Almost Turkish Recipes

Chickpea Rice with Chicken (Tavuklu Nohut Pilav)


In Orhan Pamuk's 2014 novel A Strangeness in My Mind, we read Istanbul and  Mevlut's story, a street vendor who comes to Istanbul at an early age from a village in mid-Anatolian city Konya. Drawing inspiration both from bildungsromans and picaresque novels, The Strangeness in My Mind documents the transformation of Mevlut into a grown happy man alongside the transformation of the city. Mevlut sells yogurt, and mainly boza, but at one point in his life he sells chickpea rice with chicken on the streets of Istanbul. How Mevlut and his beloved wife Rahiya prepares and sells this popular street food is described in such detail in the chapter titled "Rice With Chickpeas: Food Tastes Better When It's Got Some Dirt In It" that everytime I read that chapter I make chickpea rice with chicken. I cannot help it. 

Pilaf/rice has always been an important part of Turkish cuisine and particularly chickpea rice has a long history: you can read the recipe and the story here.  Chickpea rice with chicken has been for decades a favorite street food that used to be sold only in street carts but thanks to its popularity, available in many restaurants now. You can find this simple nutritious dish at any time of the day yet it's become a favorite as a late night, post-bar hour food; after drinking, before heading home for a good sleep. Must-haves of this street food is pickled hot peppers and ground black pepper. Although some vendors have yogurt on the side, pickled pepper is the way to go. Some vendors prepare the chicken, just like Rayiha in the novel, with spices like oregano and paprika, and garlic, but the most common way is just plain chicken: most people refrain from having spiced up chicken thinking spices are used to cover up the smell or appearance of old/leftover chicken from previous day. 

I've had my fair share of chickpea rice with chicken in different locals and from different vendors that I got to perfect my homemade version of this beloved street food and plus this is a kid favorite in my house. 

for 4-6 people

2 cups short grain rice (In Turkey most commonly used and favored one is a type of arborio called baldo)
1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight or 1 can of chickpeas
2 chicken breast, preferably with skin on
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 bay leaf
1 tsp peppercorns
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil

-Soak chickpeas overnight. The next day cook them for 15-20 minutes until cooked but not mushy soft. 1/2 cup makes ~1 1/2 cups of cooked chickpeas. OR use a can of chickpeas
-Place rice in a bowl and cover with enough water to go 1 inch or more above the rice. We're going to soak the rice and loosen the starch while chicken is cooking.
-Place chicken breasts in a pot with onion halves, bay leaf and peppercorns. Cover with enough water, add 1 tbsp salt and cook ~35-40 minutes, until thoroughly cooked, first on high then simmer. While simmering the chicken will form some foamy stuff on top. Discard them.  
-Once it's cooked, take the chicken with a slotted spoon and let cool. We need that broth. Set a strainer or a skimmer over a large bowl and strain broth by pouring it to the strainer. Discard the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. Save the broth. 
-25-30 minutes into chicken boiling, drain the rice and rinse under cold water. 
-Heat a wide bottom pot, because we never want to crowd the rice. Add butter and olive oil, it might seem like a lot of butter and oil for 2 cups of rice, but it ain't street food if it's not greasy. 
-Add rice into the pot, with gentle movements, we don't want to break the rice, stir the rice for 4-5 minutes until almost translucent. 
-Add chickpeas. Stir, again gently, for another 2 minutes.
-Add 3 cups of chicken stock that we sere saving-if you gave less than 3 cups, top it with water. Add 1 tsp salt (since we had already salted the broth, don't go heavy on the salt here) 
-First bring to a boil and then cook on low covered for 15-20 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Don't stir the rice while cooking, we don't want to break it. When the water is absorbed, check the bottom of the pot with a spoon to see if the water is all gone, cover the top of the pot with a clean kitchen towel or a paper towel and place the lid tightly on top. We want to get all the moisture from the rice so it won't be sticky or mushy, a big NO for rice in Turkey. It should be "tane tane," each grain separate. Let sit for 10 minutes, we call this process "brewing." 
-While the rice is "brewing," make the pulled chicken, small thin pieces are better than bigger ones. 
-If your chicken gets cold, move the rice to one side of the pot and put the chicken to the other, close the lid. They'll warm each other up. 

Serving: Chickpea with rice is usually served with the upside down bowl trick. Place a scoop of rice in a smallish bowl, fill to the brim and press down. Turn the bowl upside down on a plate as if you're making sand castles. You have a rice dome now. Place pulled chicken pieces on top generously. Sprinkle ground black pepper and add spicy or not spicy pickles to the plate and you have the perfect street food. 
Bon Appétit! 


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