za'atar Roasted Chicken Recipe:
     Separate the leg, thigh, wing and breast of 1/2 chicken.  (Leave the skin attached to the chicken pieces.)
     Cut the breast in half through the bones.
     Brush the chicken pieces with olive oil.
     Season the chicken with sea salt and black pepper.
     Place the chicken pieces on a dish, with the skin side facing up.
     Sprinkle a generous amount of za'atar spice mixture on the chicken pieces.
     Use your fingertips to rub the za'atar spice mix and olive oil onto each of the chicken pieces.
     Place the chicken pieces on a wire screen roasting rack in a roasting pan.
     Sprinkle 1 pinch of sea salt over the chicken.
     Place the roasting pan into a 325º oven.
     Slowly roast the chicken, till it becomes fully cooked.
     Za'atar Roasted Chicken with Persian Jeweled Rice:
     Place a mound of the Persian jeweled rice on the middle of a plate.
     Place the za'atar roasted chicken pieces around the rice.
     Drizzle a little bit of virgin olive oil over the za'atar chicken pieces.
     Sprinkle some pomegranate fruit over the rice and the plate.
     This is a tasty aromatic middle eastern plate of food!  Yum!  ...  Shawna        


  1. Fat TOO many ingredients. Complicated. Would purchase online - is it possible?

    1. I assume that there was a typo and you meant to say far too many ingredients.

      Not everything is simple in life! Chefs from the Middle East, Persia, Arabic countries, Egypt and North Africa are experts at creating great flavors with complex spice mixtures. Persian Jeweled Rice is a recipe that is served at special occasions and the list of ingredients can be very lengthy. The end result is an unforgettably good flavor.

      Za'atar spice mixes can be purchased on the internet. There are regional variations. It is more economical to buy a pre-made za'atar spic mix than it is to purchase the spices separately. The za'atar spice mix used in this recipe was one that is used in Arabic countries and Egypt. I currently have a large jar of za'atar from Jordan and this variation has a high proportion of wild thyme (Middle Eastern Thyme). Wild thyme is difficult to find and it is required for making za'atar. Regular thyme tastes nothing like wild thyme.

      I have seen pre-made manufactured Persian Rice Mixture Products on the store shelves in Middle Eastern Markets and Mediterranean Markets. The seasoning mixture for Persian Rice is similar to Jeweled Rice. Just a few extra spices, vegetables and dried fruit need to be added to turn Persian Rice into Jeweled Rice.

      Goat milk yogurt, olive oil, onions, garlic, turmeric, saffron and spices are the the start of most Persian baked rice recipes.

      Persian Saffron is the best and this spice is very expensive. Only a small pinch is needed. Safflower Saffron is very cheap and the flavor is mild. If no high quality Persian Saffron is used, then several pinches of Safflower Saffron will produce a similar color and flavor.

      Soaking and rinsing basmati rice is not just a ritual. This process elongates and softens the rice. The end result is a very light fluffy rice.

      Dried fruits and nuts are fairly easy to fine. Dried barberries (berberis) can be difficult to find. The best source is Middle Eastern Markets, Persian Arabic Markets or Golchin is a good brand and there dried fruit product are always aromatic.

      Rose Water and Citrus Water can be found at any Persian Arabic or Mediterranean Market. One bottle can last a long time in a refrigerator. Only a few drops are needed to add the rose flower essence. There many flavor infused waters that are used in Persian Arabic cuisine.

      Edible dried rose petals can be found in Mexican Markets and Middle Easter Markets. Fresh edible organic rose flowers are very pricy. Dried ingredients are more traditional in the cuisines of arid environments. Dried rose petals are often added to a Jeweled Rice recipe.

      I would suggest doing a search at for Za'atar or Persian Rice or Persian Arabic Food Products. Amazon offers consumer protection. There are many good Persian Arabic and Mediterranean Food Stores on the internet that are reputable too. For the most part, the prices are reasonable.

      Sometimes buying a pre-made complex spice mix like za'atar or a Persian Rice Mix is a good way to learn the flavor profile, before attempting to make your own.

      I do not trim down the list of recipe ingredients or bastardize recipes to make them simple to cook. If making great food was as simple as opening a can of cream of mushroom soup, then there would be no challenge and life would be boring.

      A sense of pride and accomplishment can be achieved by not taking cooking shortcuts or simplifying a recipe to suit one's own taste. Besides, when a complex recipe is cooked to perfection, the guests will be amazed!

    2. Oh ... and Sumac Berry Spice. This spice was used by Native Americans, Romans, Greeks, Persians and Arabs for thousands of years. Sumac Berry Spice can be found in Mediterranean Markets and at internet stores. There are many uses for this spice that tastes like lemons, berries and red wine. Sumac Berry Spice is part of most Za'atar spice mix recipes.